FIFA links more World Cups to averting migrant deaths at sea

FIFA president Gianni Infantino. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2022
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FIFA links more World Cups to averting migrant deaths at sea

  • In a speech to European lawmakers, Infantino said soccer was being dominated by the few who “have everything” and it needed to be more global and inclusive
  • “We need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world as well to participate,” Infantino told lawmakers

GENEVA: FIFA President Gianni Infantino linked his plan for biennial World Cups on Wednesday to giving more hope to Africans who risk their lives crossing the sea to Europe.
In a speech to European lawmakers, Infantino said soccer was being dominated by the few who “have everything” and it needed to be more global and inclusive.
“We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea,” Infantino told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, France.
He spoke on the day Spanish authorities said at least 18 people died and more than 300 were rescued from several boats trying to reach the Canary Islands from North Africa.
“We need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world as well to participate,” Infantino told lawmakers at a session he attended with Arsène Wenger, FIFA’s director of global development.
FIFA and Wenger have been strongly resisted across European soccer since launching a formal proposal in September to organize men’s and women’s World Cups every two years instead of four.
Infantino has said organizing more editions of the World Cup will lead to more countries qualifying and fuel interest there. It would also raise billions of dollars for FIFA and increase funding for its 211 member federations to develop soccer.
Though Infantino was a longtime staffer at UEFA before being elected to FIFA in 2016, a constant theme of his presidency has been countering Europe’s dominance of the World Cup — Italy, Spain, Germany and France won the past four tournaments — and its clubs hiring the best players from other continents.
One of Infantino’s first big projects at FIFA was adding 16 nations to the World Cup for a 48-team competition from 2026, when Africa will have nine entries instead of five. Europe will get 16.
“In Europe, there is no need for additional possibilities and events,” Infantino told lawmakers at the 47-nation Council of Europe which promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Soccer must not effectively tell the world to hand over its money and best players “but watch us on TV,” Infantino said. “We have to make (football) truly global, we have to make it truly inclusive such as the values that have built Europe and we are bringing as well all over the world.”
Infantino acknowledged “maybe the World Cup every two years is not the answer.”
FIFA’s push for biennial World Cups has been uncertain since it stalled ahead of a December online meeting of its members where a vote had once been expected but was not called.
Leaders of UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL have threatened to boycott biennial World Cups. They said more World Cups risk disrupting the balance between national and club team soccer and damaging continental competitions such as the Champions League, European Championship and Copa America.
Star players such as Kylian Mbappé, a 2018 World Cup winner with France, have said doubling the number of World Cups would dilute its prestige and overload them in an already congested fixture schedule.
The International Olympic Committee has also publicly criticized FIFA’s plan which could put the World Cup in direct competition with the Summer Games by 2032.
The IOC also rallied other sports to challenge Infantino in December over soccer’s plan to acquire more space and commercial income in the global schedule.


US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

Updated 18 May 2024
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US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

  • A surge of interest in cycling in the US pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020

For the nation’s bicycle shops, the past few years have probably felt like the business version of the Tour de France, with numerous twists and turns testing their endurance.
Early in the pandemic, a surge of interest in cycling pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020, according to the retail tracking service Circana. It wasn’t unheard of for some shops to sell 100 bikes or more in a couple of days.
The boom didn’t last. Hobbled by pandemic-related supply chain issues, the shops sold all their bikes and had trouble restocking. Now, inventory has caught up, but fewer people need new bikes. So, bicycle makers have been slashing prices to clear out the excess. It all adds up to a tough environment for retailers, although there are a few bright spots like gravel and e-bikes.
“The industry had a hard time keeping up with the demand for a couple of years, but then demand slowed as the lockdowns ended, and then a lot of inventory started showing up,” said Stephen Frothingham, editor-in-chief of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News. “So now for the last, a year and a half, the industry has struggled with having too much inventory, at the supplier level, at the factory level, at the distributor level, at the retail level.”
In 2023, bike sales totaled $4.1 billion, up 23 percent from 2019, but down 24 percent from 2020, according to Circana. The path out of the pandemic has been uneven — national retailers, such as REI and Scheels, are stabilizing faster than independent bike stores, said Matt Tucker, director of client development for Circana’s sports equipment business.
For John McDonell, owner of Market Street Cycles on the popular thoroughfare of Market Street in San Francisco, the shift to hybrid work brought about by the pandemic has been particularly tough on business. There used to be 3,000 bikes passing by his shop a day during the summer. That’s fallen to below 1,000, with fewer people commuting to work.
According to Pacer.ai, which tracks people’s movements based on cellphone usage, San Francisco lags all other major cities when it comes to workers returning to offices, with April office visits still down 49 percent compared with April 2019.
“Our downtown is still a wasteland,” McDonell said.
Independent bike stores not only have to compete with national chains, but increasingly, bike makers such as Specialized and Trek as well. They’ve been buying bike shops and selling their bikes directly to consumers, essentially cutting out the middleman. Frothingham estimates there are now around a thousand bike shops in the country owned by either Trek or Specialized.
“They’ve got the money to absorb the fact that bike stores, you know, are not a super profitable thing, and in the process, they’ve also been able to cut us out of it,” McDonell said.
McDonell has been forced to cut down to using a skeleton crew of himself and another staffer, down from five previously. His dream of selling his shop to a younger bike enthusiast when he retires is fading. He might close his store when his lease is up in a couple of years.
“Now I am just trying to land it with both engines on fire and trying not to lose money on my way out,” he said.
In Boulder, Colorado, Douglas Emerson’s bike shop, University Bicycles, is faring better, boosted by its location in one of the most popular places to ride bikes in the country. He’s had the shop for 39 years and employs 30 staffers.
Like other bike stores, the pandemic spurred a frenzy of bike buying at University Bicycles. Emerson recalls selling 107 bikes in 48 hours. But right after the boom, sales slowed dramatically because inventory was scarce, and rentals died down since no one was traveling.
“It became a struggle right after the boom,” Emerson said. “And since then, the manufacturers have overproduced. And they’ve slashed prices dramatically which is good for the consumer. But with the small shops they’re often not able to take advantage of those prices.”
Emerson says the shop reached a “saturation point” – everyone who wanted a bike bought one. Now, he’s selling those customers accessories like clothing, helmets and locks. His shop has returned to its 2019 sales numbers.
University Bicycles has also benefited from some of the shifts in buying patterns. Continued high demand for e-bikes and a growing demand for children’s bikes have helped. And gravel bikes, which are designed to be ridden both on paved and gravel roads, are replacing road bikes as a popular seller.
John Ruger, who has been a cyclist for 50 years and is a loyal University Bicycles customer, hasn’t bought a bike in 10 years, but plans on taking advantage of the current prices to buy a gravel bike. A top gravel bike he’s eyeing that would normally sell for $12,000 to $14,000 is currently retailing for $8,000, he said.
“The timing is good,” he said. “I can get a bike now because they’re less expensive and my bikes are getting old.”
Shawna Williams, owner of Free Range Cycles in Seattle, Washington, didn’t have the sales surge others did because her 700 square foot shop was so small she took customers only by appointment from March 2020 to May 2021.
But Williams did have to deal with the eventual shortages. She spent a lot of time “checking in with other shops to see if we could buy something, even at retail, from them, just in order to get a repair done or a build done.”
She adapted by offering more services like repairs and maintenance to offset lower sales of bikes. The maneuvering helped her keep overall sales steady even throughout the pandemic.
“Bike sales, the way that I have kind of framed the shop, are an awesome bonus, but we really need to be sustaining the shop through repair and, like, thoughtful accessory sales,” Williams said. “A bike sale to me, if we do things well, that means creating a customer for life.”


An annual rich list says Paul McCartney is Britain’s first billionaire musician

Updated 17 May 2024
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An annual rich list says Paul McCartney is Britain’s first billionaire musician

  • The annual Sunday Times Rich List calculated that the wealth of the 81-year-old musician and his wife, Nancy Shevell, had grown by 50 million pounds since last year
  • McCartney ranked 165th overall on the newspaper’s respected and widely perused list of the UK’s 350 richest people

LONDON: According to figures released Friday, the former member of the Fab Four is the first British musician to be worth 1 billion pounds ($1.27 billion).
The annual Sunday Times Rich List calculated that the wealth of the 81-year-old musician and his wife, Nancy Shevell, had grown by 50 million pounds since last year thanks to McCartney’s 2023 Got Back tour, the rising value of his back catalogue and Beyonce’s cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on her “Cowboy Carter” album.
A “final” Beatles song, “Now and Then,” was also released in November and topped music charts in the US, the UK and other countries. Surviving Beatles McCartney and Ringo Starr completed a demo track recorded in 1977 by the late John Lennon, adding in guitar by George Harrison, who died in 2001.
The newspaper estimated 50 million pounds of the couple’s wealth is due to Shevell, daughter of the late US trucking tycoon Mike Shevell.
McCartney ranked 165th overall on the newspaper’s respected and widely perused list of the UK’s 350 richest people. Top spot went to Gopi Hinduja and his family, who own the banking, media and entertainment conglomerate Hinduja Group and are worth an estimated 37 billion pounds.
Other entertainment figures on the list include “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, whose fortune is estimated at 945 million pounds, and singer Elton John, estimated to be worth 470 million pounds.
King Charles III ranked 258th with an estimated wealth of 610 million pounds. The king’s fortune includes the large inherited private estates of Sandringham in England and Balmoral in Scotland. The total does not include items that are held in trust by the monarch for the nation, such as the Crown Jewels.


Miniature poodle Sage fetches top prize at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Updated 15 May 2024
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Miniature poodle Sage fetches top prize at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

  • Sage, a 4-year-old black-colored female groomed in the fine, fluffy topiary style traditional for poodles, competed head to head against the winners in six other groups
  • The Westminster dog show bills itself as the second-oldest US sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby thoroughbred horse race

NEW YORK: A sprightly miniature poodle named Sage was crowned “Best in Show” on Tuesday at the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, winning the grand prize in the most prestigious competition among pure-bred canines in the United States.
Sage, the finalist representing 21 breeds classified as non-sporting dogs, triumphed over more than 2,500 top-ranked dogs competing in the two-day contest, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City.
Sage, a 4-year-old black-colored female groomed in the fine, fluffy topiary style traditional for poodles, competed head to head against the winners in six other groups — terriers, hounds, herding dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs and toy dogs.
She was the first female to win the top prize at Westminster since 2020, according to commentators on the Fox Sports channel, which broadcast the event live.
And she became the fourth miniature poodle to claim the top prize in the 148-year history of the contest, with the trophy previously going to her breed in 1943, 1959 and 2002, according to kennel club records.
The larger “standard” poodle breed has been declared Best in Show five times, most recently in 2020, and the smaller “toy” poodle breed has won twice.
The poodle originated as a hunting dog in Germany and is now recognized as the national dog of France.
Sage’s handler, Kaz Hosaka, cried tears of joy and carried his prized poodle in his arms around floor of the auditorium to cheers of the crowd as he celebrated what he said was his 45th year participating at the Westminster dog show and the last of his career.
The Westminster dog show bills itself as the second-oldest US sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby thoroughbred horse race. This year’s competition drew a field of contenders representing 200 breeds from all 50 US states and 12 other countries.
Mercedes, a female 4-year-old German shepherd, was named runner-up for the overall contest, after first winning the top prize in the herding dog group.
Along with Sage and Mercedes, the two other finalists chosen on Monday were Comet the Shih Tzu, representing the toy group, and Louis, the Afghan hound leading the hound group.
Rounding out the finalists were three group winners chosen on Tuesday — Micah the black cocker spaniel, representing sporting dogs; Monty, the giant schnauzer, leading the working dogs; and Frankie, a colored bull terrier from the terrier group.


‘Miracle’ survivor found 5 days after building collapse

Updated 12 May 2024
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‘Miracle’ survivor found 5 days after building collapse

  • When we went down to the side of the slab we had uncovered, we heard somebody inside, and we stopped all the heavy operations

JOHANNESBURG: Rescuers and onlookers cheered and applauded on Saturday as a survivor was rescued after 116 hours from underneath the rubble of a collapsed building in South Africa, with the tragedy having killed at least 13.
Provincial premier Alan Winde said on X: “It is a miracle that we have all been hoping for.”
An apartment block under construction in the southern city of George crumbled on Monday afternoon while an 81-person crew was on site.
“When we went down to the side of the slab we had uncovered, we heard somebody inside, and we stopped all the heavy operations,” Colin Deiner, head of rescue operations, told reporters.
Rescuers then called out to the survivor, and he spoke back, Deiner said.
“He indicated to us that he’s got weight on his legs, and we’re very concerned about that after such a long period.” After several hours, the survivor was extricated and rushed to a hospital.
Rescue teams have been working against time since the structure came crashing down.
Twenty-nine people were rescued alive, while thirty-nine remained unaccounted for.
Winde said a “difficult” identification process was underway, and police were using fingerprints, DNA testing, and photographs.
The city had approved construction plans for a 42-unit apartment block in July.
The reasons for the collapse are still unknown.

 


Biden jokes Trump should have injected himself with bleach

Updated 11 May 2024
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Biden jokes Trump should have injected himself with bleach

  • Biden also made light of Trump’s “love letters” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • In a senior moment, Biden mistakenly referred to Kim as the president of South Korea

PORTOLA VALLEY, California: US President Joe Biden joked on Friday that he wished former President Donald Trump had injected himself with a little bleach, resurrecting one of Trump’s more head-scratching moments from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, at a fundraising event south of San Francisco for his re-election campaign, said the presidency of his Republican opponent was chaotic and that voters should keep that in mind. Biden and Trump are locked in a close contest ahead of the November election.
“Remember him saying the best thing to do is just inject a little bleach in your arm? That’s what he said. And he meant it. I wish he had done a little bit himself,” Biden said.
During the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Trump said that an “injection inside” the human body with a disinfectant like bleach or isopropyl alcohol could help protect against the virus.

Biden also made light of what he called Trump’s “love letters” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, although Biden mistakenly referred to Kim as the president of South Korea.
Trump had met with Kim and exchanged a number of letters with him, copies of which he kept in a loose-leaf binder in the Oval Office.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Biden’s remarks.
Biden has made light of Trump’s bleach comment before, saying on April 24 in Washington that Trump had injected himself and “it all went to his hair.”