The European Super League case has woken up a sleeping giant

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

After the Court of Justice of the European Union’s December ruling, the last thing FIFA and UEFA want is to have a fragmentation of mini-regulations imposed by courts all over the EU, Dr Assimakis Komninos writes.

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“Tucked away in the fairy-tale Grand Duchy of Luxembourg”, as a commentator once put it, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the unsung hero of European integration. 

When it comes to sports, the CJEU is like a sleeping giant. Every three decades, the court will wake up and upend the way we play and enjoy our favourite sports. Then, there will be a period of hibernation until the next eruption. 

The previous shock was on 15 December 1995, when the CJEU adopted the Bosman ruling which reshaped European football — in my personal view, for the worst. 

Twenty-eight years later, on 21 December 2023, we had the next shock. The Court this time delivered a crushing defeat for FIFA and UEFA in the European Super League case.

We also had two more judgments on the same day, Royal Antwerp Football Club and International Skating Union, which completed the picture and that picture is now bleak for sports federations. 

The Court’s rulings will have profound consequences on almost all other sports and their organisation. 

Lots of cases and complaints that are currently pending before the Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) at the European Commission will now acquire momentum — to the horror of the officials — and I am sure there will be a huge wave of new preliminary references on similar questions on every sport you can imagine.

What is the case about?

More seriously, what is the European Super League case about? The Court held that the FIFA and UEFA rules making any new interclub football project, such as the Super League, subject to their prior approval, and prohibiting clubs and players from playing in those competitions, are unlawful. 

In essence, the role and powers of FIFA and UEFA are at stake. 

The CJEU thought it needed to check these powers. The Court did so by relying predominantly on the competition rules of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). And it did so through three strikes.

The first strike is the deconstruction of Article 165 of the TFEU about the special status of sports. 

The Court essentially held that Article 165 has no “teeth” and cannot justify conduct that falls foul of the competition or the four freedoms rules. 

So those who had placed their bets on this provision, which was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon precisely to please the sports bodies, will be disappointed.

The second strike is the finding that FIFA, UEFA and their member associations are “undertakings” in the sense that they perform economic activities consisting of the organisation and marketing of interclub football competitions and the exploitation of media rights. 

Hence, they are subject to the competition rules and, not to forget, FIFA and UEFA hold a dominant position, indeed a monopoly, in these economic activities, which is “indisputable” in the Court’s words.

With great power comes great responsibility

The third and most serious strike is the Court’s treatment of FIFA and UEFA as quasi-state actors. 

By relying on case law that applies to undertakings with special or exclusive rights granted by the member states, the CJEU in reality said that FIFA and UEFA are unlike other private organisations. 

No other text encapsulates this better than paragraph 137 of the judgment:

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“Requirements identical to those [applicable to undertakings that have been the beneficiaries of special or exclusive rights granted by member states] are all the more necessary when an undertaking in a dominant position, through its own conduct and not by virtue of being granted exclusive or special rights by a Member State, places itself in a situation where it is able to deny potentially competing undertakings access to a given market […] That may be the case when that undertaking has regulatory and review powers and the power to impose sanctions enabling it to authorise or control that access, and thus a means which is different to those normally available to undertakings and which govern competition on the merits as between them.”

That says it all: with great power comes great responsibility. The Court viewed FIFA and UEFA as a “state within the state” and was quite strict. Certainly, this amounts to new law.

The status quo is untenable

So what is the Court of Justice demanding from FIFA and UEFA? The asks sound innocuous but the reality is that they go to the very core of how the two are organised: FIFA and UEFA need to put in place specific measures that ensure there is no risk of abuse of dominance and a whole framework for substantive criteria, as well as detailed procedural rules for ensuring that these criteria are transparent, objective, precise and non-discriminatory. 

The CJEU also makes clear that the status quo is untenable and has to change, since, as the Court puts it, “at the current juncture it is impossible to set up viably a competition outside [FIFA’s and UEFA’s] ecosystem, given the control they exercise, directly or through their member national football associations, over clubs, players and other types of competitions”. 

As to media rights and the commercial exploitation of rights related to football competitions, the Court was equally not happy with FIFA’s and UEFA’s role, although a bit more flexible. 

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In reality, the Court stressed that it was not deciding about the European Super League project, but I wonder how much room for manoeuvre is left for the two football federations.

All roads lead to Brussels

Obviously, I don’t think the case should be left to the Spanish judges which have now received the ruling. 

I believe the way forward is for the European Commission to step in and implement the Court’s judgment in the context of cases that are in front of it — and I am sure there are. 

And if I were FIFA and UEFA, I would move fast and try to resolve this centrally with the European Commission. 

The last thing they want is to have a fragmentation of mini-regulations imposed by courts all over the EU. 

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The two organisations must put together a new regime with necessary and proportionate measures to safeguard their legitimate objectives. 

And it would be ideal if that new regime were blessed by the European Commission in the form of a decision — more likely, a commitment decision. Time is running out.

Dr Assimakis Komninos is Partner at White & Case LLP and a litigator in major competition law cases before the EU Courts, the European Commission, national authorities, national courts and international arbitration tribunals. He is a visiting professor at Université Panthéon Assas (Paris II) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Global Competition Law Centre (GCLC) at the College of Europe.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Inexperienced Matildas fall to Canada 5-0 in opening friendly

The Matildas have recorded their heaviest defeat in 17 months, with an inexperienced line-up thrashed 5-0 by Canada.

Nichelle Prince scored a first-half brace to send Canada on its way, with Cloé Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon completing the rout inside 62 minutes on Saturday AEDT.

It was the Matildas’ biggest defeat and poorest performance since a similarly inexperienced line-up posted a 7-0 humiliation to Spain in 2022.

Coach Tony Gustavsson had promised an experimental squad and no players from the 4-0 Women’s World Cup win over Canada were named in the starting line-up.

Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were out injured, while Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross were among those benched amid heavy workloads at club level.

The starting line-up in Langford had a combined 429 caps, with 281 of those between Clare Polkinghorne and Tameka Yallop.

Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted at right-back and holding midfield and were among six players with fewer than 20 caps.

On a sodden artificial pitch at Starlight Stadium, the disjointed Matildas struggled to get to grips with the surface, or a brilliant Canada.

The Matildas were overrun in midfield and had no first-half shots to Canada’s 13 and it took just 10 minutes for the hosts to take the lead.

A heavy back-pass from Rule sold Polkinghorne into trouble and, as the centre-back got the ball caught under her feet, Prince pounced.

The striker pinched the ball away and coolly finished into the bottom corner.

Teagan Micah made three brilliant saves, denying Leon in the 24th and 31st minutes and Vanessa Gilles in the 27th.

But in the 43rd minute, Ashley Lawrence burst down the right and cut back to Prince, whose first-time shot beat a disappointed Micah at the near post.

Four minutes into the second half, the defending Olympic champions all but sealed victory when Hunter dawdled on the ball and Lacasse pinched it off her, before bursting to score.

In the 55th minute, Rule’s clearing header fell to Awujo, who had time to take a touch and fire home from distance.

Seven minutes later, Leon completed the rout when she drifted unmarked between a scattered defence to score.

Gustavsson turned to more experience in Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry and Alanna Kennedy for the final half-hour.

The Matildas had their first shot through Fowler in the 74th minute, with Kailen Sheridan making a comfortable save.

In her second-last match, retiring Canada great Christine Sinclair entered the fray in the 62nd minute.

The second friendly is in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon AEDT.

AAP

Look back at how the action unfolded in our blog.

Key events

Final thoughts

Football is a cycle, and just as we saw the Matildas go through some growing pains in their early days under Tony Gustavsson, this was another moment in which we were reminded of what the next generation of players coming through the ranks looks like.

Commentator Andy Harper isn’t as forgiving of this result, though, the biggest loss Australia have copped since that 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain last year.

But just like that game, this was an experimental team: Five players with 15 or fewer caps, and with a number of key senior players benched until the hour mark.

“When you make bulk changes, bulk experiments, with so many young debutants, it makes it really difficult for them to shine,” Amy Chapman says on the broadcast.

She reckons a better balance needed to be struck by drip-feeding young players into the senior starting side, citing Kyra Cooney-Cross’s partnership with Katrina Gorry on the field as a big reason why she’s come such a long way so quickly. Maybe we’ll see that in the next game on Tuesday.

That’s not to say Canada weren’t excellent. They were a team who have clearly played a lot of football together, and who will be thrilled to put five past the team that defeated them at the World Cup six months ago.

The field itself was tough; a slick artificial surface in the frosty rain made it really difficult for both sides, and you could see the Matildas’ confidence wane as the game wore on.

They registered just two shots all game — both coming through Mary Fowler when she came on — which, you’d hope, will be a focus for the side in their final match of the year next week.

All in all, given the gulf in experience and quality between the two sides, it’s perhaps no surprise that it ended the way it did.

How they bounce back and what changes they make before the rematch on Tuesday will determine whether the Matildas can finish their remarkable 2023 with a bang or a whimper.

Until then, thanks for joining me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Full-time: Canada 5 – 0 Australia

What’s next?

Is there much to be gained by serving up another experimental line up on Wednesday Sam? Surely we field our strongest line up to see if we can spoil the Christine Sinclair farewell party. A big crowd deserves a competitive game.

– stumcin

It’s a good question. I think it depends on a few things: 1) how the younger players pull up after this game, 2) how the more experienced players are feeling, and 3) what Tony Gustavsson wants to work on.

I can see a situation where there’s a combination of the “two” teams we saw tonight. Where, say, a Sarah Hunter plays alongside a Katrina Gorry, or a Remy Siemsen starts up front alongside a Hayley Raso or Mary Fowler.

Seeing how some of the individuals slot into the regular starting team would be the way I approach it, personally. But I’m not Tony. So we’ll have to wait and see.

90′ 2 minutes of added time

89′ The game is winding down now

Both teams have mostly cancelled each other out in the last 15 minutes. In terms of the scoreline, it’s well out of sight, and you feel that the substitutions Gustavsson made were partly made to save the confidence of the younger players. Those on the field now didn’t really need minutes, and they’re not playing with the kind of hunger that they may have had the scores been a little closer. That’s OK though. So long as nobody gets injured, that’s what matters.

84′ Canada try the counterattack

Christine Sinclair picks up the ball in midfield and turns before charging forward after Australia’s midfielders over-committed.

Young winger Bianca St. George is tearing down the right wing, and is spotted by Sinc, who delivers a delightful outside-of-the-foot through-ball into her teammate’s path.

She tears into the box, but Alanna Kennedy is in lockstep with her. The towering centre-back throws herself across the grass as she anticipates the cross, but St. Georges loses control of the ball and it trickles out for a goal kick.

80′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

The Matildas have looked much more composed since those substitutions were made just after the hour, but Canada aren’t letting them back into the game.

While they’re not charging forward with quite the same energy or savagery as they did early on, they still don’t look super fazed by Australia’s fresh bodies, passing the ball calmly around the back and out onto the wings before recycling it back again.

The Matildas aren’t giving up – Mary Fowler had another penalty-box entry about a minute ago – but this seems to mostly be about damage control now.

77′ Tekkers Buchanan

The Chelsea centre-back looks to be at sea, on the ball with her back to goal as Amy Sayer pressures her from behind, but the veteran does a couple of lovely step-overs and wiggles away from the young Matilda, taking on three other Aussies and jinking a lovely pass through them all.

They’re just toying with us now …

76′ Substitution Australia

Hayley Raso comes on in place of Tameka Yallop.

73′ And just as I say that!

Mary Fowler receives an incisive pass from the right wing, turning into the D at the top of the box and rocketing her foot through the rubber.

It’s almost too straight a shot, though, and it slams right into the chest of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for her first save of the night.

That’s something, I guess…

71′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

With 20 minutes left, the Matildas have a mountain to climb.

They’re not going to get back into this game, you’d think, but a start would be actually having some shots at goal.

I don’t remember the last time Australia went for so long in a game without registering a single shot.

Their possession has improved since the substitutions were made, but with Mary Fowler the only recognised senior attacker on the field – with Emily Van Egmond and Tameka Yallop supporting her – you wonder whether they’ll get close enough to register even one.

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Women’s World Cup-winning Spain side refuses to play until federation chief resigns for kissing player

Less than a week after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Spain’s national team players announced Friday that they will not play any more games unless the president of the country’s football federation steps down for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips after their victory.

Luis Rubiales, who was also chastised for grabbing his crotch after Spain’s 1-0 victory over England on Sunday, remained defiant despite immense pressure to resign. The kiss marred the title celebrations in Sydney, Australia, on Sunday, and criticism has steadily mounted.

Hermoso issued a statement Friday strongly rebuking Rubiales’ characterization of the kiss as consensual, while the 46-year-old federation president cast himself as the victim at an emergency general assembly of the federation in Madrid.

“I won’t resign,” he declared four times in quick succession, to applause from the overwhelmingly male audience.

Several Spanish news media outlets reported on Thursday that Rubiales would step down. Instead, he said on Friday that he is the victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”

ALSO READ | Wins and winnings: On FIFA Women’s World Cup and Spain’s maiden win

While Rubiales held his ground, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s football, announced that he was resigning, followed by at least two other federation members. Del Amo had urged Rubiales to also resign.

Among those applauding Rubiales were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente. Until Friday’s assembly, he had received no public support in Spain, with political parties from both the left and the right speaking out against him.

In his speech to the gathering, Rubiales said Hermoso “lifted me up” in a celebratory gesture and he asked her for “a little kiss?” and she “said yes.”

“The kiss was the same I could give one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.

People protest against President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales in Las Rozas, Spain, on August 25, 2023
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

The televised broadcast of the medals ceremony didn’t show the first moments when Rubiales congratulated Hermoso. But it does show that his feet were on the ground before he held her face and kissed her.

Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in two statements, one issued through her FUTRPO players union and a second published on social media.

She said that she did not consent to the kiss or try to pick up the president, and that there was no conversation like the one described by Rubiales.

“I won’t tolerate anyone doubting my word and even less someone putting words in my mouth,” she said.

In a second statement, Hermoso said the kiss “left me in a state of shock.”

“I believe that no person in any workplace should be the victim of this type of nonconsensual behavior,” she added.

Hermoso also accused the federation of pressuring her and her family to speak out in Rubiales’ defense. The federation previously denied a report that it forced her to make a statement downplaying the kiss shortly after it happened.

After a full day of accusations and counteraccusations between Hermoso and Rubiales, the federation issued a statement early Saturday saying that its president did not lie and that he and the organisation would take legal action against Hermoso and her union. The statement included photos that it said show Hermoso lifting Rubiales off the ground during the medals ceremony.

The FUTPRO statement signed by Hermoso, her 22 teammates, and more than 50 other Spanish players said they would no longer play for Spain “if the present leadership remains in charge”.

Rubiales said he would defend his honor in court against politicians, including two ministers, who called his kiss an act of sexual violence. One of them was acting Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, who urged the government to take “urgent measures.”

“Impunity for macho actions is over,” Díaz said. “Rubiales cannot continue in office.”

Alexia Putellas, Hermoso’s teammate and a two-time Ballon d’Or winner as the best player in the world, posted a message of support on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This is unacceptable,” the Barcelona player wrote. “I’m with you, my teammate, Jenni Hermoso.”

Other teammates quickly followed, along with players from abroad.

The president of Spain’s women’s league, Beatriz Álvarez, told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE that she was not surprised because Rubiales’ “ego is above his dignity.”

“What surprises and scandalizes me are his words,” Álvarez said. “Every time he speaks he shows what kind of person he really is.”

Spain’s government planned to file a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country’s sports laws, according to Víctor Francos, secretary of state for sports and head of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports. If Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports agrees to hear the suit, the council will suspend Rubiales pending the court’s ruling, Francos said.

If found guilty by the court for committing sexist acts, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office. Francos said he would ask the court to move its regular Thursday meeting up to Monday.

Iberia airlines, a major sponsor of the federation, said it supported the government’s initiative to “protect the rights and dignity of our athletes.”

About 100 people, mostly women, gathered Friday night in front of the Spanish football federation’s headquarters in Madrid to call for Rubiales’ resignation, many waving red cards used by football referees to expel players from games.

“What has to happen now is his resignation and the resignation of everyone who applauded him,” said 39-year-old protester Alma Doña. “The federation needs to be reformed and women’s football should have more support.”

Spanish football club Barcelona, which provided nine players for Spain’s team, said Rubiales’ behavior “was completely inappropriate.” Real Madrid said it supported the government’s decision to try to suspend Rubiales. Sevilla called for his resignation. Athletic Bilbao said it was renouncing its seat on the federation’s board and backed the government’s decisions. Osasuna slammed Rubiales, calling him “rude and sexist.” Espanyol, Valencia, and Celta Vigo also issued statements against Rubiales, as did Spanish league president Javier Tebas.

FIFA, the governing body of football, opened a disciplinary case against Rubiales on Thursday. Disciplinary judges can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport.

The Netherlands-based FIFPRO player’s union, which had already demanded action against Rubiales, reiterated its position after his assembly speech.

The only relevant institution to remain silent has been European football body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. FIFPRO urged UEFA to open its own disciplinary case.

Rubiales, who led the Spanish players union for eight years before taking over as federation president in 2018, is currently heading the UEFA-backed bid to host the men’s World Cup in 2030. Spain is bidding with neighboring Portugal and Morocco, and also possibly Ukraine.

Rubiales made 339,000 euros ($365,000) in 2021 after taxes, for presiding over the federation with a budget of 382 million euros ($412 million). The federation runs Spain’s men’s and women’s national football teams and its semi-professional and amateur football leagues. It also organizes the referees for La Liga. The government maintains some oversight of the entity but it cannot name or remove its executives.

Shortly before the kiss, Rubiales grabbed his crotch in a victory gesture, with Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year old Princess Sofía standing nearby.

He offered an apology for that, saying it was in a moment of “euphoria” and directed toward Vilda on the field.

The first members of the elite in Spanish men’s football spoke out against Rubiales on Thursday, when it looked like he was bowing out. Their words of reproach continued to trickle in after Rubiales’ diatribe on Friday.

“What an embarrassment,” former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas said on X. “We should have spent the last five days talking about our women players, about the joy they gave us all! About how proud we are that they gave us a title that we didn’t have in women’s football, instead …”

Real Betis forward Borja Iglesias, who has occasionally been called up for Spain’s national team, said he would not play for his country again “until things change.”

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Spanish women’s football team refuses to play under Rubiales

Rubiales is refusing to step down despite the uproar he caused when he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent during a medals ceremony last Sunday after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, Australia.

The 23 members of Spain’s national women’s football team, crowned world champions in Australia on Sunday, say they won’t play for the team under the management of the federation’s current president, Luis Rubiales. 

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Rubiales kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during a medals ceremony after the final without her consent and has since refused to resign, despite the uproar his actions have caused.

“After everything that happened at the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony, all the players who have signed this text will not honour a future call-up if the current management team is maintained,” the world champions wrote on Friday in a statement issued by the Futpro union, which is defending the interests of Jenni Hermoso, who was forcibly kissed by federation president Luis Rubiales.

Hermoso said in a statement on Friday “in no moment” did she consent to a kiss on the lips by soccer federation president Luis Rubiales, hours after Rubiales claimed in an emergency meeting of the Spanish soccer federation that the kiss was consensual.

Facing his possible removal from office, Rubiales refused to step down despite the uproar he caused with the kiss, which happened during a medals ceremony last Sunday after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, Australia.

“I won’t resign,” Luis Rubiales declared four times in quick succession at the meeting and claimed he was a victim of a witch hunt by “false feminists.”

He was applauded by the overwhelming male assembly.

While Rubiales held his ground, federation vice president Rafael del Amo, who had been in charge of women’s soccer, announced that he was resigning, followed by at least two other federation members. Del Amo had urged Rubiales to also resign.

Among those supporting Rubiales were women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and men’s national team coach Luis de la Fuente. Until Friday’s assembly, he had received no public support in Spain, with political parties from both the left and the right speaking out against him.

Uproar in Spain

Rubiales kissed Spain and CF Pachuca player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the award ceremony after Spain beat England in the final in Sydney, Australia, marring the title celebrations with his actions.

Several Spanish media outlets reported on Thursday that Rubiales was planning to step down.

That same day, FIFA, football’s global governing body and organiser of the Women’s World Cup, opened a disciplinary case against him.

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Its disciplinary committee was tasked with weighing whether Rubiales violated its code relating to “the basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

In an apology video, he said the kiss was “mutual and with the consent” of Hermoso. He received various applause from the overwhelming male assembly.

Rubiales described the controversial kiss as “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual,” although he said sorry “for the context in which it took place”.

Hermoso had said, “I didn’t like it [the kiss], but what can I do,” in a video streamed on social media last Sunday. 

In his speech to the assembly on Friday, Rubiales said Hermoso “lifted me up” in a celebratory gesture and he asked her for “a little kiss?” and she “said yes.”

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“The kiss was the same I could give one of my daughters,” Rubiales said.

The televised broadcast of the medals ceremony didn’t show the first moments when Rubiales congratulated Hermoso. But it does show that his feet were on the ground before he held her face and kissed her.

Hermoso contradicted Rubiales’ version in a statement issued later through her FUTRPO players’ union. She said, “In no moment did I consent to the kiss that he gave me and in no moment did I try to pick up the president.”

“I won’t tolerate anyone putting in doubt my word and even more so that anyone invents words that I did not say.”

Rubiales said he would defend his honour in court against politicians, including two ministers, who called his kiss an act of sexual violence. One of them was acting Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, who urged the government to take “urgent measures.”

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“Impunity for macho actions is over,” Díaz said. “Rubiales cannot continue in office.”

Alexia Putellas, Hermoso’s teammate and a two-time Ballon d’Or winner as the best player in the world, posted a message of support on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This is unacceptable,” the Barcelona player wrote. “I’m with you, my teammate, Jenni Hermoso.”

Other teammates quickly followed.

Aitana Bonmatí, the Spain midfielder named the best player of the Women’s World Cup, said on X: “There are limits that you cannot cross and we cannot tolerate this. We are with our teammate.” Team captain Ivana Andrés and Olga Carmona, whose goal won the final, also joined in showing their support for Hermoso.

The president of Spain’s women’s league, Beatriz Álvarez, told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE that she was not surprised because Rubiales’ “ego is above his dignity.”

“What surprises and scandalizes me are his words,” Álvarez said. “Every time he speaks he shows what kind of person he really is.”

Legal challenge

Spain’s government planned to file a lawsuit Friday alleging that Rubiales violated the country’s sports laws, according to Víctor Francos, secretary of state for sports and head of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports. If Spain’s Administrative Court for Sports agrees to hear the suit, the council will suspend Rubiales temporarily pending the court’s ruling, Francos said.

If found guilty by the court for committing sexist acts, Rubiales could be ruled unfit to hold office. Francos said he would ask the court to move its regular Thursday meeting up to Monday.

“The speech by Mr Rubiales before the general assembly of the Spanish soccer federation is absolutely incompatible with representing Spanish sports and with the values of an advanced society like Spain’s,” the Higher Council for Sports said in a written statement.

Spanish soccer club Barcelona, which provided nine players for Spain’s team, said Rubiales’ behaviour “was completely inappropriate.” Sevilla called for his resignation. Espanyol also joined in the criticism.

FIFA, the governing body of soccer, opened a disciplinary case against Rubiales on Thursday. The FIFA disciplinary committee will decide whether Rubiales violated its code relating to “the basic rules of decent conduct” or behaved “in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

Disciplinary judges can impose sanctions on individuals ranging from warnings and fines to suspensions from the sport. FIFA gave no timetable for the ruling.

FIFA’s investigation came after Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said earlier this week that Rubiales’ attempt to apologize — after he first insulted his critics — was unconvincing and that “he must continue taking further steps.”

The Netherlands-based FIFPRO player’s union, which had already demanded action against Rubiales, reiterated its position after his assembly speech.

The only relevant institution to remain silent has been European soccer body UEFA, for which Rubiales is a vice president. FIFPRO urged UEFA to open its own disciplinary case.

Further inappropriate behaviour

As if the forced kiss was not enough, Rubiales had shortly before grabbed his crotch in a lewd victory gesture from the section of dignitaries with Spain’s Queen Letizia and the 16-year-old Princess Sofía nearby.

The combination of the gesture and the unsolicited kiss has made Rubiales a national embarrassment after his conduct was broadcast to a global audience, marring the enormous accomplishment of the women who played for Spain.

“Spanish sports did not offer a good image as far as its leaders were concerned,” Víctor Francos Díaz Spain’s secretary of state for sports and president of Spain’s Higher Council for Sports told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Madrid.

Rubiales also is a UEFA vice president and was the European football body’s most senior elected representative at the final in Australia.

The former footballer has a key role in swooning football officials over the next year while trying to secure hosting rights for the men’s World Cup in 2030. However, whether he will oversee that campaign any further appears unlikely. 

Spain leads a joint bid with Portugal, Morocco and, currently, Ukraine for the 48-team tournament and is favoured to win next year’s decision.

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Live sport can be challenging for neurodivergent fans. Here’s what support is available at the Women’s World Cup

Erin Mitchell loves football but hasn’t gone to a game in years.

“It’s always been part of our family, my brothers played, and then I played,” she says.

“You want to be there because you love the vibe and the environment, but there’s also that constant anxiety.”

Based on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Mitchell once held a Mariners season pass but stopped attending matches due to the sensory challenges caused by her autism and ADHD.

“As my kids got slightly older, they became more sensitive to noise and so did I,” Mitchell says.

“I became a lot more sensitive to the people and the stress of all the sensory inputs… but I still enjoy watching TV.”

Mitchell gets anxious in large crowds. (ABC News: Emma Simkin)

Attending live games is often challenging for neurodivergent people, including those with autism, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mitchell describes it as an oppressive feeling.

“I always felt on the edge, like I could never fully relax at a game,” she says.

“My anxiety presents in anger, so I used to get very angry at people around me for making too much noise. That bothered me, but I couldn’t help it.”

Tasks that seem mundane to most of the population can be stressful for neurodivergent people, like lining up for toilets, food, drinks, or to enter and exit the venue.

Filling up the stress ‘bucket’

Autistic people often experience the world from the bottom up, taking in all the information from the surrounding environment, unable to filter out unnecessary details in the way neurotypical people can.

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Players took unpaid leave and played on unsafe pitches en route to World Cup, report finds

The global players’ union FIFPro has called on FIFA and its six member confederations to drastically improve the conditions, compensation and medical care for all players competing in future Women’s World Cup qualifiers after a new report found myriad problems with the path towards the 2023 tournament.

Compiled over a two-year period, the inaugural report surveyed 362 players who took part in World Cup qualifiers, focusing on both the global perspective as well as the specific contexts of each confederation: the OFC (Oceania), AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), UEFA (Europe), CONMEBOL (South America), and CONCACAF (North & Central America and the Caribbean).

Through anonymised online and in-person surveys, they were asked about various aspects of their experiences including travel and accommodation, pre-tournament health checks, pitch quality, recovery facilities, food, mental health support, match scheduling and payment.

The report found various qualifying paths fell short of minimum standards in many categories, with “multiple inconsistencies in the scheduling, duration, format and conditions between tournaments”. 

Sixty-six per cent of respondents said they had to take unpaid leave from other jobs in order to participate in their respective confederation competitions, which also double as qualifying pathways for World Cups and Olympic Games, with almost one-third saying they had not been paid to play at all.

Only 40 per cent of those surveyed said they viewed themselves as “professional” players, defined by FIFA as anyone who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for football than the expenses they incur.

Thirty-five per cent of players identified as amateur, 16 per cent as semi-professional, while nine were uncertain of their status.

In every confederation, match payment and prize money were two of the biggest issues of the qualifying phases, with the vast majority of respondents saying payment needed significant improvement.

Last week, players from the World Cup-bound Jamaican women’s national team posted public statements saying a lack of investment had led to abandoned camps and missed compensation.

“We are not financially supported enough,” said an anonymous UEFA player.

“Some of our girls had to take unpaid vacation at work and it wasn’t sure if they can even attend the tournament.”

Over half the players surveyed were not provided with pre-tournament medical checks, while 70 per cent were not given ECG heart-health checks.

“Any stat that is below 100 per cent in terms of access to important medical checks is completely unacceptable,” said Sarah Gregorious, director of global policy and strategic relations for women’s football at FIFPro.

“We just want to work with whoever wants to work with us, particularly FIFA and the confederations, to understand why that is the case and how that can be prevented, because that is certainly not something that should be acceptable to anybody.”

Almost 40 per cent of players surveyed did not have access to mental health support, while one-third of those surveyed said there was insufficient recovery time between games, which was exacerbated by the sub-standard quality of training and match pitches, particularly outside of Europe.

Sixty-six per cent said recovery and gym facilities were not of an elite standard or did not exist at all, making it more difficult to recover from games as well as from international travel, with 59 per cent saying they flew economy — even over long distances.

Another major issue highlighted was inconsistent match scheduling.

Only UEFA has a stand-alone World Cup qualifying process separate from their continental championship, which affords players more high-quality matches and opportunities for remuneration, while the other five confederations rely on a single tournament for multiple purposes.

Some of those tournaments — like the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, in which Australia participates — are shorter in length (the 2022 tournament ran for just 18 days), and also operate outside designated FIFA windows, forcing players to choose between playing for club or country, with the tight turn-around between games also heightening risk of injury and fatigue.

One-third of players said they did not have enough recovery time between matches, with 34 per cent saying that had one rest day or fewer between arriving in camp and playing a qualifying match. Further, 39 per cent said they had one day or fewer between the end of the international window and resuming training at their clubs.

FIFPro has used the report to call on FIFA to have greater control and oversight over World Cup qualifying pathways, highlighting the need to implement global standards for player conditions in international tournaments, as well as for each confederation to conduct stand-alone qualifying tournaments outside of their continental championships.

The lack of domestic player unions in many federations — particularly those from less privileged confederations such as Oceania and Africa — had made organising and collective bargaining difficult, but ABC understands one suggestion is to establish a confederation-wide union membership system so that players can still be protected even if they don’t have their own country-specific union.

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AHRC underwhelmed by FIFA’s response to report into Australia’s human rights record ahead of Women’s World Cup

Significant human rights risks identified as part of an analysis ahead of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup have been ignored by the sport’s international governing body, raising concerns for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Commissioned by FIFA, the AHRC analysis identified 57 risks associated with Australia’s co-hosting of the event to be staged in numerous cities around the country from July.

Risks raised include the rights of athletes, workers, First Nations people and children, with 21 of them earning a “tier 1” ranking, the most serious of three tiers.

“In and of itself, that’s not surprising,” AHRC commissioner Lorraine Finlay told The Ticket.

“When you do an in-depth risk analysis like that you will identify a wide variety of human rights issues to think about.

“What’s important is what comes next — what do you do when you identify those risks? How do you address them? How do you actually put things into action to make sure that those risks aren’t borne out? That’s the critical thing.

“And that’s where I do have concerns coming into the Women’s World Cup.”

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Live: Matildas face Spain in second Cup of Nations match

Can the Matildas exact revenge against a Spanish side missing 15 of their biggest stars? Or will Spain’s depth shine through?

Follow below for live updates.

Key events

46′ Spain out of the gates early

By Samantha Lewis

The visitors unleash the first shot of the half after Australia fail to clear the ball from near the top of their own box.

Jenni Hermoso had the open of sending through Redondo Ferrer down the left, who was completely free, but instead shoots herself – right into the chest of Mackenzie Arnold, who has been excellent so far this game.

Second half kick-off!

By Samantha Lewis

Key Event

Chloe Logarzo getting recognised at half-time

By Samantha Lewis

The Matilda is currently recovering from a foot injury, after spending most of the past 18 months on the sideline with an ACL tear.

In the meantime, though, Logarzo has been really leaning into advocacy work, particularly working with the LGBTQIA+ community (of which she is part) on various causes.

That includes being named one of a handful of 2023 Sydney WorldPride Rainbow Champions: ambassadors for the event who have been working in their own spaces to progress inclusion and diversity.

Chloe will also make an appearance at the finals of the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championships, which kicks off tomorrow in Sydney, to present the trophies and medals!

Congrats, Chloe.

Loading

Update

Audience comment

I agree 100% that first half blew me away.

– Natty

Update

Audience comment

No first half jet lag this time! Nicely paced open playing from both sides (would love to see the sideline view of Polk’s goal – she steps goalside of that defender and the ball before taking possession and shooting… there was another defender out of frame…). Halftime talk? Back line; calm down, improve anticipation now you’ve seen ESP’s style. For the rest; keep doing what you’re doing till you run out of puff, then we’ll sub you.

– Stop Moving the Goalposts!

HT: Australia 3 – 0 Spain

By Samantha Lewis

Key Event

That was, without doubt, one of the best halves of football the Matildas have played under Tony Gustavsson.

Almost from the opening whistle, they were intense, organised, and direct in their attacking moves. They know exactly where Spain’s weak-points are, and have been pressing and pushing and prodding them all half.

Spain have had a handful of decent chances, though, mostly coming from delightful little through-balls that carved open Australia’s back-line. You have to wonder whether a more experienced starting line-up would have made that opening 45 a much more even contest.

What did you think of that, beloved blog-watchers? Is that the kind of half you were expecting from the Tillies? What do you think the second 45 has in store for us?

Comment below!

44′ Hayley Raso is down

By Samantha Lewis

The Manchester City winger is clutching her wrist and looks to be in some pain after tumbling to the grass.

The fourth official adds three minutes of extra time as Raso is helped off the pitch, with what looks like strapping being wrapped around it tightly.

Let’s hope it’s not as bad as it looks on the big screen!

43′ Kerr almost adds a fourth!

By Samantha Lewis

Direct, precise, lethal football from the Matildas.

Foord picks up the ball in midfield and spins, knowing Kerr is racing off the shoulder of the last defender.

The Arsenal winger clips a perfect ball into Kerr’s path as the Chelsea striker takes a steadying touch and fires…

…but it just fizzes wide of the far post.

42′ First yellow card of the match

By Samantha Lewis

And it goes to the goal-scorer Caitlin Foord for accidentally elbowing Codina Panedas.

41′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

By Samantha Lewis

Key Event

Caitlin Foord marks her return with an easy header off a perfect Steph Catley free-kick.

Spain have only got themselves to blame here: not only did their players give away the set-piece totally unnecessarily, bundling Hayley Raso to the ground when she was off the ball, but they didn’t even watch Foord ghosting into the six-yard box as Catley’s cross sailed towards her.

3-0.

37′ Almost a third for Australia!

By Samantha Lewis

A bullet Sam Kerr header almost rips the back of the net clean off, but the linesperson raises their flag to bring an abrupt end to the crowd’s wave of screams.

The replay shows Kerr’s shoulders leaning juuust over the line carved into the grass, so technically she’s right, but, like, spiritually? Say it with me: Kerr was robbed.

34′ Charlie Grant gets away with one there

By Samantha Lewis

The right-back was in a bit of a pickle, getting boxed-in near her own corner-flag and having the ball stolen by Jenni Hermoso.

The Spanish striker shapes to cross before feinting back inside, with Grant swinging a wild leg to try and intercept, with the ball spinning off upfield.

The referee signals a throw-in… for Australia.

Lol.

30′ Drinks break!

By Samantha Lewis

It’s pretty warm here in Parramatta, so each half will have a drinks break.

The players have got ice towels around their necks as Tony Gustavsson is gesturing wildly and giving quick tips to his players.

Their energy has dropped off somewhat in the last five minutes, so let’s see what the next ‘quarter’ of football brings.

Would you like a Matildas kit with rainbow numbers?

By Samantha Lewis

Key Event

A Football Australia representative just confirmed to us that customisable jerseys will be available on their online store from tomorrow!

Get in quick, because they’re reaching the end of their current cycle before their 2023 Women’s World Cup jerseys are released.

23′ Things starting to settle now

By Samantha Lewis

It’s been a wild opening 20 minutes to this game, with both sides playing a really energetic, pro-active style of possession football.

The Spanish side look a little shell-shocked, but they’ve shown some glimpses of danger every now and then.

The Matildas need to keep their concentration and ensure they don’t let this intensity drop.

18′ Spain trying to get back into it…

By Samantha Lewis

Some nice one-touch passing slices through Australia’s defensive third and finds a Spanish player all alone near the penalty spot. Her shot looks for all money like it’s flying into the net, but Steph Catley sticks out a strong left boot and sends it spinning out for a corner, which comes to nothing.

Phew!

15′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

By Samantha Lewis

Key Event

CLARE POLKINGHORNE!

Now you don’t see this every day: that’s two goals in two games for Australia’s all-time leading appearance-maker.

Spain fail to deal with a corner properly, with the ball being recycled immediately by the Matildas before it finds Raso stationed out on the left.

She clips in a lovely cross to the box, with the deflected Sam Kerr header being bundled around by a Spanish defender.

Polkinghorne bodies her off inside the six-yard box and slams it into the top left corner.

2-0!

14′ Matildas with the first corner

By Samantha Lewis

Hayley Raso has been an absolute menace down the right wing so far, regularly getting the best of Spain’s young left-back.

Another cut-and-cross deflects off a red sock and flies out for the first corner of the match.

Update

Audience comment

Thanks Sam. If this is what we’ve got to look forward to in July and August, bring it on.

Spain are at another level compared to Czechia.

– Mark

Update

Audience comment

YYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!

– Natty

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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions | CNN

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in today’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, CNN’s three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.


Abu Dhabi, UAE
CNN
 — 

It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of the world’s most famous soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, where Cristiano Ronaldo was received in an extravagant ceremony, with excited children sporting his new club’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost.

According to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a year with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official website was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth limit due to the sudden surge in traffic, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days across the Middle East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene.

It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the kingdom for “sportswashing,” an attempt to burnish one’s reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia has recognized a couple of years ago that to be a powerful nation internationally, you cannot just rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting research fellow and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, told CNN.

“You also need to invest in soft power, and the case of Qatar shows that this can work pretty well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following in the Qatari approach with sport, but with a delay of around 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has also faced immense criticism since it won the bid to hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Despite the smaller Gulf state facing similar accusations of “sportswashing,” the tournament has largely been viewed as a success, not least in exposing the world to a different view of the Middle East, thanks in part to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina in their opening group game.

Gulf nations engage in fierce competition to become the region’s premier entertainment and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in close proximity to each other, each have their own Formula One racing event. But their competition hasn’t been confined to the region. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also bought trophy European soccer teams.

Riyadh is playing catchup with neighbors who have long realized the importance of investing in sports, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France, especially as its main source of income – oil – is being gradually shunned.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to create more resilient economies that are more broadly based upon industries other than those that are derived from oil and gas,” Chadwick told CNN.

Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has played a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“It is also a sign of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening up to the rest of the world,” said Georgetown University’s Reiche.

The move is part of “several recent high profile moves in the sports world, including hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank. “It is a significant piece of a large puzzle that represents their economic restructuring.”

The kingdom has been on a path to not only diversify its economy, but also shift its image amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights record and treatment of women. Saudi Arabia is today hosting everything from desert raves to teaming up with renowned soccer players. Argentina’s Lionel Messi last year signed a lucrative promotional deal with the kingdom.

Hailed as the world’s greatest player, 35-year-old Messi ended this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar with his team’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even greater value to the kingdom.

The acquisition of such key global figures will also help combat the monarchy’s decades-long reputation of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and an expert on soccer in the Middle East, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli said that the kingdom wants to use high profile international sports “as a vehicle for advertising to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia bought the English Premier league club Newcastle United in 2021 through a three-party consortium, with PIF being the largest stakeholder. The move proved controversial, as Amnesty International and other human rights defenders worried it would overshadow the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who are urging the soccer player to “draw attention to human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has an image problem,” especially since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. But the kingdom’s recent investments in sports and entertainment are “not about sportswashing but about developing the country, social change and opening up to the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but the kingdom’s tourism ministry noted in November that it has not yet submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr, however, may help boost the kingdom’s bid should it choose it pursue it.

Another way Saudi Arabia may benefit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it will be able to improve commercial performance, says Chadwick, especially if this collaboration attracts further international talent.

“It is important to see Ronaldo not just as a geopolitical instrument,” said Chadwick, “There is still a commercial component to him and to the purpose he is expected to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia shows is that the kingdom aspires “to be seen as being the best” and that it wants to be perceived as a “contender and a legitimate member of the international football community,” said Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in further sign of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
  • Why it matters: A number of Assad’s former foes have been trying to mend fences with his regime. Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war in Syria began. The regional rapprochement is yet to improve the lives of average Syrians. Syria is still under Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he could meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that he could meet the Syrian leader “to establish peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s comments came after the Moscow talks between the two nations’ defense ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this meeting… we will bring our foreign ministers together. And after that, as leaders, we will come together,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
  • Why it matters: The meeting would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, where Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions fighting to topple Assad. The Turkish military maintains a presence across the Syrian border and within northern Syria, where it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has also pledged to launch yet another incursion into northern Syria, aiming at creating a 30-km (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural center over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran announced on Thursday it had ended the activities of a Tehran-based French research institute, in reaction to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. More than 30 cartoons poking fun at Iran’s supreme leader were published by the magazine on Wednesday, in a show of support for the Iranian people who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s government and its policies.
  • Why it matters: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late last year. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out against Iran’s response to them. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, contrary to what is going on in Iran and… it is exercised under the supervision of a judge in an independent judiciary – and there too it’s something that Iran knows little of.”

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this year when Rolling Stone magazine featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Ranking 61st, Umm Kulthum was the only Arab artist to make it to the list, with the magazine saying that she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she came to represent “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music magazine said.

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the lady of Arab singing,” her music featured both classical Arabic poetry as well as colloquial songs still adored by younger generations. Her most famous pieces include “Inta Uumri” (you are my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the days have come around). Some of her songs have been remixed to modern beats that have made their way to Middle Eastern nightclubs.

The singer remains an unmatched voice across the Arab World and her music can still be heard in many traditional coffee shops in Old Cairo’s neighborhoods and other parts of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 brought millions of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.



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The year in sport: A fond farewell for some, a glimpse of the future for others | CNN



CNN
 — 

An athlete, former jockey AP McCoy said earlier this year, is the only person who dies twice, such is the pain of walking away from the intoxicating, all-consuming nature of professional sport.

McCoy retired from his long, decorated racing career in 2015, and since then has had to learn, in his own words, how to “start again and have another life.”

Based on the past 12 months, there are some notable sports stars who might have been listening extra closely to McCoy’s experience of retirement – or indeed to anyone else who has spoken candidly about the difficulty of ending a successful sporting career.

Among them is Roger Federer, who called time on his trophy-laden tennis career at the Laver Cup in September after years spent trying to recover from two knee surgeries.

In the letter announcing his retirement, Federer, like McCoy, alluded to the heightened emotions of being a professional athlete and how they make saying goodbye so hard.

“I have laughed and cried, felt joy and pain, and most of all I have felt incredibly alive,” Federer wrote. “To the game of tennis,” he signed off the letter, “I love you and will never leave you.”

Those final words were reassuring for fans who have admired Federer’s career for so many years, but also spoke to another issue: namely, of how hard it can be to walk away entirely from professional sport after retirement.

It remains to be seen exactly how Federer will remain involved in tennis moving forward, and the same can be said of Serena Williams, who announced she would “evolve away from tennis” ahead of this year’s US Open – but refused to say she was retiring.

On several occasions over the past three months, the 23-time grand slam champion has even teased fans about a potential return to tennis.

At the 2022 US Open, Serena Williams lost to Australian Ajla Tomlijanovic in the third round.

While Federer and Williams have stepped away from their careers as two of the greatest athletes of all time, other sports stars can’t seem to decide when, or how, to walk away.

Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury has yo-yoed in and out of retirement this year, saying in October that he’s finding it “really hard to let this thing go.”

And earlier this year, Tom Brady announced he would be retiring from the NFL, leaving the sport as a seven-time Super Bowl champion and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. the 45-year-old then reversed that decision and is still breaking records with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his 23rd season in the NFL.

However in September, Brady and Gisele Bündchen announced they were to divorce after 13 years of marriage.

“I think there is a lot of professionals in life that go through things that they deal with at work and they deal with at home,” the Bucs quarterback said on his weekly podcast a few days the couple’s divorce announcement.

“Obviously, the good news is it’s a very amicable situation, and I’m really focused on two things: taking care of my family, and certainly my children, and secondly doing the best job I can to win football games. That’s what professionals do.”

Tom Brady flip-flopped on retiring.

Brady has redefined what most believed to be the average shelf-life of an athlete, and he’s not the only person refusing to let the light dim on his career.

LeBron James is about to turn 38 but is still setting records in the NBA – in February passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most combined regular season and postseason points in NBA history.

Federer’s rivals Rafael Nadal, 36, and Novak Djokovic, 35, meanwhile, have added to their grand slam tallies this year – the Mallorcan at the Australian Open and French Open, where he became the oldest men’s singles champion, and the Serbian at Wimbledon. Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph moved him to within one grand slam title of Nadal’s men’s record of 22.

Having been deported from Australia over his vaccination status at the start of the year, Djokovic is set to compete at the Australian Open at the start of 2023 – a tournament he has won on nine previous occasions and is favorite to win again next year off the back of his recent ATP Finals victory.

For Nadal, his future in the sport rests on the amount of strain his injury-ravaged body can continue to withstand.

In golf, Tiger Woods faces similar questions. The 15-time major champion completed a stunning return from serious leg injuries suffered in a car crash at this year’s Masters, scoring a remarkable one-under 71 at Augusta National before making the cut the following day.

Then there’s sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who turns 36 later this month but has shown no signs of slowing down. The Jamaican produced a string of consistently fast performances this year, running under 10.7 seconds for the 100 meters a record seven times and claiming her fifth world championship title over the distance in July.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrates winning the women's 100m final at the World Athletics Championships in  Eugene, Oregon, in July.

And it’s not just athletes who have defied the call of retirement this year. In November, 73-year-old Dusty Baker became the oldest ever manager to win the World Series when he guided the Houston Astros to a 4-2 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Many of the athletes who stole the headlines in 2022 have been doing so for years.

No one is sure where an aging Cristiano Ronaldo will play his club football in January after ending his second spell at Manchester United in ignominious fashion, but the 37-year-old still appears to be set on extending his playing career after Portugal’s quarterfinal exit from the World Cup.

His rival Lionel Messi, meanwhile, ended the year on a sensational high, guiding Argentina to a third World Cup trophy. The 35-year-old Messi scored twice in an absorbing final against France and finally got his hands on the World Cup at the fifth time of asking, further staking his claim as the game’s greatest ever player.

That hasn’t been the only recent instance of an established superstar winning silverware. In last season’s NBA Finals, Steph Curry guided the Golden State Warriors to a fourth championship title in eight seasons – in the process picking up his first Finals MVP award as the Warriors beat the Boston Celtics.

In baseball, meanwhile, Aaron Judge enjoyed a season for the ages. The 30-year-old outfielder, who has reportedly just signed a nine-year, $360 million deal with the New York Yankees, hit 62 home runs last season, breaking Roger Maris’ single-season American League (AL) home run record from 1961.

On Wednesday, the Yankees named Judge, the reigning AL MVP, as the 16th captain in the franchise’s history.

Judge (left) hit a record-breaking 62 home runs last season.

But even as familiar faces have continued to shine, the past year has also seen future stars emerge.

The 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz ends the year as the youngest No. 1 in the history of the men’s tennis having triumphed at the US Open, and in the women’s game, Iga Swiatek, who rose to No. 1 in the world following Ashleigh Barty’s decision to retire after winning the Australian Open, looks set to dominate for years to come.

This year, the 21-year-old Swiatek won her second grand slam title at the French Open – which came in the middle of a 37-match winning streak – and her third at the US Open.

In Formula One, Max Verstappen has cemented his position as the best driver in the sport, comfortably defending his world title with four races to spare, while Erling Haaland, regarded as one of the best strikers in European football, has been scoring goals at a record-breaking rate during his first season at Manchester City.

There was no stopping Max Verstappen this year.

At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, then-18-year-old freestyle skier Eileen Gu stole the headlines, winning two gold medals and a silver for the host nation; she also became the first freestyle skier to earn three medals at a single Olympics.

Another teenager, figure skater Kamila Valieva, had a memorable Games for different reasons. The 16-year-old tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication, in December 2021, but the result didn’t come to light until Valieva was already in Beijing and had won gold in the figure skating team event.

In that competition, she became the first woman to land a quadruple jump – which involves four spins in the air – at the Winter Olympics.

The outcome from the positive test remains unresolved, and in November, the World Anti-Doping Agency referred Valieva’s case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after deeming the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had made no progress.

Eileen Gu performs a trick during the women's freestyle freeski halfpipe final at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a shadow over much of this year’s sporting calendar.

Athletes and teams from Russia and Belarus were banned from competitions across various sports, including qualification games for this year’s World Cup and participation at Wimbledon.

The decision from Wimbledon was perhaps the strongest stance taken by a sports organization, resulting in the ATP and WTA Tours removing ranking points from this year’s tournament.

At the start of the war, many Ukrainian athletes – like skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych and MMA fighter Yaroslav Amosov – opted to put their careers on hold and support the country’s military efforts.

Boxer Oleksandr Usyk has also spoken passionately about serving his country, and in the ring has extended his undefeated record, beating Anthony Joshua in August to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles.

Oleksandr Usyk lands a punch on Anthony Joshua during their

Throughout 2022, sport and geopolitics have been closely entwined. This month, WNBA star Brittney Griner returned home to the US having been detained in Russia for nearly 10 months on drug smuggling charges.

Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil that was found in her luggage, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.

The 32-year-old’s arrest in Russia sparked diplomatic drama between the US and the Kremlin which played out alongside Russia’s war in Ukraine.

She was released in a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The exchange, however, did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.

Brittney Griner is seen getting off a plane in an undated photo posted to her Instagram.

Perhaps no sport has been as gripped by internal politics this year as much as golf, which was rocked by the launch of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series in June.

LIV Golf has been criticized by some of the game’s leading players – including Woods and Rory McIlroy – while others – major champions Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson – have abandoned the PGA Tour in favor of the lucrative, breakaway series.

It has left the sport divided. Earlier this year, LIV Golf joined an antitrust lawsuit alongside some of its players, alleging that the PGA Tour threatened to place lifetime bans on players who participate in the LIV Golf series.

The suit also alleges that the PGA Tour has threatened sponsors, vendors, and agents to coerce players into abandoning opportunities to play in LIV Golf events.

The PGA Tour filed a countersuit in late September, claiming “tortious interference with the Tour’s contracts with its members.”

The LIV Golf series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

LIV Golf’s launch is part of Saudi Arabia’s wider ambition to host and invest in global sports events. This year, it staged the rematch between Usyk and Joshua and even won a bid to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games.

But unquestionably, the most prominent sporting event held in the Gulf region this year has been the World Cup in Qatar.

The four-week-long tournament came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday as Argentina lifted the trophy, bringing down the curtain on what FIFA president Gianni Infantino argued was the greatest World Cup of all time.

There were upsets, high-scoring games, and brilliant goals throughout – right up to Sunday’s showpiece when Messi reigned supreme and Kylian Mbappé scored a stunning hat-trick in a losing cause.

The match between Argentina and France at Qatar 2022 is being viewed as the greatest ever World Cup final.

It was the first time a country in the Middle East had hosted the World Cup, and Qatar, which has a population of just three million people, invested billions of dollars in building seven new stadiums, as well as new hotels and expansions to the country’s airport, rail networks and highways.

The tournament was also fraught with controversy, particularly when it came to allegations surrounding the country’s poor human rights record and treatment of migrant workers.

Since 2010, many migrant workers in Qatar have faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, employer intimidation, and an inability to leave their jobs because of the country’s sponsorship system, human rights organizations have found.

In the face of such criticism, Qatar has maintained it is an open, tolerant country and has seen the World Cup as a vehicle to accelerate labor reforms.

Elsewhere in international football, England won the Women’s European Championships for the first time in front of a record crowd on home soil, while Senegal claimed the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in February, also for the first time.

Outside international competitions, Real Madrid won its 14th European crown by defeating Liverpool in the Champions League final – a game that was marred by security issues.

Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in this year's Champions League final in Paris.

The match itself was delayed by more than 35 minutes after Liverpool fans struggled to enter the Stade de France and tear gas was used by French police towards supporters held in tightly packed areas.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement admitted in June that the chaos was “obviously a failure” and said he takes “full responsibility for police management” of the event.

Tragically, football has witnessed multiple serious stadium disasters this year. In October, more than 130 people were killed in a stampede in the Indonesian city of Malang – one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters of all time.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo later said the country would demolish and rebuild the stadium, vowing to “thoroughly transform” the sport in the football-mad nation.

Players and officials from Arema Football Club gather to pray on the pitch for victims of the stampede at Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang.

A stadium crush in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé during this year’s AFCON also saw at least eight people killed and 38 injured during the game between Cameroon and Comoros.

Looking ahead to 2023, Australia and New Zealand is scheduled to host the Women’s World Cup in July and August.

The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) could become the first team to win the tournament three times in a row.

This year, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the USWNT’s Players Association (USWNTPA) and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA) forged a landmark equal pay deal – the first federation in the world to equalize prize money awarded to the teams for participating in World Cups.

Next year will be the first time the USWNT has played a major tournament under such a deal.

Among the other major sporting events being held next year are the World Athletics Championshps in Budapest, Hungary, and the Rugby World Cup in France.

In the NFL, Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona is only weeks away, while the NBA Playoffs begin two months later in April.

With the men’s World Cup over, club football resumes in Europe and tennis’ first grand slam of the year, the Australian Open, begins on January 16.

For sports fans, that will hopefully serve as tonic to stave off the January blues.



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