British sports minister urges reluctant players to get COVID-19 vaccine

Newcastle fans behind Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka during their game against Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 December 2021

British sports minister urges reluctant players to get COVID-19 vaccine

  • English Football League said on Thursday that a quarter of players from its 72 clubs don’t intend to get vaccinated
  • Premier League's most recent data on vaccination levels in mid-October found that 81% of players had received one vaccination dose

DUBAI: British sports minister Nigel Huddleston has urged footballers who do not intend to get the COVID-19 vaccine to “overcome their reluctance” because it is their social responsibility.
With games being postponed due to COVID outbreaks at several clubs, the English Football League (EFL), which governs the lower divisions of the sport, said on Thursday that a quarter of players from its 72 clubs do not intend to get vaccinated.
“I recognize that some people can’t get vaccinated, but we all need to encourage those who aren’t vaccinated to overcome their reluctance,” Huddleston was quoted as saying by the BBC.
“The overwhelming majority of those seriously ill from COVID in hospital are unvaccinated. The most important thing anyone — including footballers — can do to protect themselves, co-workers and loved ones is to get vaccinated and get a booster.”
The Premier League’s most recent data on vaccination levels in mid-October found that 81 percent of players had received at least one vaccination dose with 68 percent double vaccinated.
“Getting the jab is the socially responsible thing to do. Many footballers and sports stars have used their profile and social media to encourage people to get vaccinated. I am very grateful to them, they can reach people that ministers can’t,” Huddleston added.
EFL medical adviser Richard Higgins has urged players to get fully vaccinated and obtain the booster jab if eligible as the omicron variant takes hold.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA has also launched an information campaign nL1N2T11FP to encourage players to get their vaccinations.
“I know the football authorities are also working with players to understand why some are vaccine hesitant,” Huddleston said.
Member of Parliament Jeff Smith also urged footballers to get the vaccine, describing them as “important role models for millions of people.
“Vaccines are safe, effective and the best protection we have against COVID,” he said.
“COVID can affect everyone, including fit young people. Getting vaccinated is not only about protecting yourself — it’s about protecting everyone around you.”


Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

Updated 29 sec ago

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Police have launched an investigation after India fans claimed they were racially abused during England’s fifth Test victory in Birmingham.
The Bharat Army, the official India supporters’ club, said “many” of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by “a very small minority” in Monday’s fourth day of play.
A post on the group’s Twitter account read: “Sad to say many of our members experienced racist abuse from a very small minority of individuals. We will work with @Edgbaston to share all your feedback.
“Thank you to those England fans who stood by us.”
West Midlands Police on Tuesday said they were liaising with officials at Edgbaston to understand what happened.
Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said: “We are very concerned to hear reports of racist abuse at today’s Test match. We are in contact with colleagues at Edgbaston, who will investigate. There is no place for racism in cricket.”
Stuart Cain, chief executive at Edgbaston, added: “I’m gutted by these reports as we’re working hard to make Edgbaston a safe, welcoming environment for all.
“Having seen the initial tweets, I’ve spoken personally to the gentleman who raised them and we’re now speaking to the stewards in this area to establish what happened.
“Nobody should be subject to any form of abuse at Edgbaston. So, once we’ve got all the facts, we will make sure this issue is addressed swiftly.”
Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq retweeted a thread detailing some of the alleged incidents along with the comment: “Disappointing to read.”
His evidence to a parliamentary select committee last year sparked an investigation into his claims of institutional racism at Yorkshire which resulted in ECB charges and major reforms.
England won the fifth Test on Tuesday’s final day after centuries from Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Updated 05 July 2022

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

  • The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman

VIRGINIA WATER, England: Ian Poulter and two other players who signed up for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series won a stay Monday from a British court that allows them to play in the Scottish Open.

Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa challenged their suspension from the Scottish Open and two other tournaments, the penalty for playing a LIV Golf event outside London without a release from the European tour.

They will be added to the field this week at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, the first European Tour event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman. Poulter is also a PGA Tour member.

Poulter was among 16 players who hinted at legal action over European tour penalties, though the temporary stay after a hearing before Judge Phillip Sycamore, who was appointed by Sports Resolutions (UK), applied only to the three players.

“I will simply say we are disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing, but will abide by the decision,” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement. “It is important to remember, however, this is only a stay of the sanctions imposed, pending the hearing of the players’ appeal as to whether those sanctions were appropriate.”

Pelley was at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland and said he would withhold a more detailed response until the charity event was over, out of respect to the hosts. McManus has attracted a world-class field that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and a host of other major champions.

Poulter also is playing the two-day event in Ireland.

Earlier in the day, he told BBC Sports he was fighting for his right to play golf.

“My commitment to the European Tour has been there since day one,” he said. “And it’s still there today. I’m proud of playing so often, when it was to the detriment of world ranking points and FedEx Cup points I could have earned playing more in America.”

Along with the suspension, players who competed in LIV Golf without permission were fined £100,000 ($121,000), roughly the amount of last-place money in the $20 million LIV events.


Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Updated 05 July 2022

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

DUNKIRK, FRANCE: The Tour de France gets back underway Tuesday after a successful three days in Denmark with a series of testing stages that will shape the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five things worth watching out for in the next seven days:

— With three hilly stages, two mountain days and the treacherous cobbles, attack-minded Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin will be straining at the leash to once more claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey after a fine run in 2021. He can probably not do it in the mountains, but the one-day specialist sits just 20 seconds off Wout van Aert’s lead and may even go for the gun between Dunkirk and Calais on Tuesday.

— The Tour takes on 20km of the old mining roads that led the Paris-Roubaix to gain its nickname ‘the Hell of the North’. That stretch could provide a shake-up in the overall standings and may also reveal the true nature of the pecking order inside the teams with more than one leader.

If Tadej Pogacar’s hand injury is worse than he is showing, it will be put to a rude test. Ineos could protect Adam Yates, or opt to allow Geraint Thomas to plow on if he is in difficulty. Primoz Roglic would appear stronger for Jumbo, but they also have Jonas Vingegaard as a possible leader and will also consider how long to try and keep Wout van Aert in yellow.

— The last time the Tour took on this climb in the Vosges mountains to the storied summit finish, Thomas gained time on all his key rivals on the punishing upper reaches contested over gravel. The Tour winner will likely not be revealed here, with time differences between the overall contenders expected to remain within 30-40 seconds. But this is the Tour’s first summit finish, first mountain stage and will provide major form pointers ahead of the crucial Alpine stages ahead.

— The 10th stage in the Swiss Alps is potentially the most gruling test of the week, with over 40km of tough ascents. It will put Ineos’ promise to race aggressively to the test. They have two climbers in their ranks capable of a bid to put time into defending champion Pogacar, or at least wear him out on a Tour thin on traditional mountain challenges.

— Ineos were talking up a fight ahead of the Tour, suggesting they would race aggressively in their bid to end Pogacar’s reign. Their two leaders are climbers Daniel Martinez and Yates who will have to wait for the mountains to launch an attack. Jumbo-Visma, runners-up in the past two years, said they would be concentrating on just surviving the opening stages. The merits of those differing strategies will be put under the microscope this week.


Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

Updated 05 July 2022

Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

  • Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals
  • Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona boosted their midfield and defense by signing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on Monday.

The 25-year-old Kessie, who had been playing for AC Milan since 2017, arrives as a free agent on a contract until June 2026 and a buyout clause of €500 million ($522 million).

Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s.

Kessie will be officially introduced on Wednesday. The Ivory Coast midfielder will be the second Ivorian to play for Barcelona, after Yaya Toure in the late 2000s.

The 26-year-old Christensen will be introduced on Thursday. The Danish central defender joined Chelsea’s youth teams in 2012 and had a stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga before returning to Chelsea.

Christensen helped Chelsea win the Champions League, the Europea League and the Club World Cup, and was on the Danish national team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championship.

Barcelona called him “strong and with great vision, a powerful center back who is excellent in the air” and “technically proficient with the ball at his feet, a perfect fit” for the Catalan club.

Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals.

Kessie moved to Italy in 2014 to sign for Atalanta, where he played in the club’s youth squads before joining second-division team Cesena on a loan. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini eventually brought him back to Atalanta and he scored twice in his Serie A debut in 2016.

Kessie joined Milan on loan in 2017 and permanently signed with the club in 2019 for €33 million ($34.5 million). He helped AC Milan win its first title in 11 seasons this year. In his six seasons with Atalanta and Milan, Kessie scored 45 goals.

Barcelona called Kessie “the complete package” and a “strong midfielder with tactical awareness.”

“Kessie is a player who contributes in attack and in defense,” the club said. “Capable of winning the ball back in midfield, the African midfielder also has impressive stats as a goal-scorer, partly due to his ability to make runs into the penalty area.”

He will join a midfield that includes Sergio Busquets, Nico González and Frenkie de Jong.


Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

Updated 05 July 2022

Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

  • The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT)

PARIS: Christophe Galtier has been appointed coach of French champions Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal, club sources confirmed on Monday.

Galtier, who spent last season in charge of Ligue 1 rivals Nice, takes over from Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.

The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

PSG have been working to secure the appointment of a new coach for several weeks, but no move has been finalized while Pochettino and his backroom staff remain under contract.

PSG’s squad, minus those who were on international duty in June, reported for pre-season training on Monday.

Galtier, who left Nice last month, has developed a reputation as the leading coach in the French club game over the last decade.

He enjoyed eight successful years at Saint-Etienne, where he won the League Cup in 2013, before a four-year stint at Lille was crowned with the Ligue 1 title in 2021, when they pipped PSG.

Pochettino is set to leave Paris after 18 months in charge in which time he won the Ligue 1 title last season but also oversaw a disappointing exit from the Champions League in the last 16 at the hands of Real Madrid.

Having at one point been linked with a move for Zinedine Zidane, PSG’s swoop for Galtier may come as a surprise to some who expected the Qatar-owned club to opt for a more glamorous name on the bench.

However, the former Portsmouth assistant manager previously worked with Luis Campos, the Portuguese super scout who was recently named as PSG’s football adviser and who built the Lille team that won the league under Galtier.

PSG’s hopes of Champions League success in the short term were boosted by Kylian Mbappe’s decision at the end of last season to turn down Real Madrid and sign a new three-year deal at the Parc des Princes.

They have already made one signing ahead of the new campaign with the arrival of 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder Vitinha from Porto for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($42 million).

Mbappe, Lionel Messi and PSG’s other international stars will begin pre-season training next week.

PSG will depart for a short pre-season tour of Japan to play three games between July 20 and 25, before their first competitive match of the campaign on July 31 against Nantes in the French season-opening Champions Trophy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Ligue 1 season will begin on the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7.