Title-hungry upstart Suns and Bucks meet in NBA Final

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The Milwaukee Bucks bench reacts after P.J. Tucker made a three-point basket during their final game against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)
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The Phoenix Suns team celebrate after a 130-103 final game victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on June 30, 2021. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
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Updated 05 July 2021

Title-hungry upstart Suns and Bucks meet in NBA Final

  • The Milswaukee Bucks won their only title in 1971 when legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sparked a sweep over the Baltimore Bullets
  • Phoenix Suns dropped the 1976 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics and then again to the Michael Jordan-sparked Chicago Bulls in 1993

PHOENIX, US: Two long-frustrated franchises, the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, will meet in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday and one of them will put an end to an epic title drought.
The Bucks captured their only title half a century ago while the Suns have never claimed the crown since the club began play in 1968.
With star guard Chris Paul reaching the best-of-seven championship series for the first time in his 16-season career, the Suns have reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
A Charles Barkley-led Suns squad lost to the Michael Jordan-sparked Chicago Bulls 28 years ago and the Suns also dropped the 1976 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics.
Many thought Paul, an 11-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic champion, was too far past his prime at 36 to spark a title run.
Instead, the poised veteran leader averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game for the Suns after arriving in a trade from Oklahoma City last November.
“I’ve wanted to be part of this all of my career,” said Paul, who writes “Can’t give up now” on his shoes before every game.
The Bucks had not reached the NBA Finals since 1974 and won their only title in 1971, when legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — still known then as Lew Alcindor — sparked a sweep over the Baltimore Bullets.
Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ new dominating big man, has reached the NBA Finals after taking NBA Most Valuable Player honors the previous two seasons only to suffer playoff disappointment.
Whether or not the 26-year-old will be able to play, however, is another question. Antetokounmpo missed the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals after hyperextending his left knee in game four against Atlanta.
The Bucks went a league-best 60-22 in the 2018-19 campaign and won a playoff series for the first time since 2001. They reached the Eastern Conference finals and grabbed a 2-0 lead only to drop the next four games and fall to eventual NBA champion Toronto.
The next season, Antetokounmpo sparked the Bucks to a league-best 56-17 mark, but suffered a right ankle injury and missed most of the last two games as the Bucks lost to Miami in five games in the second round.
While they didn’t produce the league’s best record this season, the Bucks did reach the final despite Antetokounmpo’s injury.
“Certainly any time you lose you’ve got to be honest with yourself,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
“When this group hasn’t been able to advance it has hurt, it has been hard and the off-season the guys have put the work in — but there’s still more to be done.”

The Bucks and Suns outlasted teams with more wins to reach the final, but only one fairy tale run is going to have a happy ending.
“This is like a storybook, going somewhere I’ve never been,” Suns star Devin Booker said. “It has been a long time coming to get to this moment. This is nice right here, but we still have work to do.”
Suns coach Monty Williams, who says he likes Booker’s “fearlessness” and killer instinct, is enjoying seeing Paul and others revel in the moment.
“I’m enjoying watching our players enjoy this moment,” Williams said. “I know how badly (Paul) wants to win.”
Booker is averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists a contest in the playoffs while Paul is contributing 18.1 points, 8.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds a game in the post-season to make the Suns bright.
Bahamas big man Deandre Ayton has 16.2 points and 11.8 rebounds a game.
The Suns will enjoy five days off before the NBA Finals opener while the Bucks will have only two.
“We’ve had kind of long, extended pauses between each round and I’m kind of excited to try it without one,” Budenholzer said. “Maybe we can be the team that’s in a rhythm. It’s a quick turn, but we’ll be ready.”
Antetokounmpo has averaged 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists a game but has had great support from Khris Middleton — with 23.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals a game — and Jrue Holiday with 17.6 points, 8.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game.
“To get to the finals is amazing,” Holiday said. “It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before.”
“Everybody stays ready. Everybody plays together. Everybody stays locked in,” Middleton said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Phoenix won both regular-season games against Milwaukee but only by one point each time.


Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

Updated 21 September 2021

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

  • Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham on Sept. 2
  • The Hungarian federation was fined 200,000 Swiss francs

LONDON: Hungary was ordered by FIFA on Tuesday to play its next World Cup qualifier without spectators as punishment for the latest racial abuse by its supporters when England played in Budapest.
Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham, who are Black, at Puskas Arena on Sept. 2.
The Hungarian federation was also fined 200,000 Swiss francs ($217,000), one of the largest financial penalties handed out to a country by the world governing body.
In a sign of a systemic problem with racism from Hungarian fans, the punishment extends the country’s run of games in empty stadiums because of racism in qualifiers for the 2014 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2016.
The team will have to play another FIFA match without a crowd if there are future incidents of abuse, with the second match of the punishment being suspended for a probationary period of two years.
“The FIFA ban on Hungary for racism and the huge fine is welcome and a signal from FIFA of a renewed determination to punish racism,” Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-racism FARE network, told The Associated Press. “But this also means that Hungary will serve bans from two different football governing bodies at European and international level at the same time, the principle of escalation has not been applied, it will not deal with the problem of racism inside Hungarian stadiums longer term.”
Hungary’s Sept. 2 match against England in Budapest would already have been played without spectators had FIFA been asked to implement a UEFA punishment t for discriminatory abuse during European Championship matches. That two-game ban on spectators will take effect next June during the Nations League.
Hungary will have to host Albania on Oct. 9 in an empty stadium in its next World Cup qualifier.
“This case highlights the need to make sure that regulations that ensure a consistency of approach across governing bodies are in place,” Powar said. “If all Hungarian offenses had been taken into account they would be facing exclusion from the World Cup, and remedial measures would have been put in place. There should be better co-ordination between confederations, such as UEFA, and FIFA, to coordinate action.
In this case UEFA should have asked FIFA to apply their previous sanction and the Hungary vs. England match played behind closed doors. An administrative loophole has allowed racism to flourish.”
FIFA’s disciplinary committee ruled there had been “racist behavior of numerous supporters” during the England match this month that was played in front of a crowd of almost 60,000 at Puskas Arena.
The verdict came “after analizing and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, specifically the seriousness of the incidents,” FIFA said in a statement highlighting “racist words and actions, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, blocked stairways” by Hungary fans.
FIFA’s claim to adopt a “clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behavior in football” was challenged by English football’s anti-racism organization.
“What does zero tolerance approach even mean? Words that read good in print but we’ll never actually adhere to them,” tweeted Kick It Out’s head of development Troy Townsend. “Anyway, we have our own problems and don’t even go this far with punishments.”


Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

Updated 21 September 2021

Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

  • England on Monday announced to postpone the Pakistan trip after New Zealand called off its series last week without playing a match
  • The Pakistan Cricket Board says it will seek compensation from New Zealand for recalling the team on the basis of a vague security alert

KARACHI: Pakistani cricketers and sports experts on Tuesday said the announcement by England to postpone its Pakistan tour after New Zealand’s decision to abruptly call off its series without playing a single match was a “huge setback” to the revival of international cricket in the country.
One of the top cricketing nations that lifted world cup trophies in the past, Pakistan regularly hosted test playing teams and international tournaments until a group of militants targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.
In the coming years, the cricket-crazy South Asian nation was deprived of watching international teams in action in their own country.
“It is a huge setback to the efforts of reviving international cricket in Pakistan,” Umar Gul, a former Pakistani pacer, said while urging the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take notice and prevent teams from taking such unilateral decisions.
Zimbabwe sent its team to visit Pakistan in 2015, though no major cricketing squad visited the country after the 2009 attack.
Some high-profile international players started playing in the country, however, after the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament.
This resulted in a change of international perception regarding Pakistan’s security environment, making international cricket squads like New Zealand and England agree to tour the country after more than a decade.
“The decision of these two teams to abandon their tour of the country will negatively impact Pakistan’s own preparations for the world cup,” Gul told Arab News. “It also has financial implications. Besides, it will harm our efforts to revive international cricket in the country despite making best security arrangements.”

This picture taken on September 7, 2017 shows pigeons resting on a sign for the Pakistan Cricket Board at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP/File)

A Pakistani sports show host, Shoaib Jatt, called England’s decision to postpone its Pakistan series unjustified while pointing out that his country’s own team had visited the United Kingdom when the tour was considered highly dangerous by medical experts due to the prevalence of COVID-19.
“It is definitely a blow to Pakistan,” he said. “It is not about losing one or two cricket series. We are talking about the revival of international cricket for which a lot of effort has been made.”
Qamar Ahmed, a cricket expert and former first-class player, maintained that PSL had made a huge contribution in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan, though he added the recent refusals of New Zealand and England to play in Pakistan were not going to be helpful.
“It has been more than a decade since the Sri Lankan team came under attack in Lahore,” Ahmed said. “It will take several more years to revive international cricket in this country after the decisions made by New Zealand and England.”
Gul said, however, Pakistan was a resilient nation which would come out much stronger from the recent crisis.
“We have a good world cup team,” he maintained. “If they play well, it may change the situation for us.”
The new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Ramiz Raja recently said in a video message that his country would seek compensation from New Zealand for abandoning its Pakistan tour on the basis of vague security threats.
While New Zealand Cricket (NZC) did not respond to request for comment, its chief executive David White told a sports website in his own country that he was hopeful that Pakistan and New Zealand would be able to “work through” their concerns in the coming days.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship with Pakistan Cricket,” White said.
The English Cricket Board (ECB) shared a statement with Arab News, saying the ECB had a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan but had postponed its visit after careful deliberations.
“The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women’s and Men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip,” the statement read, adding that the mental and physical well-being of players and support staff remained the highest priority.
However, a leading Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Hafeez pointed out that his own team members had also been playing in tough conditions and under huge mental stress.
“The decision of New Zeeland and England cricket teams to withdraw is very painful for me as a cricketer. We have completed difficult tours where the conditions were not very good at all, but we did not quit,” he told Arab News, adding that the Green Shirts had to complete a 15-days quarantine period during their last tour to England.
“All the hardships are borne for cricket, the gentlemen’s game which demands great sportsman’s spirit. A hoax threat alert should not have been the reason for anyone to call off a series,” he added.


Cricket superstar Virat Kohli crushed in 200th IPL match for Bangalore

Updated 21 September 2021

Cricket superstar Virat Kohli crushed in 200th IPL match for Bangalore

  • It remained an unforgettable evening for Kohli who fell for five in his 200th IPL match

DUBAI: Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore suffered a crushing nine-wicket loss to Kolkata Knight Riders on Monday hours after he announced to step down as captain at the end of this Indian Premier League.
It remained an unforgettable evening for Kohli who fell for five in his 200th IPL match and Bangalore were skittled out for 92 with Kolkata spinner Varun Chakravarthy returning figures of 3-13 in Abu Dhabi.
The 32-year-old Kohli, who put out a video message of his captaincy exit on the opening day of the revived IPL on Sunday, is still searching for Bangalore’s first title win in the Twenty20 tournament.
“Sometimes it can take you a game, I hope not two, to get into the tournament, you have to stay with the eight-ball, if you’re not, the other teams will be all over you,” Kohli said after his team’s first match of the UAE leg.
Kohli, who last week announced his decision also to quit India’s T20 captaincy at the end of the T20 World Cup in October-November, has been under close scrutiny as a leader in recent months.
Kohli was made Bangalore’s captain in 2013, but despite his superstar status, the team’s best finish was losing in the 2016 final.
His record without a title is often compared to India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma who has secured five IPL crowns for holders Mumbai Indians.
RCB were at the receiving end of an inspired Kolkata bowling performance with Chakravarthy and Andre Russell taking three wickets each to flatten the opposition batting.
Seam bowler Prasidh Krishna took down Kohli, trapped lbw after the skipper opened the batting with Devdutt Padikkal who top-scored with 22.
Bangalore lost regular wickets to Chakravarthy’s mystery spin that got key batsman including Australia’s Glenn Maxwell for 10 and Sri Lankan import Wanindu Hasaranga for nought.
“Pretty good from Varun, he’s going to be a key factor when he plays for India,” Kohli said of the spinner who is included in India’s World Cup squad.
“It’s great guys who’ve got the opportunity to play at the international level. He’s someone who is going to play in the near future for India, it’s a great sign.”
Shubman Gill, who made 48, and debutant Venkatesh Iyer, who hit an unbeaten 41 off 27 balls, then put on 82 for the first wicket as Kolkata chased down their target in just 10 overs.
The Eoin Morgan-led side need to win five of their remaining six matches to stay in the race for a play-off spot.
The tournament resumed Sunday after it was halted in May because of a devastating surge in pandemic deaths in India, prompting foreign players to rush home.
Many have not come back including England’s Ben Stokes (Rajasthan Royals) and Pat Cummins (Kolkata) of Australia.


England Cricket Board says withdrawing men and women’s teams from series in Pakistan

Updated 21 September 2021

England Cricket Board says withdrawing men and women’s teams from series in Pakistan

  • News comes just days after New Zealand Cricket abandoned series with Pakistan over “security alert”
  • PCB chairman Ramiz Raja says “disappointed” with England for pulling out of its commitment

ISLAMABAD: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said on Monday it had “reluctantly” decided to withdraw its men’s and women’s teams from coming to Pakistan for games in October, as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) expressed dismay over England “failing” a member of the cricket fraternity.
The news comes just days after New Zealand Cricket said it was abandoning its series with Pakistan “following a New Zealand government security alert.”
“The ECB has a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan as part of the Men’s Future Tours Programme in 2022,” the Board said in a statement. “Earlier this year, we agreed to play two additional T20 World Cup warm-up games in Pakistan in October, adding a short women’s tour with double headers alongside the men’s games.
“The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women’s and Men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip.”

 

 

The Board said the Men’s T20 squad had already coped with a long period of operating in restricted coronavirus environments.
“We know there are increasing concerns about traveling to the region ... We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.”
PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said he was disappointed by England’s decision.
“Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment,” he said on Twitter, adding: “Survive we will inshallah. A wake up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.”

 

 

 

British high commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, wrote on Twitter he was sad about the cancelled tour but "still looking forward to the full England tour in autumn 2022."

 

 

 


FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

Updated 20 September 2021

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

  • World football's governing body wants to launch a "new consultation phase" for the international women's and men's calendar
  • UEFA president is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup

PARIS: FIFA has invited football’s national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the international calendar, in its push to hold the World Cup every two years instead of four.
World football’s governing body wants to launch a “new consultation phase” for the international women’s and men’s calendar, set to expire at the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively.
“There is a broad consensus within the game that the international match calendar should be reformed and improved,” FIFA said in a statement Monday.
“Following invitations to stakeholders, including all confederations, at the beginning of September, discussions are being organized in the coming weeks.
“FIFA also invited its member associations to a first online summit on 30 September 2021. This is one of several opportunities to establish a constructive and open debate, at a global and regional level, over the coming months.”
The proposal for a biennial World Cup was revived in March by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football development at FIFA.
The idea would be to have an international tournament each year from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championship and Copa America.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup.
South American confederation CONMEBOL said the project had “no sporting justification.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has promised decisions on staging a World Cup every two years would be made by the end of the year.
Last week FIFA published an online poll that claimed a majority of football fans support the idea of a “more frequent” World Cup.
The results of the survey came in stark contrast to the opposition of numerous national supporters groups worldwide.
Global players’ union FIFPro has denounced “the absence of a real dialogue” on the subject, pointing out the “natural physiological limits” of footballers.
“Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy,” said FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.