4-time MLB All-Star Ronald Acuna Jr. joining Baseball United ownership group

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Ronald Acuña Jr.with Baseball United CEO Kash Shaikh. (Supplied)
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Ronald Acuña Jr. has become the youngest investor in the Baseball United Ownership Group. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 April 2024
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4-time MLB All-Star Ronald Acuna Jr. joining Baseball United ownership group

  • MLB most-valuable player and Atlanta Braves All-Star becomes youngest investor in new Middle East league

DUBAI: Baseball United, the first professional league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, has announced that four-time MLB All-Star and Most Valuable Player, Ronald Acuna Jr., has joined its investment and ownership group.

Acuna, ranked as the top player in baseball by MLB Network, becomes the youngest and highest-profile active athlete to join the new league.

Acuna, an All-MLB First Team selection, took home all of baseball’s top awards last season, including the National League MVP (unanimous), the Hank Aaron Award, and The Sporting News Player of the Year. The Atlanta Braves superstar, who is just 26 years old, hit 41 home runs and stole 73 bases last year to become the first player in MLB history with a 40-70 season. He also hit .337 while leading the league in 10 key statistical categories, including hits (217), runs (149), total bases (383) and on-base percentage (.416).

“It’s such an honor to welcome Ronald into the Baseball United family,” said Kash Shaikh, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Baseball United. “Ronald is not only a generational athlete and the game’s best player, but he’s a cultural icon who inspires fans all over the world.

“He truly believes that baseball can be global, and he plays the game with the type of passion, charisma, and style that can help millions of new fans fall in love with the game. Last year, while our team was making history bringing professional baseball to the Middle East for the first time, Ronald was making history of his own on the game’s biggest stage. Now, we get to go make history together.”

Acuna joins 19 other MLB legends within Baseball United’s ownership group, including Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Mariano Rivera and Adrian Beltre, as well as icons Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Bartolo Colon. The league began play in Dubai last November with an inaugural All-Star Showcase event, the first professional baseball games in the history of the region. The event was broadcast in 127 countries, reaching 200 million households.

Acuna is the fourth Venezuelan-born MLB star to invest in Baseball United, joining Felix Hernandez, Elvis Andrus and Robinson Chirinos.

“I am truly grateful to join the Baseball United family as an investor, co-owner, and an active ambassador to help grow the game we all love,” said Acuna. “It’s been exciting to watch what Kash, John (Miedreich), and the BU team has built over the past two years. They’ve done things that no one has ever done before.

“And now, I’m honored to be a part of it. Growing up in Venezuela, I always dreamed of making a big impact on the game of baseball. I’m very blessed to compete every day with my teammates to do that for Major League Baseball and the Atlanta Braves, and I can’t wait to help carry the game to new fans in the Middle East and South Asia with Baseball United.”

In addition to his ownership stake in Baseball United, Acuna will also play an ambassador role helping to promote the league, its teams, and players across his social media and at special events in the Middle East after the MLB season.

The league is scheduled to announce its 2024 plans and expansion franchises this summer. Baseball United’s first full season is slated for the winter of 2025.


World champions Spain, new-look USA top Olympic women’s football billing

Updated 24 July 2024
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World champions Spain, new-look USA top Olympic women’s football billing

  • Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati, Alexia Putellas and Salma Paralluelo are the standouts in a superb Spanish side that also won the UEFA Women’s Nations League this year and are now making their Olympic debut
  • The US come to Paris under the leadership of English former Chelsea boss Hayes, probably the outstanding female coach in the sport

PARIS: A rejuvenated US team under new coach Emma Hayes are targeting a record-extending fifth women’s football gold medal at the Paris Olympics but face stiff competition, not least in the shape of World Cup holders Spain and their all-star lineup.

The USA just about remain the biggest draw in women’s soccer despite disappointing recent results and the departures of several veteran stars.

They won gold when women’s football was introduced to the Olympics in 1996, and won three in a row in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

But they exited in the quarterfinals in 2016 and settled for bronze three years ago in Tokyo after losing to eventual champions Canada in the semis.

That was followed by a shock last-16 exit at the World Cup a year ago in Australia and New Zealand, a disappointing end to the iconic Megan Rapinoe’s international career and an outcome that precipitated the exit of coach Vlatko Andonovski.

They come to Paris under the leadership of English former Chelsea boss Hayes, probably the outstanding female coach in the sport.

She made a striking decision when naming her squad for the Games by choosing to leave out Alex Morgan, one of the leading players in the sides that won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups but now in her twilight years at the age of 35.

“It was a tough decision of course...especially considering Alex’s history and record with this team, but I felt I wanted to go in another direction and selected other players,” said Hayes.

It is a younger USA squad now, although players like Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith will benefit from the experience garnered at the World Cup.

Experience is still there, too, notably in the shape of Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle, members of the side that won the World Cup in France in 2019.

The USA are in a difficult Group B with Germany, Australia and a Zambia team who are outsiders but boast exciting forward in Barbra Banda and Racheal Kundananji.

The format — with 12 teams in three groups of four — means the two best third-placed sides advance to the quarterfinals, providing a safety net in the event of slip-ups.

Germany, gold medalists in 2016, will aim to bounce back from their group-stage exit at the World Cup but have lost key midfielder Lena Oberdorf to injury.

Australia are hoping to build on their run to the semifinals in that World Cup on home soil, yet they are missing Sam Kerr, their captain, as she recovers from an ACL injury.

Spain, in Group C with Japan, Nigeria and Brazil, will take some beating as they arrive in Paris with the stars who led them to World Cup glory 11 months ago.

Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati, Alexia Putellas and Salma Paralluelo are the standouts in a superb side that also won the UEFA Women’s Nations League this year and are now making their Olympic debut.

“I’m sure lots of people and lots of teams see us as favorites, but this competition is a bit different,” Bonmati told Marca.

“We play lots of matches in a short space of time, and against good sides, so it will be very difficult. But obviously we have the maximum ambition and are going for gold.”

Spain kick off against 2012 silver medalists Japan, whose side includes Hinata Miyazawa, top scorer at the World Cup.

Nigeria are the top-ranked African nation, while Brazil are two-time silver medalists and hope to contend again in legendary forward Marta’s sixth Olympics at the age of 38.

France, meanwhile, are aiming big on home soil as they face reigning Olympic champions Canada, New Zealand and the Colombia of teenage sensation Linda Caicedo in Group A.

“The objective, like that of every French athlete, is to win a medal. It won’t be easy, but it has to be the aim,” said coach Herve Renard, who will leave after the tournament which begins on Thursday and runs until Aug. 10.

Games will be played around France, with the semifinals in Lyon and Marseille. However, the gold-medal match will be in Paris.


No flags but plenty of fire for Medvedev at Paris Olympics

Updated 24 July 2024
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No flags but plenty of fire for Medvedev at Paris Olympics

  • The tennis star, along with other Russian and Belarusians at the Games, has to compete as a neutral following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • Despite his fiery personality the chess-playing and fluent French-speaking Medvedev has reached the peaks of the sport

PARIS: There will be no flags or fanfare for Daniil Medvedev at the Paris Olympics but Russia’s highest-profile athlete in the French capital is unlikely to be far from the headlines.

The tennis star, along with other Russian and Belarusians at the Games, has to compete as a neutral following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Having demonstrated that they have not supported the war and have no links to the military, they have been allowed to compete but cannot fly their national flags.

The two countries’ national anthems are also banned and should Medvedev win an Olympic medal for the first time, the achievement will not be recognized in the medals table.

“When I’m 40, if I can say I played in the Tokyo Olympics, Paris Olympics and Los Angeles Olympics, I had a lot of fun in my life, my career, I’m going to be happy,” said Medvedev.

The 28-year-old world No. 5 is one of the most controversial players in tennis.

The 1.98m (6ft 6ins) giant came close to being disqualified from his Wimbledon semifinal against Carlos Alcaraz this month for a foul-mouthed rant at the chair umpire, before escaping with a warning.

Medvedev explained that he had called the official “a small cat.”

His explosive temperament has seen him feud with rivals Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev.

In Miami in 2018, after Tsitsipas made a foul-mouthed remark about Medvedev, the Russian dismissed the Greek as a “small kid who doesn’t know how to play.”

His rivalry with Zverev peaked at Monte Carlo last year when Medvedev saved two match points in a tense last-16 victory.

Germany’s Zverev lashed out at Medvedev for taking a bathroom break at a key moment in the tie, blasting the Russian as “one of the most unfair players in the world.”

Medvedev hit back, telling the current world No. 4 to “take a look at yourself in the mirror.”

In the Netflix series “Break Point,” Zverev accused Medvedev of playing “dirty games” and added: “He’s somebody that knows how to play with the head of the opponent.”

Crowds around the world have not escaped the wrath of Medvedev.

At the Paris Masters last year, he branded fans “stupid” for jeering during one of his matches.

Despite suggesting that he would halt his match, he agreed to continue, but warned his tormentors “shut your mouths, okay!“

Despite his fiery personality the chess-playing and fluent French-speaking Medvedev has reached the peaks of the sport.

At the 2021 US Open he claimed his only major title, easily defeating Novak Djokovic in the final and denying the Serb a rare calendar Grand Slam.

True to his unorthodox nature, Medvedev celebrated his New York victory by falling to the floor of the Arthur Ashe Stadium and imitating the “dead fish” celebration from a FIFA video game.

Medvedev has come agonizingly close to adding to his majors collection.

In this year’s Australian Open final he surrendered a two-set lead to lose to Jannik Sinner.

Two years ago in Melbourne he had opened a two-sets lead over Rafael Nadal only again to lose in five.

Nadal also got the better of him at the 2019 US Open final over another five-setter.

Away from the Slams, Medvedev is one of just six men to have captured six or more Masters titles, joining Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nadal, Andre Agassi and Andy Murray.

When he spent 16 weeks as world No. 1 in 2022, he was the first man other than Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal in 18 years to attain top spot.

At the Paris Olympics, which open on Friday, Medvedev believes his best chance of a medal will be in doubles rather than singles, on a clay-court surface which has often been alien to his game.

“I’m going to prepare a lot for doubles and mixed doubles because I do believe I have more chances there than in Roland Garros singles,” he said.


Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Updated 24 July 2024
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Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Nicolas Kuhn scored twice and Luis Palma netted the decider in the 68th minute to give Celtic a 4-3 victory over Manchester City in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.

Norway’s Erling Haaland, wearing the City captain’s armband for the first time, nodded home an equalizer in the 57th minute only for Honduran international Palma to tap in the winning goal on a breakaway at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium.

The match was a tuneup for next month’s start of the 2024-25 campaigns for Celtic, winner of the past three Scottish Premiership crowns, and four-time defending English Premier League champion Manchester City, which began a US tour.

With several top stars resting from the European Championships, City manager Pep Guardiola used the opportunity to analyze younger talent.

The match marked a Celtic debut for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, the 37-year-old Dane who began his career with City in 2006. He played the first half for the Hoops.

German right wing Kuhn netted a first-half brace for Celtic, playing in a fourth pre-season match.

Down 3-1 at half-time, City answered seconds into the second half on just-inserted 21-year-old Argentine substitute Maximo Perrone’s goal, a left-footed shot from the right side into the far corner on his first touch of the ball.

Haaland headed in a centering pass from countryman Oscar Bobb in the 57th minute to lift City level.

But Celtic scored the winner in the 68th minute as Palma, who entered three minutes earlier, finished a three-man breakaway as City’s defenders were caught flat-footed near midfield after pressing with the backline.

City substitute Ben Knight was denied an equalizer in the 76th minute when second-half Celtic keeper Viljami Sinisalo of Finland knocked the ball over the crossbar.

Kuhn opened the scoring in the 13th minute, taking a pass on the right side and charging in on City starting goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, then firing a left-footed shot just inside the far post.

Schmeichel denied Haaland in the 23rd minute with a right-hand save on a left-footed shot off a feed from James McAtee.

In the 31st, Schmeichel again denied Haaland, from the right side on a left-footed shot that Schmeichel swatted away with his left hand.

But Man City equalized in the 33rd minute as Haaland flicked the ball left to onrushing Bobb, who blasted a shot that deflected off Schmeichel and bounced into the goal.

Kuhn answered for Celtic in the 36th minute, rushing in from the right wing then pulling back the ball to evade a defender and curling a left-footed blast high into the goal.

Celtic stretched the edge to 3-1 in the 44th minute when Kuhn delivered a perfect centering pass to Japan’s fast-rushing Kyogo Furuhashi, who split two defenders, evaded Ortega and fired in a left-footed shot from a steep angle.

Man City’s US tour continues Saturday against AC Milan at New York’s Yankee Stadium, with other matches next week against Barcelona at Orlando and Chelsea in Columbus, Ohio.

Celtic will face Chelsea on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana.


France to get conditional approval to host 2030 Winter Games at IOC meeting before Paris Olympics

Updated 24 July 2024
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France to get conditional approval to host 2030 Winter Games at IOC meeting before Paris Olympics

  • The IOC had wanted its traditional eve-of-Olympics meeting in Paris to confirm France as the 2030 host and give Salt Lake City the 2034 Winter Games
  • French President Emmanuel Macron still fully supports the 2030 Winter Games, national Olympic leader David Lappartient said at a news conference

PARIS: France will get just a partial Olympic win on Wednesday when its bid to host the 2030 Winter Games is presented to IOC members.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach confirmed Tuesday that full approval for the bid — centered on ski resorts in the French Alps and coastal city Nice — cannot be given since parliamentary elections this month left France with only a caretaker national government.

“There will be a vote on the 2030 project but it will be a vote being linked with conditions,” Bach said about a scheduled meeting Wednesday, hours before team sports start play at the Paris Summer Games.

The IOC had wanted its traditional eve-of-Olympics meeting in Paris to confirm France as the 2030 host and give Salt Lake City the 2034 Winter Games.

Salt Lake City will be confirmed by the IOC as the preferred and only candidate, bringing the Winter Games back to Utah 32 years after hosting in 2002.

Potential Olympic hosts need sign-off from different layers of government to guarantee funding and services such as security, which are essential to plan and run the games.

French President Emmanuel Macron still fully supports the 2030 Winter Games, national Olympic leader David Lappartient said at a news conference.

“Even if there is not a majority in the parliament, there is a strong majority behind the games,” said Lappartient, adding progress was made in recent weeks that let a conditional vote be agreed.

Lappartient has a growing reputation as a potential successor to Bach, especially after helping the IOC steer the first Olympic Esports Games to Saudi Arabia in a 12-year hosting deal. That deal was formally approved Tuesday after a 25-minute presentation by Saudi Olympic officials seeking to promote how the Kingdom is using sports to modernize its society.

Bach’s 12-year term leading the Olympic body expires next year. Term limits were introduced as part of anti-corruption reforms that were passed in the fallout from the scandal of IOC members seeking and getting favors from Salt Lake City officials during its 2002 campaign.

Bach’s exit is still not assured while IOC officials weigh a proposal to change its rules that would let him stand again. The issue has been postponed until after the Paris Olympics.

One athlete entered in the Olympics was taken out of the games Tuesday in a doping case.

Track and field’s Athletics Integrity Unit said Polish high jumper Norbert Kobielski was provisionally suspended because he tested positive for pentedrone norephedrine. Kobielski placed 10th in the world championships last year.

Asked how he felt about an eve-of-Olympics doping case, Bach replied: “Good to keep the cheaters out of the games.”


New Zealand Olympic soccer team complains after Canadian team drone flown over its training session

Updated 24 July 2024
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New Zealand Olympic soccer team complains after Canadian team drone flown over its training session

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand says it has complained to the International Olympic Committee’s integrity unit after a drone flown over a New Zealand women’s soccer team training session was found to be operated by a member of the Canadian team’s support staff.

Defending Olympic champion Canada and New Zealand meet in their opening match at the Olympic tournament on Thursday. The drone incident occurred earlier this week, the New Zealand Olympic Committee said Wednesday.

“Team support members immediately reported the incident to police leading to the drone operator, who has been identified as a support staff member of the wider Canadian Women’s football team, to be detained,” the NZOC said in a statement.

“The NZOC has formally lodged the incident with the IOC integrity unit and has asked Canada for a full review.”

The NZOC statement said Canada had apologized over the incident and is investigating.

“The NZOC and New Zealand Football are committed to upholding the integrity and fairness of the Olympic Games and are deeply shocked and disappointed by this incident, which occurred just three days before the sides are due to face each other in their opening game of Paris 2024,” the NZOC said.

“At this time the NZOC’s main priority is to support the New Zealand women’s football athletes and wider team as they start their campaign.”

It’s not the first time a Canadian soccer team has been accused of using a drone to film an international rival’s training session.

In 2021 at Toronto, Honduras stopped a training session ahead of its men’s World Cup qualifier against Canada after spotting a drone above the field, according to reports in Honduran media. The teams played to a 1-1 draw.