Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Albania’s players take part in a training session at their base camp in Kaiserau, on June 23, 2024 on the eve of their UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match against Spain. (AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

  • Daku joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia
  • 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo

TIRANA: The Albanian soccer federation said UEFA banned its player Mirlind Daku on Sunday for two games after leading fans in nationalist chants at the European Championship.
Daku took a megaphone after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia on Wednesday in Hamburg and joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia.
The Albanian federation also said UEFA imposed fines totaling 47,250 euros ($50,500) for incidents at the game, where its fans joined Croatian fans and chanted an anti-Serb slogan.
The Serbian soccer federation said it would leave the tournament if UEFA did not punish the incidents.
Albania play a decisive group-stage game on Monday against Spain. If Albania advance, Daku also would sit out the round of 16 game.
Daku later apologized for his actions in a social media posting, as UEFA appointed an in-house investigator to study his “alleged inappropriate behavior.”
The 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian former province of Serbia that declared independence 16 years ago.
UEFA also announced charges against its Albanian and Croatian member federations for “potential racist and/or discriminatory conduct” by fans on Wednesday, who were reportedly chanting “Kill the Serbs” in Serbian.
The Albanian soccer Federation, or FSHF, called on the fans to be “accountable and avoid incidents and riots.”
“The FSHF invites fans and football lovers to support to the end the Albanian national team in this magical and historic path in Euro 2024 by showing citizenry and accountability through correct behavior and by respecting the rules and the opponents,” said a statement.
Albania have impressed at Euro 2024 in an opening 2-1 loss against Italy and then the 2-2 draw with Croatia. The team likely need to beat Spain to advance.


Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

Updated 42 sec ago
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Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

  • Peter Gonzalez has the ball in the net for the Dominicans in the 13th minute but referee disallows it for a foul on Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed
  • Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, while the Dominican Republic are making their debut

PARIS: Egypt and the Dominican Republic battled their way to a scoreless draw on Wednesday in their opening Group C match on the first day of the men’s soccer tournament at the Paris Olympics.
The Dominicans, who are playing for the first time ever in the football competition at the Games, had the ball in their opponents’ net in the 13th minute, courtesy of Peter Gonzalez, but the referee ruled it out over a foul Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed.
Both teams had chances throughout the match, which took place at Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire, but goalkeepers Xavier Valdez and Hamza Alaa were not to be beaten on the day. Alaa made a great save to tip away a Gonzalez free-kick in the 70th minute, and his Egyptian teammates worked hard to grab a winner late on but the Dominican defense refused to yield.
Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, but has never finished higher than fourth place, which it achieved in Amsterdam in 1928 and Tokyo in 1964. The team made reached the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020, losing 1-0 to Brazil.
It had been hoped that Mohammed Salah might join the Egyptian side as a senior player at the Olympics but he declined to do so, opting instead to focus on Liverpool’s preseason preparations. Former Arsenal midfielder Mohammed Elneny captained Egypt.
Earlier, Spain, silver medalists in Tokyo three years ago, kicked off their Group C campaign with a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan at the Parc des Princes. Their squad included two members of their Euro 2024-winning squad: Alex Baena and Fermin Lopez.


France struggles with its hijab rules for Olympics opening ceremony

Updated 24 July 2024
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France struggles with its hijab rules for Olympics opening ceremony

  • Thousands of athletes, including some who wear a hijab, are arriving for the Paris Olympics
  • Sylla, part of France’s 400-meter relay team, wrote on her Instagram account on Monday that her hijab would prevent her from appearing in Friday’s blockbuster opening ceremony

PARIS: French government and Olympics officials are seeking a creative solution to allow Muslim French sprinter Sounkamba Sylla to wear her hijab at the opening ceremony while still complying with the country’s secularism laws, they said on Wednesday.
Thousands of athletes, including some who wear a hijab, are arriving for the Paris Olympics, placing an international spotlight on tensions in France over national identity and perceived discrimination against Muslims.
Sylla, part of France’s 400-meter relay team, wrote on her Instagram account on Monday that her hijab — a head covering worn by many Muslim women — would prevent her from appearing in Friday’s blockbuster opening ceremony along the Seine River.
“You are selected for the Olympic Games, organized in your country, but you can’t take part in the opening ceremony because you wear a scarf on your head,” Sylla posted on her account.
She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, enforces laws to protect the principle of secularism under which state employees and school pupils are banned from wearing religious symbols and clothing in public institutions. Rights groups say these rules effectively discriminate against Muslims.
Eager to avoid an embarrassing domestic flap with the entire world watching, French government and Olympics officials said they were willing to find a solution for Sylla, although it remains unclear what that could be.
“Our citizens expect us to follow these principles of secularism, but we also need to be inventive about solutions to make everyone feel good,” Amelia Oudea-Castera, minister for sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said on Wednesday, adding that Sylla “understands our principles, our rules.”
Foreign athletes are not affected by the secularism rules.
David Lappartient, president of the French Olympic Committee, said the French Olympic team was “taking part in a public service mission and in this respect it is obliged to observe secularism.”
He acknowledged that the French approach “is sometimes incomprehensible in other countries,” but said there was still time to find solutions before the gala ceremony.
Numerous French sporting authorities have banned women from wearing religious head coverings, such as in football, basketball, judo and boxing, according to Human Rights Watch.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not have rules against wearing religious head coverings.
Maria Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, criticized the French government in September last year over its stance on the hijab for French athletes during the Olympic Games, saying that “no one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear, or not wear.”
Le Parisien newspaper reported that Sylla might participate in the Olympics opening ceremony wearing a cap.


IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

Updated 24 July 2024
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IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

  • The partnership with the Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation will start next season and cover Roshn Saudi League, Saudi Super Cup and King Cup matches
  • ‘The SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent,’ says SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation have agreed a new five-year production-partnership deal with global sports, events and representation company IMG.
Beginning next season IMG will take the role of broadcast producer for the Roshn Saudi League, King Cup and Saudi Super Cup, with the aim of providing best-in-class production quality, innovation and consistency across the events.
The organizations said on Wednesday said that broadcasts in coming seasons will feature more dynamic storytelling and captivating content highlighting the excitement of the matches and celebrating the culture and passion that drive the sport.
This will enable partners to provide deeper insights and elevate the levels of engagement and entertainment, they added, to enhance the viewing experience for fans around the world and foster a deeper connection with the league.
SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel said the agreement represents a significant step forward for the league as its transformation and growth continues on and off the pitch.
“Our collaboration with IMG reflects our commitment to bringing world-class production standards to Saudi football, with the league the central host producer,” he added.
“By leveraging the expertise of IMG and maintaining strong partnerships with local and regional distributors, the SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent.”
Barney Francis, IMG’s executive vice president of studios, said: “The Saudi Pro League is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing leagues in global football, with fans around the world now tuning in to watch thrilling action between some of the game’s biggest stars.
“In today’s battle for attention, it’s critical for rights holders to take control of their narrative and innovate. We are excited to help SPL take its content offering and storytelling to the next level for viewers and broadcasters, and to provide opportunities for local broadcast and production talent to be part of the journey.”
The organizations said IMG will help the SPL and SAFF implement advanced remote-production technologies so that producers can oversee matches taking place in several cities on the same day and ensure the highest production standards are maintained regardless of location.
IMG produces content for some of the world’s biggest football leagues and other sporting events, including the English Premier League, Major League Soccer for Apple TV, CBS coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and golf events including The Open, Ryder Cup and the DP World Tour.


Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

Updated 24 July 2024
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Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

  • Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside
  • Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: Morocco fans crashed the pitch to protest a late goal by Argentina at the opening match of the Paris Olympics men’s soccer tournament, an angry and bizarre scene that left the game suspended for nearly two hours with only minutes remaining.
Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside. Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory.
But not before a furious reaction from Morocco fans who thought they’d been denied a critical win.
Objects were thrown and invading Morocco fans were tackled by security on the field at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne after Argentina tied it 2-2 with a goal from Cristian Medina the 16th minute of added time.
There were images of some Argentina players flinching when what appeared to be a flare was thrown. Bottles and cups were strewn over the field by the end.
It was initially thought that the full-time whistle had been blown. Even FIFA’s website declared the game over. Video boards informed fans the match was suspended and they had to leave the stadium.
About an hour after the incident, organizers at the venue said the match was not officially over and VAR was reviewing whether the goal would stand.
Players eventually re-entered the field after a long delay and began to warm up before the game could be concluded. After warmups, players from both teams stood on the field in the otherwise empty stadium while an official reviewed the video. He offered a brief explanation to Argentina’s players after the goal was overturned while players on Morocco’s bench celebrated.
Play went on for about three minutes after the resumption before the final whistle was blown.
Morocco had led the game 2-0 before Argentina’s fight back.
Giuliano Simeone scored in the 68th minute and Medina leveled the game deep into time added on.


French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

Updated 24 July 2024
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French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

  • A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment
  • He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France”

PARIS: French authorities say they have detained a Russian man on suspicion of planning to “destabilize the Olympic Games.”
A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment, a statement from the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France,” crimes punishable with 30-year sentence in France, the statement said.
During an official search of the suspect’s home in Paris, police agents found items that “raised fears of his intention to organize events likely to lead to destabilization of the Olympic Games,” prosecutors said.
It comes after the interior minister said earlier Wednesday that security authorities made an arrest and foiled a separate plot to attack the Olympics.
Minister Gérald Darmanin said the security authorities thwarted a plot against the Paris Olympics, two days before the official start of the Summer Games.
France has been on high alert over the past few weeks as preparations to host the 2024 Olympics hit the final stretch. The Games officially kick off with a lavish and high-security opening ceremony on the River Seine on Friday.
The Games’ organizers face security challenges, including cyberattack concerns, amid high international tensions because of the Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
There are also elaborate disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia, targeting the Olympics and France’s recent elections, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States.
Darmanin said in an interview Wednesday with French broadcaster BFMTV that a young man was arrested in Gironde, a region in the southwest of France, on suspicion of “planning a violent action against the Olympic Games.”
Police arrested an 18-year-old man Tuesday on accusations that he was planning to target the “organization of the Games,” Darmanin said.
He did not give details on the suspect’s potential targets or whether they were in Paris or in other French cities hosting Olympic events that run through Aug. 11.
“We are still working on this case ... (we) avoid giving details ... but we think there is a link,” Darmanin said. “It’s been established that this person wanted to attack the Olympic Games.”
Paris has deployed 35,000 police officers each day for the Olympics, with a peak of 45,000 for the opening ceremony. In addition, 10,000 soldiers are taking part in security operations in the Paris region.
A 10,000-strong military force is patrolling streets and sites in the Paris region and carrying out other security missions.
France also is getting help from more than 40 countries that together have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.