Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan paramilitary troops stand guard outside the Pindi Cricket Stadium following canceling of 1st one day international cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

  • New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade
  • Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”


Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Updated 20 October 2021

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

RIYADH: Saudi giants Al-Hilal stayed on course for a second AFC Champions League title in three years with a tense 2-1 semifinal victory over cross-city rivals Al-Nassr on Tuesday.

Mali striker Moussa Marega and Saudi international Salem Al-Dawsari struck either side of the break in Riyadh to set up a title clash with either Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea who meet in the second-semifinal of the tournament on Wednesday.

Al-Hilal won their third Asian title in 2019 but were dramatically kicked out of the tournament last year after several members of their squad tested positive for COVID-19.

But the team known locally as “Al Zaeem,” or “The Boss” seem to have successfully banished the memories of that fateful day from their minds with an impressive run this year as they moved within striking distance of another international trophy.

Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have clashed on numerous occasions domestically but the magnitude of a crucial continental clash was not lost on them as both teams made a cautious start at the King Saud University Stadium in the Saudi capital.

The first notable chance fell Al-Hilal’s way but Al-Dawasari failed to take advantage of the opportunity by firing wide from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Matheus Pereira.

Al-Hilal were not to be denied for long though as Marega scored his first goal of the tournament in the 17th minute.

Mohamed Al-Burayk found Bafetimbi Gomis with a long pass and the 36-year-old Frenchman deftly steered the ball for Marega who made no mistake with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the post.

Al-Nassr raised their game a notch after that but were dealt a body blow when defender Ali Lajami was sent-off seconds before half-time for a foul on Marega.

Despite the setback Al-Nassr managed to hold their own and found the equalizer five minutes after the break with Anderson Talisca heading home from close from a cross by Abdulfattah Asiri following a corner.

Sultan Al-Ghanem and Talisca missed chances thereafter for Al-Nassr and soon Al-Hilal wrested control once again with Al-Dawasri scoring his third goal of the knockouts, his chip taking a slight deflection off Abdulla Madu before finding the net.

Al-Hilal survived several anxious moments after that with Abderrarazak Hamdallah an Abdulla Madu missing chances in stoppage time.

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World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

Updated 20 October 2021

World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

  • England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors
  • UEFA president played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid

LONDON: The UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup is not “up in smoke” despite the English FA being sanctioned for the chaos that marred the Euro 2020 final, according to a leading figure at UK Sport.
England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors, with a further match suspended for two years for disorder at the final which saw ticketless fans break their way into the stadium.
Further trouble marred England’s World Cup qualifier with Hungary last week as visiting fans clashed with police.
However, Simon Morton, chief operating officer of UK Sport, which is involved in an ongoing feasibility study on whether to bid, said his view was that crowd trouble had not derailed plans.
“There are lessons to be learned, the FA has commissioned a review from Baroness Casey. It’s very serious. But I do not think it is the bid up in smoke,” he told the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday.
“However, I don’t think it’s reflective of how this country organizes sporting events. We have an excellent reputation, not only for hosting brilliant events but also hosting safe and secure events.
“We have to get the balance right here. It was unacceptable, but I think most countries around the world would recognize it is not reflective of what normally happens.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid, telling The Times last month that he saw Wembley as a key venue for UEFA in hosting club competition finals in the future.
However, Morton cautioned against proposals for the World Cup to be held every two years rather than four.
FIFA’s head of global development, Arsene Wenger, has been at the forefront of promoting the idea.
The International Olympic Committee expressed its concern earlier this week on what the impact could be for other sports.
“I think the oversaturation of sporting competition events is a real risk,” added Morton.
“One of the reasons why sport is so popular is because of its scarcity. I think when we host events, you want to know that that’s special, because you’re attending the world championships.”


Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

Updated 19 October 2021

Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

  • Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times
  • Tunisian Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match

MOSCOW: Simona Halep started her campaign at the Kremlin Cup with a straight-sets win on Tuesday, while Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match.
Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times and next plays Veronika Kudermetova in the second round after the Russian beat 18-year-old qualifier Oksana Selekhmetova 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Halep hasn’t won more than three consecutive matches since returning in August from a three-month layoff with a calf injury that kept her out of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Eighth-ranked Jabeur retired when 6-1, 1-0 down against Ekaterina Alexandrova. There was no immediate information from the Tunisian or the WTA about the reason for her retirement, which makes it harder for Jabeur to qualify for the WTA Finals.
Marketa Vondrousova eliminated seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4 and plays qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the next round.
Anett Kontaveit won 6-3, 6-3 against Katerina Siniakova to set up a second-round match with experienced German Andrea Petkovic, who was leading 2-6, 6-0, 2-0 when her opponent Jelena Ostapenko retired.
In the men’s draw, fifth-seeded Alexander Bublik was upset by Illya Marchenko 6-4, 6-3 and veteran French player Gilles Simon surprised eighth-seeded Laslo Djere 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-3.


Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

Updated 19 October 2021

Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

  • Pep Guardiola's side bounced back in style from last month's loss to Paris Saint-Germain
  • Cole Palmer, 19, bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute

BRUGES, Belgium: Manchester City delivered a dominant Champions League performance to sweep past Club Brugge 5-1 on Tuesday and re-emphasize their status as major contenders for a first European title.
Joao Cancelo gave City a deserved lead on the half-hour and Riyad Mahrez converted a penalty just before the break as Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back in style from last month’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
Kyle Walker added a third early in the second half and 19-year-old Cole Palmer bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Hans Vanaken pulled a goal back to great delight from the home supporters but Mahrez capped a thumping City victory with his second of the night.
The win leaves City side with six points after three games in Group A, with the champions of England and Belgium to meet again in two weeks in Manchester.
Ederson returned in goal for City after flying direct to Belgium last week following Brazil’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers, while Jack Grealish replaced Raheem Sterling in the front three.
Viewed as the weakest team in a group also featuring 2020 semifinalists RB Leipzig, Brugge had surprisingly held PSG to a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the section at the Jan Breydelstadion.
City, facing Brugge for the first time, twice had the ball in the net inside the opening 15 minutes. Grealish’s lob was ruled out for a push on Clinton Mata, with Rodri’s tap-in disallowed for offside.
Phil Foden fired into the side-netting after running onto a long ball, the England international’s free roaming as a false nine constantly troubling Brugge.
It came as little surprise Foden created the opening goal for Cancelo, chipping a delightful ball over the defense that the Portugal defender poked through the legs of former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Stanley Nsoki chopped Mahrez down in the area late in the first half, the Algerian doubling City’s lead as he sent Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.
Mahrez nearly struck again before half-time but Mignolet beat away his first-time strike from Foden’s lay-off.
Walker all but put the match out of reach on 53 minutes when Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne combined, the latter rolling through for Walker to drill low past Mignolet.
Mignolet denied Foden with his legs as City continued to stream forward. Not even a spate of changes could check their momentum as Palmer scored three minutes after replacing De Bruyne.
No sooner had Belgium star De Bruyne walked off to warm applause from the home supporters than Palmer curled in from Raheem Sterling’s assist.
Mignolet saved well from Sterling after he escaped in behind the defense, with Ederson producing a sharp stop to turn away Charles De Ketelaere’s diving header.
Brugge refused to fold and Hans Vanaken steered in a consolation nine minutes from time, but the game finished as it started, with City flexing their muscle as Mahrez burst clear to complete the rout.


Greece hands over Olympic flame to Beijing 2022 hosts

Updated 19 October 2021

Greece hands over Olympic flame to Beijing 2022 hosts

  • Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022
  • The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour

ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday handed over the Olympic flame to organizers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, a day after the lighting ceremony was disrupted by activists calling for the event to be postponed.
Hellenic Olympic Committee chief Spyros Kapralos gave the Olympic torch to the vice president of Beijing 2022 and vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the ancient Games were revived in 1896.
“The Olympic flame will travel to the Great Wall and across other parts of China, bringing with it the light of peace and friendship,” Yu said.
He said China vowed to deliver “a streamlined, safe and splendid Games.”
Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022.
Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses had earlier lit a cauldron with the Olympic flame, after China’s Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 freestyle ski silver medallist Li Nina ran a lap with the torch in the second-century AD stadium.
The ceremony was held without spectators, with mainly officials and media in attendance.
“The pandemic may have prevented us from holding the Olympic flame ceremony in the presence of people, but I am sure that the successful and safe organization of the Games will be another victory of humanity against the coronavirus,” Kapralos said.
“Beijing is making history by becoming the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And we are very happy, because by giving you the flame, we also become part of this history,” he added.
The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour.
Earlier Tuesday, activists against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics urged the IOC to postpone the event, arguing that China was perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghurs and Tibetans.
“This is sports-washing. There are no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide,” Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the World Uyghur Congress, told a news conference in the Greek capital.
During the lighting ceremony in Olympia on Monday, the activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said “no genocide” at the Games. A similar protest was held at the Acropolis in Athens on Sunday.
Human rights campaigners and exiles say the Chinese central government practices religious repression, torture, forced sterilization and cultural erosion through forced re-education.
Campaigners believe that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The IOC is legitimising “one of the worst violations of human rights in the entire 21st century” and defiling the spirit of the Games, Pema Doma, campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, told the news conference in Athens.
“These Games cannot go ahead as planned, they must be postponed,” she said.
There have also been calls for athletes and governments to boycott the Games.
IOC chairman Thomas Bach has batted off talk of a potential boycott, claiming the International Olympic Committee’s political neutrality and saying it was up to governments to live up to their responsibilities.
A victim of the 1980 Moscow Games boycott, the former fencer has said such moves only punish athletes, and insists the IOC was addressing the rights issue “within our remit.”