FIFA links more World Cups to averting migrant deaths at sea

FIFA president Gianni Infantino. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2022

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.


Lebanese activists launch mock ‘lollar’ currency

Updated 13 May 2022

Lebanese activists launch mock ‘lollar’ currency

  • The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) decided to take the joke to the streets, with a stunt encouraging people to use “lollars” for the day
  • The “monetary disobedience” campaign, entitled “Currency of Corruption,” encourages people to print their own “funny money” at home

BEIRUT: Lebanese activists Friday rolled out mock banknotes featuring paintings of a gutted central bank or the Beirut port explosion to denounce high-level corruption that has helped to wreck the country.
The collapse of the Lebanese pound and frozen bank accounts have left Lebanon with a confusing currency system, with a multitude of exchange rates applying to various situations in daily life.
The dollars stuck in accounts that citizens can only withdraw in Lebanese pounds at a fraction of their original value are known locally as “lollars.”
With parliamentary elections two days away, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) decided to take the joke to the streets, with a stunt encouraging people to use “lollars” for the day.
The “monetary disobedience” campaign, entitled “Currency of Corruption,” encourages people to print their own “funny money” at home and try to use it as a means of raising awareness.
“We will not adapt to this mockery anymore, we are #NotPayingThePrice,” the LTA said in a statement unveiling the campaign and its hashtag.
The mock banknotes feature paintings by acclaimed Lebanon-based artist Tom Young depicting calamities that have hit Lebanon in recent years, from the deadly August 2020 port blast to forest fires, solid waste pollution and shortages.
On one of Beirut’s main squares Friday, organizers installed a fake ATM from which passers-by could withdraw “lollars.”
LTA communications officer Hazar Assi said the campaign was aimed at reminding voters that their current plight was to blame on the country’s corrupt hereditary leaders.
“When people vote, they should make a choice based on accountability and rejecting the corruption that is affecting all of our lives,” she said.
Lebanon’s traditional sectarian parties will seek extend their stranglehold on power in parliamentary elections on Sunday but a new generation of independent candidates are hoping for a breakthrough.


Movie critics gush over Tom Cruise’s return in ‘Top Gun’ sequel

Updated 12 May 2022

Movie critics gush over Tom Cruise’s return in ‘Top Gun’ sequel

  • "Top Gun: Maverick" earned a 96% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website among 57 reviews as of Thursday
  • The movie debuts in theaters on May 27

LOS ANGELES: It took Tom Cruise 36 years to head back to the danger zone to bring a “Top Gun” sequel to the screen, and the first reviews from movie critics said it was well worth the wait.
“Top Gun: Maverick” earned a 96 percent positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website among 57 reviews as of Thursday. The movie debuts in theaters on May 27.
Cruise returns in the film as Pete Mitchell, the cocky Navy pilot, codenamed Maverick, who has never risen through the ranks because of his penchant for bucking authority.
Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press called the movie “a textbook example of how to make a sequel.”
“The movie satisfies with one foot in the past by hitting all the touchstones of the first film,” Kennedy said, “and yet stands on its own.”
Box office analysts project the movie from Paramount Pictures will rank as one of the biggest box office hits of the summer.
The movie had been scheduled for release in June 2020, but Paramount delayed its debut multiple times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Critics said the movie offers thrilling flight scenes, an emotional story and strong performances by supporting cast including Miles Teller, who plays the son of Goose, Maverick’s partner who died in the original 1986 film.
But most of the praise was reserved for Cruise.
“It’s a fresh-faced gloss on the original ... powered, like the original, by a star who’ll simply never stop being a star,” wrote K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone.
Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly said the movie “belongs in almost every scene to Cruise.”
“At this point in his career, he’s not really playing characters so much as variations on a theme — the theme being, perhaps, The Last Movie Star,” she said. “And in the air up there, he stands alone.”


Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra seek to lift spirits at Eurovision

Updated 12 May 2022

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra seek to lift spirits at Eurovision

  • Their entry "Stefania", sung in Ukrainian, fuses rap with traditional folk music and is a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk's mother
  • The bookmakers have made it the clear favourite for the annual contest based on the plight of Ukraine following Russia's invasion in February

TURIN, Italy: Kalush Orchestra are aiming to “lift the spirits” of their fellow Ukrainians by riding a wave of public support to win the Eurovision Song Contest in the Italian city of Turin on Saturday night.
Their entry “Stefania,” sung in Ukrainian, fuses rap with traditional folk music and is a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.
The bookmakers have made it the clear favorite for the annual contest, which normally draws a television audience of close to 200 million, based on the plight of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February.
“Any victory in any aspect is very important for Ukraine these days, so winning the Eurovision Song Contest of course would lift the spirits of so many Ukrainians while we don’t have much good news these days,” Psiuk told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
The band takes its name from the Western Ukrainian city of Kalush. It finished second in the country’s national song contest but replaced winner Alina Pash after controversy over a visit she made to Crimea in 2015, a year after it was annexed by Russia.
“We are here to showcase Ukrainian culture because attempts are being made these days to kill Ukrainian culture, and we want to show that Ukrainian culture is alive, it’s unique, and it has its own beautiful signature,” Psiuk added.
One of the regular band members has stayed behind in Ukraine to help defend Kyiv, according to Psiuk, who added that he planned to return home after Eurovision and resume work with a volunteer group trying to find accommodation and medicine for his compatriots.
“Even here, outside Ukraine, we are worried about our family members that stay there, and you wake up every morning without being sure whether everyone you love is still alive and where another missile could hit,” he added.
Russia, which says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, has been excluded from the contest this year.
Italy is hosting after winning last year with Maneskin’s rocky “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut Up and Behave).
The contest is decided by a combination of votes by the official jury and viewers from participating nations.
Eurovision fans, converging on Turin for an event that combines glitz, energy and a fair dollop of eccentricity, welcome the chance to let their hair down.
“Eurovision is like a bridge to that normal life we had before the war started,” Vitalii Lirnyk, a member of the official Ukrainian Eurovision fan club, said in Turin.
“And maybe, for like a couple of minutes, for an hour a day, we can just feel safe and normal,” added Lirnyk, who has lived in the United States for the past few years.


Astronomers capture 1st image of Milky Way’s huge black hole

Updated 12 May 2022

Astronomers capture 1st image of Milky Way’s huge black hole

  • Astronomers believe nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center
  • The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope

WASHINGTON: The world got a look Thursday at the first wild but fuzzy image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers believe nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it extremely hard to get images of them. Light gets chaotically bent and twisted around by gravity as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust.
The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts had found the black hole in the center of our galaxy too jumpy to get a good picture.
The University of Arizona’s Feryal Ozel called the black hole “the gentle giant in the center of our galaxy” while announcing the new image.
The Milky Way black hole is called Sagittarius A(asterisk), near the border of Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations. It is 4 million times more massive than our sun.
This is not the first black hole image. The same group released the first one in 2019 and it was from a galaxy 53 million light-years away. The Milky Way black hole is much closer, about 27,000 light-years away. A light year is 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers).
The project cost nearly $60 million with $28 million coming from the US National Science Foundation.


’Wagatha Christie’: Soccer spouses’ libel battle opens in UK

Updated 10 May 2022

’Wagatha Christie’: Soccer spouses’ libel battle opens in UK

  • Rooney posted the fake tales on purpose over several months
  • The stories then appeared in The Sun, and Rooney announced to her followers that Vardy was responsible

LONDON: A high-profile libel court battle between two soccer spouses, in which one publicly called out the other for allegedly leaking made-up stories to the tabloid press, opened Tuesday in London.
Coleen Rooney accused Rebekah Vardy of leaking fake stories she had posted on her Instagram account to The Sun newspaper in October 2019. Vardy denies the claims and brought the libel suit.
Both women are married to famous footballers — Rooney to former Manchester United and England star Wayne Rooney, Vardy to Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy.
Rooney posted the fake tales on purpose over several months, and said she blocked everyone apart from an account belonging to Vardy from seeing her Instagram stories. The stories then appeared in The Sun, and Rooney announced to her followers that Vardy was responsible.
The showdown has fascinated many in Britain and has been dubbed the “Wagatha Christie” trial — a play on the slang term “WAG” for the wives and girlfriends of soccer stars — for Rooney’s detective work.
On Tuesday, Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson denied that she leaked information from Rooney’s private Instagram. Vardy had made “strenuous but unsuccessful attempts” to settle the case but Rooney’s accusatory post was not taken down, he said.
“Mrs Rooney did not have the ‘irrefutable’ evidence that she claimed to have had: her so-called ‘careful investigation’ was nothing of the sort,” Tomlinson said in written submissions to the High Court.
“Mrs Vardy had no choice but to bring this libel action to establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation,” he added.
Tomlinson said the showdown and subsequent libel case had become the subject of intense press coverage and a source of “entertainment” in the media, causing profound distress to his client.
Both women arrived at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, flanked by a crowd of photographers, before taking their seats at the front of the courtroom as the hearing began.
They are expected to testify and the trial is set to last about a week.