Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem

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Ukrainians walk past the Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 25, 2023 during a protest against the proposed IOC roadmap to organize the return to competition of Russian athletes under a neutral flag. (AFP)
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Ukrainians protest in front of the Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 25, 2023 against the proposed IOC roadmap to organize the return to competition of Russian athletes under a neutral flag. (AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2023

Most unwanted? How sports treat the Russia problem

  • IOC says it wants to continue its ban “on flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications” from the two countries but is seeking a pathway to let their athletes compete

PARIS: International sports bodies are taking wildly varying stances on allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes and teams to compete while the war in Ukraine continues.

With the Paris Olympics fewer than 500 days away, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it wants to continue its ban “on flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications” from the two countries but is seeking a pathway to let their athletes compete.

That strategy will be discussed again this coming week when the IOC executive board meets.

Here, AFP Sport looks at how sports are handling the dilemma.

While World Athletics on Thursday lifted the ban on the Russian track and field federation for state-sponsored doping, its athletes remain barred from competition while Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues. The body’s president Sebastian Coe said “the unprecedented sanctions” imposed on Russia and Belarus by countries around the world “appear to be the only peaceful way to disrupt and disable Russia’s current intentions and restore peace.”

Russian and Belarusian players are allowed to compete on the main ATP and WTA tours but not under their flags or country names. They are banned from the Davis Cup and BJK Cup tournaments. Players from Russia and Belarus were also banned from Wimbledon last year although Moscow-born Elena Rybakina, competing for Kazakhstan, won the women’s singles title.

Russia was thrown out of 2022 World Cup qualifying and are banned from Euro 2024 qualifying which started this week. Instead Russia played a friendly in Iran.
Belarus are not banned from Euro qualifying but they must play home games at neutral venues while their clubs are still allowed to enter European tournaments.
Denis Rogachev, the head of the Russian Football Union, said “negotiations are underway” to play in the Central Asian championship in June and that “a negotiation process is underway with UEFA and FIFA on a phased return.”

The sport has not yet lifted the ban on Russians and Belarusians, which means none have so far qualified for Paris or this year’s World Championships in October. The next opportunity for teams and individuals to book a place for the worlds, where Olympic places will be up for grabs, are the European Championships in Turkiye in April. Russians and Belarusians were not included in the European draw on Tuesday, the cutoff point for competing. Switching to Asia could offer an Olympic pathway to Russians.

Russian fighters were allowed to compete at the recent women’s world boxing championships in India, a move which prompted a boycott by countries including United States, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden and Britain.

Theoretically, drivers from Russia and Belarus can compete as “neutral” drivers in Formula One. But the only Russian driver, Nikita Mazepin, was dropped shortly before the start of the 2022 season by the Haas team. F1 also dropped the Sochi Grand Prix from its 2022 schedule, and canceled plans for annual races to be held in St. Petersburg starting this season.

Russia and the Soviet Union have won the annual ice hockey world championship seven times but on Thursday the International Ice Hockey Federation banned them for a second straight year saying that “it is not yet safe to reincorporate the Russian and Belarusian teams.”

With its Olympic qualifying process about to start, the International Fencing Federation decided on March 10 to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part, although it said it was up to the IOC whether they could compete in Paris. The German, Finnish and Swedish fencing bodies responded by canceling events they were due to host.

Russians and Belarusians were banned from the world championships in Budapest last June and July. For now, aquatic sports are among those playing a waiting game. Governing body FINA told AFP in February: “At this time, there are no further updates regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in World Aquatics competitions.” That means they are still banned from the world championships in Fukuoka in July, but the sport’s Olympic rules means swimmers have until late next June to match the qualifying times.

Newcastle United sponsor Sela stages drone show above St. James’ Park to celebrate European football returning to city

Front-of-shirt sponsor celebrates return of European nights by lighting up the skies. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Updated 10 sec ago

Newcastle United sponsor Sela stages drone show above St. James’ Park to celebrate European football returning to city

  • The drone show is part of Sela’s promise to create special experiences for Newcastle United fans and the wider community through its partnership with the club

Sela, the front-of-shirt sponsor of Newcastle United, lit up the sky above Newcastle upon Tyne on Tuesday night with a spectacular football-themed drone show to celebrate the return of top-level European football to St. James’ Park after a 20-year break.

Newcastle United will play French champions Paris Saint Germain on Wednesday night, and live events and entertainment company Sela wanted to give fans a surprise as part of the build-up to the game.

The eight-minute drone show saw Newcastle United’s iconic mascot — the magpie — soar across the skies before transitioning into the famous black and white team shirts adorned with the names of England defender Kieran Trippier, Brazilian international Bruno Guimaraes and Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali.

After recreating the club emblem in the night sky, the drones formed to make a statement about Newcastle’s return to the biggest stage in club football, following their top-four finish in the Premier League: “We’re Back.” The show ended with Sela’s “spectacular everyday” tagline that is seen around St. James’ Park on matchdays.

Sela, who became a primary partner of Newcastle United in June, is in the business of creating spectacular experiences. It has welcomed more than 40 million visitors to the range of sports, leisure, culture, retail, and hospitality events and destinations within its portfolio — from staging WWE in the Jeddah Superdome to operating the Via Riyadh luxury multipurpose venue.

The drone show is part of Sela’s promise to create special experiences for Newcastle United fans and the wider community through its partnership with the club.

“We wanted to create a little surprise for fans to celebrate the return of the biggest nights in European football to St. James’ Park,” said Ibrahim Mohtaseb, senior vice president of Sela.

“The fans, the club and the players deserve these special moments and I hope we’ve added to what will be an unforgettable occasion for everyone who loves Newcastle United and this city.

“Creating spectacular experiences is at the heart of what Sela does every day as a company and we’re looking forward to contributing to more memories over the course of this landmark season.”

Keith Gillespie, the former Newcastle United star, said: “There’s an incredible buzz around Newcastle right now, fueled by the club’s success last season and now the return of European football with a huge game against Paris Saint Germain.

“It’s all very reminiscent of the late 1990s and those unforgettable nights against giants like Barcelona that I was fortunate enough to be involved in,” he said.

“Sela’s spectacular drone show really adds to this electric atmosphere and I know the fans will be thrilled by what they witnessed in the skies above the stadium.” 

India and Pakistan on track for cricket gold-medal showdown at Asian Games

Updated 03 October 2023

India and Pakistan on track for cricket gold-medal showdown at Asian Games

  • Match between Pakistan and India will be influential as Olympic Committee ponders cricket being added to 2028 Los Angeles Olympics
  • The final on Saturday could be overshadowed by the start of the Cricket World Cup in India, which opens on Thursday

HANGZHOU, China: India and Pakistan moved closer to a potential Asian Games showdown for the gold medal in cricket after picking up victories on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
Any match between Pakistan and India draws a massive television audience and will be influential as the International Olympic Committee ponders cricket being added to the program for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
The final on Saturday, however, could be overshadowed by the start of the Cricket World Cup in India, which opens on Thursday.
The IOC has given no clear timetable when a decision about cricket will be made.
Cricket appeared in the Olympics for the only time at the 1900 Paris Games.
India managed a 23-run victory over Nepal on Tuesday. Yashasvi Jaiswal scored a century from 49 deliveries to help India reach 202-4 from its allotted 20 overs after winning the toss and electing to bat.
“I’m really proud and really happy and grateful,” Jaiwsal said of getting the century. “It was a great feeling. It’s a proud moment whenever you represent your country, especially India. I’m just so glad and happy to represent India and proud of myself for going out there to express myself and my game.”
Nepal was restricted to 179-9 in reply, with Avesh Khan and Ravi Bishnoi each taking three wickets for India.
Pakistan put up a 68-run victory over Hong Kong in another quarterfinal match. Pakistan reached 160-10 and Hong Kong was limited to 92-10.


Everywhere you look, China dominates. China won nine of 12 medals in canoe sprint, which wrapped up on Tuesday. This is typical of the way the Asian Games host finds athletes to excel across a vast array of Olympic sports.
Canoe sprint athletes were also primed after appearing in the sport’s world championships in August in Duisburg, Germany, which served as the main qualification event for next year’s Paris Olympics.
“All four of us are very happy because we have been working hard for a long time,” said Zhang Dong, a member of the winning 500-meter men’s kayak four team.
“Including qualifying for the Olympics at the world championships, I really feel it’s not easy,” Zhang added. “We have already been preparing for two years, just to qualify for the Olympics, and to win the gold medal at this Asian Games, I’m so happy.”


Three-time Olympic medalist Olga Zabelinskaya of Uzbekistan won the women’s time trial in 24 minutes, 35.99 seconds. Zabelinskaya was a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and won two bronze medals at the 2012 London Games.
The silver medal in the 20-kilometer race went to Eri Yonamine of Japan, who was 59.60 seconds behind. Rinata Sultanova of Kazakstan took bronze.
Alexey Lutsenko of Kazakhstan won the men’s race in 48:05.75. Xue Ming and China took silver and Vincent Lau Wan Yau of Hong Kong won bronze.

EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?

Updated 8 min 4 sec ago

EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?

  • Arab News slides into latest football game from EA Sports to see how SPL represented

RIYADH: “EA FC 24” is the new name for EA Sports’ dominant football game. Once known as “FIFA,” the series developer and publisher recently split with world football’s governing body.

The move has ushered in a new era for fans who may be pleased to know that the on-pitch action is slicker while still providing a roller coaster of emotion, similar to the real thing.

One of the reasons EA Sports ended its 30-year association with FIFA was to explore new opportunities and partnerships that were once a conflict of interest.

The first instalment feels like a familiar pair of football boots – a safe addition with which players will instantly feel comfortable.

Dramatic changes are likely being kept in the locker room for future editions, as development is tight on annually released video games. So, what, if any, changes have appeared for the teams in the Saudi Pro League?

The good

All 18 SPL teams from the current 2023-24 season are included in “EA FC 24.” From title holders Al-Ittihad to newly promoted Al-Riyadh and all those in between.

The sudden influx of international stars that gave transfer expert Fabrizio Romano sleepless nights is up to date. The likes of Sadio Mane (Al-Nassr), Neymar (Al-Hilal), and Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) line up for their new sides and, in doing so, lift the overall star rating and playability of each side.

So, fans of the clubs that made big moves in the summer can play as their favorite team online without fear of being hammered each time.

It is also great to see the Roshn Saudi League idents for the TV-style coverage before, during, and after the games, creating another layer of authenticity.

Saudi football fans may also be pleased to note that many more people use SPL teams online this year. By setting the Seasons or Co-Op settings to fit a favorite club, a similar match-up can quickly be found.

Previously, in “FIFA,” players could sit in an online lobby for what felt like hours and would rarely find an equal matchup for Damac or similar. Opening up the restrictions would inevitably lead to one-sided games against Manchester City, PSG, and Real Madrid on repeat.

There is also a big matchday feel to local derbies, too. EA Sports has added a little more drama to the likes of Al-Nasser versus Al-Hilal with more background on the long-lasting rivalry that comes through the pre-game presentation and in-game commentary.

The not-so-good

There are only two official stadiums from the SPL in “EA FC 24” — the faithfully recreated King Abdullah Sports City and King Fahd Stadium.

The eagle-eyed will notice these are the same stadia featured in last year’s “FIFA 23.”

Although fans may be disappointed, the approach is not limited to the Saudi teams.

For example, the Dutch Eredivisie only has Ajax and PSV, and Portugal’s Liga comes with FC Porto and Benfica official stadiums. Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami stadium is not even in the game.

Inside the stadiums, as the cameras pan the crowds or pitchside crew and security, there is not much Arab representation. In fact, players will not find any traditional dress anywhere in the grounds. It may seem like a minor issue for a sports game, but it matters.

The game currently uses the same animated crowd as it does in every other stadium and switches the football shirts to match.

You can forgive EA Sports for using the likenesses of the licensed commentary and pundit teams they use in the game’s EA TV presentation, such as Stewart Robson and Derek Rae. But finding a fan in the stadium sporting a thobe or abaya is currently impossible and feels like a missed opportunity.

Stadium chants are also off-target. When Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Al-Nassr, the home crowd erupts into a baffling rendition of Manchester United fans’ “Viva Ronaldo.”

The development of “EA FC 24” probably did not leave much time for EA Sports to capture the atmosphere, but hopefully things will be more accurate for the Saudi matchday feel next season.

Lastly, “EA FC 24” does not have all the official kits. Again, this is not an issue solely aimed at the SPL, as other league teams can be seen playing in off-brand outfits. But users are unlikely to be happy if they were looking forward to playing with Al-Okhdood in their licensed shirts.

It is a bit of a mixed bag regarding SPL representation in “EA FC 24.”

It is great to see the teams have been given a statistics boost to reflect the 2023 summer transfers, and playing with them online is fun and a break from using the usual suspects.

EA Sports will build on the entire experience for next season. The explosion of the SPL popularity likely caught them off guard, as it did with most, which is why it currently feels slightly odd. But with the world’s gaze fixed on the league, it is hard to ignore it now.

More than anything, it would be nice to see some distinctive Arab representation around “EA FC 25.”

Rabdan Cycling Team partners with Arada ahead of new season

Updated 03 October 2023

Rabdan Cycling Team partners with Arada ahead of new season

  • Sponsorship to cover key costs for Abu Dhabi’s first amateur cycling team, including monthly training at Masaar Track in Sharjah

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi’s first-ever amateur cycling team, Rabdan, has partnered with property developer Arada ahead of the 2023-2024 racing season.

Founded in 2016, Rabdan Cycling Team consists of 10 core racing members and 20 community riders, all of whom are Emirati. The team was named after the first horse of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the late president of the UAE. It was chosen by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, national security advisor of the UAE.

As well as being one of the first amateur teams in the UAE, Rabdan Cycling Team is also one of the most successful, having won the UAE Vice President’s Cup, the Seih Al-Salam Race and other major championships locally.

Arada’s support will enable Rabdan Cycling Team to register for local races, insure bikes, pay for team kit, and allow members to attend a training camp in Italy. In addition, Rabdan will also train at the new Masaar Track facility in Sharjah, which has been developed by Arada, on a monthly basis during the new season. The first session took place on Thursday Sept. 28.

Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, group CEO of Arada, said: “Our partnership with Rabdan underlines our commitment to healthy, active living, which we promote in all our communities. We look forward to welcoming Rabdan Cycling Team to Masaar Track, where they will be able to train in a professional, welcoming and natural environment.”

Dr. Mohammed Al-Eissaee, co-leader of Rabdan Cycling Team, said: “This partnership with Arada will enable us to improve our performance, take part in more races both here in the UAE and internationally, and achieve even better race results. We’re also looking forward to testing out the new circuit at Masaar, which is a fantastic new facility for the sport here in the UAE.”

Masaar Track consists of a 6.6-km looped professional circuit that runs through the woodland on the outskirts of the Masaar community, in the up-and-coming Al-Suyoh district of New Sharjah.

The track is one of a number of entertainment, leisure and sporting facilities within the Masaar master plan, which contains 3,000 villas and townhouses and more than 50,000 trees. The first homes at Masaar will be completed at the end of the year.

Cricket superstar Virat Kohli launches Blue Rising to compete in new electric powerboating series

Updated 03 October 2023

Cricket superstar Virat Kohli launches Blue Rising to compete in new electric powerboating series

  • The Blue Rising team will compete against the electric RaceBird outfits announced by Tom Brady, Rafael Nadal, Steve Aoki, Didier Drogba, Sergio Perez
  • Former Indian cricket captain spearheads the team in the UIM E1 World Championship in partnership with UAE-based sports tech entrepreneur Adi K. Mishra

DUBAI: The latest team to join the UIM E1 World Championship, the first all-electric powerboating series, will have a duo of high-profile principals at the helm of The Blue Rising Team in cricket superstar Virat Kohli and sports technology entrepreneur Adi K. Mishra.

Former captain of the Indian cricket team and ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2017 and 2018, Kohli is regarded as one of the game’s greatest batsmen, and boasts an Instagram following of 260 million.

“I want to inspire people to have a competitive spirit and to raise awareness about sustainability issues, something I am becoming more and more passionate about as we build a family,” Kohli said. “I can’t wait to cheer for our male and female pilots racing for our team. I’m looking forward to lining up against the likes of Tom Brady, Rafa Nadal, Sergio Perez, Steve Aoki and Didier Drogba — we’re going electric, we’re going flying over the water and we’re going to try to win it for The Blue Rising.”

The Blue Rising Team name was chosen to draw attention to marine conservation and the threat posed by rising sea levels around the world, and also as a celebration of the color at the heart of India’s sports teams.

Kohli will be supported by leading entrepreneur and League Sports Co. Founder and CEO Adi K. Mishra. The LSC is a sports technology holding company that owns and operates sports teams, gaming businesses, and brands including the World Bowling League.

“We are excited to partner with one of the best athletes of our generation and arguably one of the best batsmen in the history of cricket,” said Mishra. “It has also been a pleasure to work alongside Bunty Sajdeh, CEO of Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment, who has played a key role.

“And the firm has already brought insightful conversations with brands that share our combined values with the UIM E1 World Championship of sustainability and gender inclusion. We are keen to explore partnerships with the UIM E1 World Championship and some of the other team owners with the World Bowling League in order to elevate both sports.”

The inaugural season, scheduled to start in February 2024, will see up to 10 teams and 20 mixed-gender pilots racing on the water in iconic cities around the world, with the US due to host a race in season two.

Rodi Basso, co-founder and CEO of the championship, said: “The start line for the first season of the UIM E1 World Championship is filling up fast, and our seventh team is a big one for us. Virat Kohli’s passion for sustainability, combined with Adi’s ability to drive success, will make The Blue Rising Team a force to be reckoned with on the water.”

Meanwhile Alejandro Agag, co-founder and chairman of the UIM E1 World Championship — and also chairman of the one-seater electric series Formula E — revealed his delight at announcing another “fantastic team” to the new sport.

“Spearheaded by cricket superstar Virat Kohli, The Blue Rising Team says it all in their name,” he said. “No doubt on the water, their sportsmanship will allow their team to thrive and guide their team to success. Off the water, their strength in championing sport with purpose is something we want to elevate and by joining forces together especially with our diverse fan base, I believe we can inspire and educate future generations. The race is on and I cannot wait for the first race of the UIM E1 World Championship in Jeddah next year.”