IOC’s Bach defends Russia stance amid pro-Ukraine protest

IOC President Thomas Bach speaks to the Ruhr Political Festival while Ukrainian refugees protested against participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris Games outside the Philharmonic Music Hall in Essen, Germany, on March 22, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 March 2023

IOC’s Bach defends Russia stance amid pro-Ukraine protest

  • Bach said he opposed political influence on sports and any suggestion that Russians should be treated as if they have “collective guilt”

ESSEN, Germany: International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach defended his organization’s efforts to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition in a speech in his home country of Germany which took place amid a pro-Ukraine protest Wednesday.

Bach reiterated the IOC’s position that it would be discriminatory to exclude Russians and Belarusians based on citizenship alone and argued the Olympics can help promote dialogue at a tense time. Public broadcaster WDR reported nearly 200 pro-Ukraine protesters gathered outside the venue calling for Russia to be excluded entirely from the Olympics.

The IOC recommended excluding Russia and Belarus on safety grounds soon after the invasion last year but now argues for letting the two countries’ athletes compete as neutrals without national symbols ahead of a packed calendar of qualification events for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Bach said he opposed political influence on sports and any suggestion that Russians should be treated as if they have “collective guilt.” The Olympics, he added, need to remain neutral to be a unifying force.

The IOC previously said it wants to keep out athletes deemed to be “actively supporting the war,” with a final decision lying with the international federations running individual sports, but it has given few details of how that would work.

Bach refined that approach Wednesday, indicating the IOC could recommend barring athletes who pose with a “Z” symbol, a marking used on Russian military vehicles which has become a symbol of support for the war.

“Our principles say clearly and distinctly that any active support for the war, and that includes wearing this ‘Z’, that includes posts and much else besides (is prohibited). Anyone who supports the war in this way cannot, or in relation to the international federations, since we are issuing this only as a recommendation, should not take part in these competitions,” Bach said.

Asked about what to do with the many Russian athletes who are part of the military or have ties to military organizations, Bach indicated the IOC could decide on its approach at a board meeting next week.

“Wait until the middle of next week. I am confident that we will come up with appropriate guidelines then,” he said.

Ons Jabeur defeats Bernarda Pera in straight sets to reach French Open quarterfinals

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur celebrates after winning against US Bernarda Pera.
Updated 05 June 2023

Ons Jabeur defeats Bernarda Pera in straight sets to reach French Open quarterfinals

  • Jabeur, the runner-up at Wimbledon last year, advanced to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros for the first time in her career

PARIS: Bernarda Pera could not win a single game on her serve Monday as she was eliminated in straight sets in the fourth round of the French Open.
Facing seventh-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the unseeded American was broken eight times on Court Philippe Chatrier and lost 6-3, 6-1. Jabeur won 15 of 16 points on Pera’s second serve.
Jabeur, the runner-up at Wimbledon last year, advanced to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros for the first time in her career.
Jabeur also struggled with her serve but managed to save eight of the 12 break points she faced.
“She put a lot of pressure on my service,” Jabeur said. “I’m pleased that I was able to win my service games when I needed to. ... Hopefully, I’ll return well and serve better in my next match.”
Pera looked frustrated and tried to shorten rallies, but the strategy did not work. She ended up making 33 unforced errors in total.
Later Monday, No. 1-seeded Iga Swiatek will face Lesia Tsurenko at Court Suzanne Lenglen, while No. 6 Coco Gauff takes on Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. A year ago, Swiatek defeated Gauff in the final at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament and they would meet in the quarterfinals this week if they both win their fourth-round match.
In the men’s bracket, No. 4 Casper Ruud is up against Nicolas Jarry, No. 6 Holger Rune takes on No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo, No. 27 Yoshihito plays Tomas Martin Etcheverry, and No. 22 Alexander Zverev faces No. 28 Grigor Dimitrov in the night session.

Ibrahimovic announces retirement from football

Updated 05 June 2023

Ibrahimovic announces retirement from football

  • Veteran striker Ibrahimovic revealed his decision to quit the game during an on-pitch ceremony following AC Milan’s 3-1 win over Verona

MILAN: Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought the curtain down on a long, trophy-packed career on Sunday when he unexpectedly announced his retirement from football.
Veteran striker Ibrahimovic revealed his decision to quit the game during an on-pitch ceremony following AC Milan’s 3-1 win over Verona.
“It’s the moment to say goodbye to football, not just to you,” said Ibrahimovic on the San Siro pitch.
“There are too many emotions for me right now. Forza Milan and goodbye.”
The 41-year-old had been expected to simply bid farewell to Milan fans after his departure from the seven-time European champions was announced on Saturday.
He returned to Milan in late 2019 for a second spell after a previous two-year period in which he won the Serie A title in 2011.
Ibrahimovic was a key figure in Milan’s resurgence to the top of Italian football after his return to the club, helping to bring them back from the doldrums and eventually win the Scudetto last season.
“The first time I came here you gave me happiness, the second time you gave me love,” said Ibrahimovic.
“You welcomed me with open arms, you made me feel at home, I will be a Milanista for the rest of my life.”
Over the course of his career Ibrahimovic won league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France, although his only major European trophy was the 2017 Europa League with Manchester United.
He has hardly featured for Stefano Pioli’s side this term after being plagued with injuries, returning in February following surgery on his left knee in May.
In July he signed a deal which netted him around one million euros ($1.02 million) in fixed salary, with large bonuses linked to appearances and achievements.
But the 41-year-old only started one match and netted once for Milan this season, a 3-1 win at Udinese in March in which he became the oldest goal scorer in Serie A history.
He then picked up a calf injury in a pre-match warm up in April and ended his career sidelined before scotching rumors that he was set to move to Monza and targeting Euro 2024 with Sweden.

Djokovic eases into record 17th French Open quarterfinal

Updated 04 June 2023

Djokovic eases into record 17th French Open quarterfinal

PARIS: Novak Djokovic reached his 55th Grand Slam quarterfinal and record 17th at the French Open on Sunday with a straight-sets win over Juan Pablo Varillas.

Djokovic, chasing a third Roland Garros championship and record-setting 23rd men’s Grand Slam title, eased past his 94th-ranked Peruvian opponent, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

The 36-year-old Serb, champion in Paris in 2016 and 2021, will face 11th seed Karen Khachanov for a place in the semifinals.

Djokovic holds a commanding 8-1 career lead over the Russian including their only previous meeting at the French Open in 2020.

“I had never played my opponent before. I knew he was a clay court specialist and that I had to earn the victory. It was the best I played this week,” said Djokovic after ensuring a 14th successive last-eight spot at the tournament.

On his record 17th quarterfinal in Paris, he added: “I am very proud of this record. I have put a lot of effort into my game and I am very motivated to continue.”

On Sunday, Djokovic fought off a break point in the opening game of the first set before stretching out to a convincing 4-0 lead.

Two more breaks then helped him to a comfortable 5-1 advantage in the second set. It took Djokovic just 79 minutes to open a two-set lead.

That was in stark contrast to his gruelling third round win over Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The first two sets then needed two hours and 53 minutes to negotiate and his eventual straight-sets win proved to be the longest three-setter he had ever played, clocked at three hours and 36 minutes.

Varillas, who had never won a Grand Slam match before this year’s French Open, continued to wilt, slipping 2-1 down and then 4-1 down in the third before Djokovic put him out of his misery after a shade under two hours on court.

Motor racing-Verstappen wins in Spain to continue Red Bull sweep

Updated 04 June 2023

Motor racing-Verstappen wins in Spain to continue Red Bull sweep

LONDON: Max Verstappen won the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday to stretch his Formula One championship lead to 53 points and continue Red Bull’s sweep of the season with the team’s seventh success in as many races.
Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was second for Mercedes, but a distant 24.090 seconds behind, with team mate George Russell completing the podium on a cloudy but dry afternoon at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s closest rival in a season that looks sure to crown the dominant Dutch 25-year-old for a third time, finished fourth after fighting back from 11th at the start.
The win was Verstappen’s fifth of the season, third in a row, third in Spain and the double world champion’s 40th in Formula One.
The man who took the first grand prix win of his career at the Spanish circuit in 2016 and also triumphed last year, secured the bonus point for fastest lap to cap a day of domination.
“It’s a big pleasure to drive with a car like this. I think it showed again today,” said Verstappen, who fended off Ferrari’s home hero Carlos Sainz at the start in the only challenge of an otherwise straightforward afternoon.
“I had the harder compound so I knew the start would be a bit tricky. Going around the outside at Turn One is always quite difficult but luckily nothing happened.”
Verstappen was also shown a black and white flag for exceeding track limits late in the race but the risk of a five second penalty was hardly going to trouble someone so far up the road from the rest.
“Well done Max, that was mega. Very well controlled, even though you went over the white lines a few times,” said team boss Christian Horner.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, who started third on the grid, suffered a broken front wing on the first lap after contact with Hamilton and had to pit, plunging down the order and finishing 17th.
The form of the Mercedes drivers, with a re-designed car after a disappointing start to the season, provided a main talking point.
Mercedes moved up to second in the championship on 152 points to runaway Red Bull’s 287 and with Aston Martin dropping to third on 134.
“Mega job guys, mega job,” said Hamilton over the radio. “Thank you so much to everyone back at the factory, continuing to push. This is a real showing for all your hard work. Let’s keep pushing.”
Russell went off into the gravel on his way to the grid, where he lined up 12th, but his car was undamaged and his pace strong.
“It definitely feels better,” he said of the car. “You are just putting in those lap times and comparing it to the guys around you — the Ferraris and Astons — and you are going quicker and quicker.”
Sainz was fifth with the Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso sixth and seventh.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was eighth, Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou ninth and Pierre Gasly, who qualified fourth before a six-place grid penalty, took the final point for Renault-owned Alpine.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who started from the pitlane after a nightmare in qualifying left him on the back row, finished 11th.

Mbappe wins record 5th French golden boot, Rennes earn Europa League spot, Auxerre relegated

Updated 04 June 2023

Mbappe wins record 5th French golden boot, Rennes earn Europa League spot, Auxerre relegated

  • Mbappe celebrated by holding up a shirt with seriously injured backup goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s name on it
  • French champions PSG and second-placed Lens qualified for the group stage of the Champions League next season

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe won a record fifth straight French golden boot on Saturday while Rennes clinched a Europa League spot and Auxerre were relegated.

Mbappe’s goal in a 3-2 loss to Clermont finished his league tally on 29 and made him the top scorer for the fifth time, tied with French great Jean-Pierre Papin and retired Argentine strikers Carlos Bianchi and Delio Onnis.

French champions PSG and second-placed Lens qualified for the group stage of the Champions League next season and third-placed Marseille earned a spot in the third qualifying round of the lucrative European competition.

Rennes edged Brest 2-1 with first-half goals from Benjamin Bourigeaud to leapfrog Lille into fourth place.

Lille booked a playoff spot for the Europa Conference League after drawing with Troyes 1-1. Bafode Diakite opened the scoring for Lille in the second half and Troyes winger Rony Lopes equalized.

Monaco were third in the previous two seasons but missed out on European football after losing to Toulouse 2-1 to finish sixth. Toulouse substitute Rhys Healey scored the winner in stoppage time. After 34 rounds, Monaco had a five-point lead over Lille and were eight points clear of Rennes. But Monaco collapsed during the run-in with just one point from the last four games.

PSG finished only one point clear of Lens after the home loss to Clermont, which also marked Lionel Messi’s farewell match for the club. Messi was booed before kickoff.

PSG led 2-0 after a header from the departing Sergio Ramos and a penalty from Mbappe. Mbappe celebrated by holding up a shirt with Sergio Rico’s name on it. Rico, the PSG backup goalkeeper, was seriously injured after getting hit by a loose horse in Spain last Sunday.

Clermont leveled before halftime with goals from Johan Gatien and Mehdi Zeffane. Grejohn Kyei scored the winner by converting a cross in the 63rd.

Cameroon forward Ignatius Ganago helped former powerhouse Nantes stay up by netting the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Angers.

Nantes snapped a 14-game winless streak in the league to leapfrog Auxerre into 16th place.

Auxerre lost to Lens 3-1 and will be demoted to the second division alongside Angers, Ajaccio and Troyes. Four teams are relegated because the league will shrink from 20 clubs to 18 next season. Lens midfielder Alexis Claude-Maurice scored twice before Belgium international Lois Openda sealed the win.

Elsewhere, Clement Vidal scored in Ajaccio’s 1-0 win over Marseille.

Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette failed to find the net in a 3-1 loss at Nice, finishing with 27 goals as the second best scorer.

Montpellier beat Reims 3-1. Reims striker Folarin Balogun scored a consolation to raise his tally to 21 in his breakthrough season. Born in New York, Balogun played for England at youth level but opted to play for the United States at senior level in May.

Also Lorient beat Strasbourg 2-1.