Tributes to Willie Mays pour in as mural is unveiled in Alabama

A Willie Mays mural is shown in downtown Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday. The mural was created by artist Chuck Styles and celebrates Mays' contributions to baseball, honoring the longtime Giants center fielder who died Tuesday at age 93. (AP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Tributes to Willie Mays pour in as mural is unveiled in Alabama

  • The artwork was created by artist Chuck Styles, who said he wanted to capture Mays’ humanity
  • Other tributes to Mays, born in Westfield, Alabama, near Birmingham, poured in all over the country on Wednesday, including from President Joe Biden

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama: Willie Mays gave a message to his longtime friend Dusty Baker just a day before he died.

Mays, who died Tuesday afternoon at 93 years old, knew that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Birmingham, Alabama, for a week of festivities honoring the contributions that he and other Negro Leaguers have made to baseball. But he wanted Baker to share a message to the city he long called home.

“Birmingham, I wish I could be with you all today,” said Mays’ good friend and adviser Jeff Bleich, reading the statement at a ceremony Wednesday honoring Mays’ life and career. “This is where I’m from. I had my first pro hit here at Rickwood as a Black Baron. And now this year, some 76 years later, that hit finally got counted in the record books. I guess some things take time. But I always think better late than never.”

Mays also sent an antique clock with his picture on it to the city of Birmingham. Baker was not feeling well, Bleich said, so he was not at the ceremony.

“Time changes things,” Mays continued in his note. “Time heals wounds. And that’s a good thing. I had some of the best times of my life in Birmingham. So I want you to have this clock to remember those times with me, and to remember all the other players who were lucky enough to play here together.”

The ceremony took place in downtown Birmingham just miles from Rickwood Field, where Mays’ unforgettable career began. Bleich joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer in giving speeches in Mays’ honor, standing in front of a grand mural display of the former Giants center fielder.

It’s an enchanting depiction of the electrifying “Say Hey Kid,” showing Mays beaming with his hands resting on his knees, his bevy of athletic accomplishments painted around him.

The artwork was created by artist Chuck Styles, who said he wanted to capture Mays’ humanity.

“I knew I wanted to showcase him in a way that everybody knew him for,” Styles said, “and that was his smile.”

Other tributes to Mays, born in Westfield, Alabama, near Birmingham, poured in all over the country on Wednesday, including from President Joe Biden.

“Like so many others in my neighborhood and around the country, when I played Little League, I wanted to play center field because of Willie Mays,” Biden said in a statement. “It was a rite of passage to practice his basket catches, daring steals, and command at the plate — only to be told by coaches to cut it out because no one can do what Willie Mays could do.”

Mays, who began his professional career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues in 1948, had been baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer and was considered the sport’s greatest living player.

He died two days before a game between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to honor the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

“It’s actually even heavier today,” said Giants manager Bob Melvin, wearing a Mays T-shirt. “When you read all the articles and you read what everybody has to say about him, it kind of comes full circle in what he’s meant to our country. Even if you don’t know baseball, you know who Willie Mays is.”

Melvin said the Giants would wear patches with Mays’ No. 24 on their chest for Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.

When the team travels to Birmingham for the commemorative game at Rickwood Field on Thursday, the Giants will open Oracle Park for fans to watch the game on the scoreboard, the team announced.

Images of Mays will appear on the scoreboard before and after the event, and a sculpture of his jersey number will be placed in center field to honor him.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said Thursday’s game becomes even more poignant after Mays’ death.

“Being there with everything that is going on will be definitely meaningful. You have an icon of the sport in the city where it all started, so I think bringing light to all of it will be a pretty cool moment down there,” Marmol said.

The 37-year-old manager said he never met Mays, but it was interesting to hear stories from former Giants like Brandon Crawford about him.

“I will do more of that today. It will be fun to hear people’s stories,” Marmol said. “I am curious to ask around to those who have.”

Cardinals assistant coach Willie McGee said he had several conversations with Mays when he played for the Giants from 1991-94.

“Willie was the best, man, the greatest I have ever seen,” McGee said. “He had all six tools. His aggressiveness, his baserunning. That is what separated him, for me, his aggressiveness and his instincts from other five-tool guys.”

When asked if Mays ever gave him any advice, McGee chuckled.

“All the time — but I don’t remember none of it,” he said.


No flags but plenty of fire for Medvedev at Paris Olympics

Updated 8 min 2 sec ago
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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.


First edition of Olympic Esports Games to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2025

Updated 23 July 2024
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First edition of Olympic Esports Games to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2025

  • Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal says: ‘We look forward to welcoming the global esports community to the Kingdom in 2025’
  • IOC President Thomas Bach says the NOC of Saudi Arabia will bring great, if not unique, experience to the project

PARIS: The International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday that the first edition of the Olympic Esports Games will be held in Saudi Arabia in 2025.
The international Olympic body unanimously endorsed the proposal by the executive board during the 142nd IOC Session in Paris.
The Saudi Minister of Sport and President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said: “Thanks to Vision 2030, introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, esports in Saudi Arabia already have a rich past, an exciting present and a promising future.
“And the reason why, is the same reason why we are investing across all sports — our young people. Our commitment to esports is simply a reflection of the world our young people live in, and we now all have the chance to write new Olympic history together: The chance to inspire new dreams and new ambitions for literally millions of athletes around the world.”
Saudis believe that taking part in the Olympics is the ultimate honor for any athlete, he said, adding: “That is why we are committed to providing the ultimate platform for new heroes to perform, and for the Olympic spirit to be shared.
“Together we all share the prospect of instilling Olympic values in new and innovative ways. And we look forward to welcoming the global esports community to the Kingdom in 2025.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “This is truly a new era for the IOC. With the confirmation by the IOC Session of the creation of the Olympic Esports Games, we are keeping up with the pace of the digital revolution.
“The esports community, represented in our Esports Commission, has enthusiastically engaged with this initiative. This is further proof of the attractivity of the Olympic brand and the values it stands for among young people.”
He stressed that the National Olympic Committee of Saudi Arabia will bring great, if not unique, experience in the field of esports to the project.
He said: “This partnership is based on the Olympic Charter and the Olympic values.”
The IOC has been engaging with esports since 2018 in a holistic way. This culminated in the organization of the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore in 2023. The IOC president then asked the IOC Esports Commission at the 141st IOC Session in India, in October 2023, to look into the creation of the Olympic Esports Games.
The commission, under the leadership of IOC member David Lappartient, devised a project which addressed the interests of the esports community while respecting Olympic values.
IOC member Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and president of the Women’s Committee, said: “We have been at the very heart of the esports industry for many years.
“We see that hosting the Olympic Esports Games in 2025 is a natural next step in our journey of opening up Saudi Arabia to the world, and the world to Saudi.”
Prince Abdulaziz and Princess Reema presented the project together to the IOC session.
In the last two years, through major international tournaments, including the inaugural Esports World Cup, Saudi Arabia has hosted over 1,700 elite players from more than 80 countries.
Further underlining its hosting credentials, esports events in Saudi Arabia have welcomed nearly 4 million fans to enjoy the live experience in the Kingdom, with a further 1.3 billion views from across the globe on a variety of streaming platforms.
Work will now begin on selecting a city and venue for the Olympic Esports Games, with the timing of the event, the titles to be included, the qualification process for the players, and further details to be analyzed.
The IOC will also create a new dedicated structure within its organization, clearly separated from the organizational and financial model for the Olympic Games.
In order to address the specific nature of the Olympic Esports Games, the IOC will also take a different approach with regard to the financing and organization of the event.
The IOC has emphasized that international federations already engaged in an e-version of their sport, that is considered for inclusion in the Olympic Esports Games, will be its first go-to partners.
The same will be true for National Olympic Committees that already include esports in their activities.