French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

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Congolese fans enter the pitch after Congo defeated Mali during the final game of the national cup of working-class neighborhoods in Creteil, outside Paris, France, on June 2, 2022. (AP)
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Senegal's head coach Aliou Cisse attends the final game between teams of players with Malian and Congolese roots, in Creteil, outside Paris, on June 2, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 04 July 2022

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

  • Event grew out of local tournaments in France's suburbs where former immigrants have lived for generations
  • Competition challenges French ideals of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by ethnic background

CRETEIL, France: An amateur football tournament in France aimed at celebrating ethnic diversity is attracting talent scouts, sponsors and increasing public attention, by uniting young players from low-income neighborhoods with high-profile names in the sport.

The National Neighborhoods Cup is intended to shine a positive spotlight on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and extremism.

Players with Congolese heritage beat a team with Malian roots 5-4 on Saturday in the one-month tournament’s final match, held at the home stadium of a third-division French team in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The final was broadcast live on Prime Video.

The event competition grew out of local tournaments modeled after the African Cup of Nations that have been held in recent years in suburbs and towns across France where former immigrants with African backgrounds have lived for years or generations. This tournament, however was broader, and international in scope.

Along with teams from former French colonies in Africa, the participants included teams from European nations like Portugal and Italy. Players from France’s former colonies in Asia also competed.

The tournament, which was launched in 2019, challenges the French ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t count or identify people by race or ethnic background. The ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, people in places like Creteil experience discrimination and ethnic tensions daily.

HIGHLIGHT

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We are Afro-descendants, we are claiming our roots and we are proud,” said tournament founder Moussa Sow, who works at the Red Cross and grew up in a Creteil neighborhood with a tough reputation. “It’s not because we carry this heritage that we are going to erase our French identity.”

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We have players who have two or three nationalities. It is a strength for us, a richness,” Sow told The Associated Press.

Sow witnessed firsthand the growing tensions among young people divided into rival groups according to which quarter of Creteil they were from, and wanted to gather inhabitants around the love of football and a celebration of cultural heritage.

Mohamed Diamé, who made 31 appearances for Senegal and played for West Ham and Newcastle in the English Premier League, former Mali and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sammy Traoré and Senegal manager Aliou Cisse all took part. In February, Cisse became a national hero after guiding Senegal to long-awaited victory in the African Cup of Nations.

Traore and Diame both made it to the top level in football and both grew up in Creteil, providing an example to young people that success is within their reach, too.

“I started my first training here when I was 7. I considered people from this neighborhood as brothers,” Diamé told the AP. “This feels like a pro tournament. We have a group chat, we support each other, we are determined.”

The amateur cup has grown since Sow started in 2019. Colorful placards of multinationals and local companies sponsoring the event were seen around the field. Young people and families can grab a merguez sandwich — a spicy sausage of North African origin long popular around France’s football stadiums — or other snacks and sing along to popular French songs, played by a DJ near the field.

“I am happy and proud, despite the anxious climate in France, to see people of different generations gathering,” Sow said.

Even though the tournament is strictly amateur, the technical level among players was good. At last weekend’s semifinals, high-quality cross-field passes and clever dribbles were cheered by the crowd. Some scouts were on the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to recruit talented young players.

Suburbs and satellite towns around big cities, known in French as “les banlieues,” are fertile ground for football talents in Europe. Academies in France — notably Lyon, Monaco, Nantes and Rennes — are ranked among the best in Europe along with Spain for developing young players such as Real Madrid great Karim Benzema and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe.

But these same areas have also carried and been scarred by a rough reputation.

At the end of May, some far-right politicians blamed young people from the suburbs for violence outside the Champions League final at Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. They were widely accused of vandalism, disruption of public safety and fraud.

Sow stressed that despite many people being suspicious of young people from the suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France, the tournament in Creteil has gone well. Defeats have been accepted with grace, and fans who have run onto the field after wins have been joyous rather than violent.

The mayor of Creteil supports the events, and a newly elected parliament member for the district, Clemence Guette of the left-wing parliamentary coalition NUPES, came to the semifinals. Guetté called it a “unifying” event that promoted “beautiful values” that sport generates.

Diame, who made around 240 Premier League appearances, has never let that take him away from his roots.

“No matter if you are Black, white, or Asian, everyone is welcome,” he told the AP. “Children, parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Everyone is here to enjoy a pure moment of pleasure.”


Hard work for Halep in Toronto WTA win over Gauff

Updated 52 min 15 sec ago

Hard work for Halep in Toronto WTA win over Gauff

  • The former number one made hard work of her triumph over the rising American teenager
  • Halep needed a second-set tiebreaker to advance into the semi-finals in just under two hours

TORONTO, Canada: Simona Halep served twice for her match against Coco Gauff without success on Friday before finally securing a 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) quarter-final victory at the WTA Toronto Masters.
The former number one, a two-time winner in Canada, made hard work of her triumph over the rising American teenager who just missed a chance at cracking the world ranking top-10 for the first time.
Halep needed a second-set tiebreaker to advance into the semifinals in just under two hours.
Double Grand Slam champion Halep earned her leading 183rd match win at the Masters 1000 level. She now owns 36 victories in 2022.
Gauff fired a backhand into the net on Halep’s first match point to end the encounter and lose her eighth straight set against the 30-year-old Romanian.
On Saturday, Halep will play her 29th Masters semifinal against the winner of a later match between US seventh seed Jessica Pegula or Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.


Willian leaves Corinthians following death threats

Updated 12 August 2022

Willian leaves Corinthians following death threats

  • "Willian asked us for his (contract) termination," said club president Duilio Monteiro Alves
  • "Whenever Corinthians lost and I didn't play well, my family received threats and insults on social media," Willian told the Globo Esporte website

SAO PAULO: Former Chelsea and Arsenal midfielder Willian quit Corinthians on Friday following the Brazilians’ Copa Libertadores elimination against domestic rivals Flamengo, after claiming he and his family received death threats on social media.
“Willian asked us for his (contract) termination. We are sad not to have him anymore and also because it didn’t go the way we expected. But we have to keep those here that are happy,” said club president Duilio Monteiro Alves.
It was only a year ago that the 34-year-old only rejoined the club where he made his professional debut in 2006. Local media have linked him with a move to promoted English Premier League side Fulham.
The return to Corinthians in Sao Paulo quickly turned sour for Willian both on the pitch where he scored one goal in 45 matches, and off it.
“Whenever Corinthians lost and I didn’t play well, my family received threats and insults on social media. My wife, my children, recently they also started attacking my father, my sister,” Willian told the Globo Esporte website.
“I didn’t play as well as I expected but I was never a player who scored 20 or 30 goals a season,” he told ESPN Brasil on Wednesday.
Willian, who also played for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine and Russians Anzhi Makhachkala, leaves the club three days after they were eliminated from the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals by Flamengo, 3-0 on aggregate.


Tuchel reveals ‘bond’ with Aubameyang amid Chelsea rumors

Updated 12 August 2022

Tuchel reveals ‘bond’ with Aubameyang amid Chelsea rumors

  • The Blues are looking to reinforce their forward line after the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner
  • "This is totally separate from anything that is happening now, but I enjoyed a lot working with Auba while I was at Dortmund," said Tuchel

LONDON: Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said he will always have a “close bond” with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as speculation links the Barcelona forward with a move to Stamford Bridge.
The Blues are looking to reinforce their forward line after the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.
Aubameyang, who only joined Barcelona in January, would appear to fit the bill with both Premier League experience from four years at Arsenal and the time he spent under Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund.
The Gabon international scored 79 goals in 95 appearances under Tuchel.
“This is totally separate from anything that is happening now, but I enjoyed a lot working with Auba while I was at Dortmund,” said Tuchel on Friday at his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s visit of Tottenham.
“Some players stay your players because you were very, very close, and Auba is one of those players.
“There was always straight away this close bond. They always stay your players in a way.”
A behind-the-scenes documentary on Arsenal’s 2021/22 season has revealed the scale of disciplinary breaches that saw Mikel Arteta freeze Aubameyang out of the Gunners’ first-team squad.
However, Tuchel said “there was never an issue” with Aubameyang’s discipline during their time in Germany.
Chelsea have also been linked with big money moves for Leicester defender Wesley Fofana and Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong as new owner Todd Boehly looks to put his stamp on the club.
“You don’t always get what you wish for, that’s why we’re calm and ambitious at the same time,” added Tuchel.
“It needs to be possible, we’re looking for top quality, personality and good characters.”
Tuchel also confirmed that Marcos Alonso is on his way to Barcelona to become the sixth signing of an incredible window for the Catalan giants despite their financial struggles.


Tyson Fury announces intention to retire from boxing

Updated 12 August 2022

Tyson Fury announces intention to retire from boxing

  • The announcement has been greeted with scepticism as Fury has previously stated his intention to retire only to return to the ring
  • He was expected to fight the winner of Oleksandr Usyk's rematch with Anthony Joshua on August 20

LONDON: WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury said he is retiring from boxing on his 34th birthday on Friday, having previously performed a number of U-turns over his future in the sport.
“Massive thanks to everyone who had an input in my career over the years & after long hard conversations I’ve finally decided to walk away & on my 34th birthday I say Bon voyage,” Fury posted on Twitter.
The announcement has been greeted with skepticism as Fury has previously stated his intention to retire only to return to the ring.
He was expected to fight the winner of Oleksandr Usyk’s rematch with Anthony Joshua on August 20 for the chance to unify the world heavyweight titles.
As recently as Tuesday, Fury suggested his most recent spell in retirement was over in order to set up a trilogy fight against Derek Chisora and even claimed to have appointed a new trainer in Isaac Lowe.
However, he has now announced the intention to retire undefeated with a record of 32 wins and one draw from 33 bouts.
Fury went onto thank his wife, promoter Frank Warren and a series of other training partners and television companies who have bought rights to his fights over the years.
The Brit stated ahead of his win over Dillian Whyte in March that he would retire after that fight as he has “150 million in the bank and nothing to prove.”
However, earlier this week, Warren had cast doubt on the suggestion Fury will not fight again.
“I think what’s going to happen is, see what happens on 20 (August) and the outcome of that, and that’ll determine what he intends to do in the future,’ Warren told talkSPORT.
“I think he will (return), because he’s a fighting man and he misses it. That’s what he does, he wants to fight.”

Related


'War minus shooting': partition created fierce cricket rivalry 

Updated 12 August 2022

'War minus shooting': partition created fierce cricket rivalry 

  • Any cricket match between Pakistan and India is one of the most watched events on global sporting calendar
  • 50-over World Cup clash in 2019 between India and Pakistan drew 273 million viewers while 167 million watched last year's T20 World Cup

KARACHI: When India and Pakistan were forged out of violent partition 75 years ago, the split also created one of sport's greatest rivalries.

Today, any cricket match between the two nations is one of the most watched events on the global sporting calendar -- and victory used to promote their respective nationalism.

So strong is the rivalry between the countries that they can't even share the date of the partition which gave them independence, with Pakistan celebrating it on August 14 and India a day later.

"India playing Pakistan involves the sentiments of millions," said Wasim Akram, one of cricket's all-time greats and now a commentator.

"You become a hero if you perform well... you are portrayed as a villain if your team loses," said the former Pakistan skipper.

Matches ignite great fervour but they have also defused military tensions between the two nations, which have fought four wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

During one period of sabre rattling in 1987, as troops massed along their frontier, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq showed up unannounced in New Delhi -- ostensibly to watch a match between the two.

The move, as crafty as any a cricket captain could conjure up on the field, led to a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and tensions eased.\

Still, the on-field rivalry has spilled off the cricket pitch for now.

The neighbours have not played a Test since 2007, instead meeting only in the shorter versions of the game and at multi-team competitions on foreign soil, rather than head-to-head series at home.

When they do play -- as they will at the Asia Cup later this month in the United Arab Emirates -- cricket fans around the world are glued to their TV screens, a multibillion-dollar bonanza for broadcasters.

The 2019 50-over World Cup clash between India and Pakistan drew 273 million viewers, while 167 million watched them in last year's Twenty20 World Cup.

"Nothing can match an Indo-Pakistan bilateral series because it is played in a different league," former prime minister and cricket captain Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to World Cup glory in 1992, said in a Sky Sports documentary.
"The atmosphere is filled with tension, pressure and enjoyment."

Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Faisal Hasnain called games against India the "mother of all cricket matches".

"Fans want these two countries to play each other on a regular basis but resumption is only likely when there is a thaw in relations," he told AFP.

"We can only wait and hope that happens."

Introduced to the sub-continent in the 18th century, cricket was played mostly by its white colonial rulers, but locals learned the game by being used as bowling or batting fodder in the practice nets.

India won Test status in 1932, but after partition most Muslim players -- including three who had played for the national team -- migrated to Pakistan, who had to build from scratch.

Pakistan's first Test, appropriately, was against India, in 1952 -- and they were led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, one of the three double internationals.

Since then Pakistan and India have played 59 Tests, with Pakistan winning 12, India nine, and the rest drawn.

In ODIs Pakistan also have the edge, but India have won seven of their nine T20 encounters.

In the women's game, India have won all 11 of their ODIs and 10 of their 12 Twenty20s since first meeting in 2005.

The advent of one-day cricket has only boosted the rivalry with one commentator calling their clashes "war minus shooting".

In 1991, Aaqib Javed's seven-wicket haul, including a hat-trick, helped Pakistan win the Wills Trophy in Sharjah in a match that ended in near-darkness, sparking outrage from the losing Indian side and fans.

"They whinged about it for months," Aaqib said drily.

But Pakistan fans have also shown their bile, sending death threats to Wasim Akram after he withdrew from a key final against India because of injury.

"At times the fans' reaction is intolerable," Akram said.

Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar said he misses regular clashes against Pakistan.

"It was my favourite opposition for all the entertainment they provided on the field with their banter," he told AFP.

"Plus the fact that they were a damn good side."