ICC to decide fate of Afghanistan women’s team without speaking to a single player

The International Cricket Council (ICC) will decide – or delay further — the fate of the exiled Afghanistan women’s cricket team at a council meeting in Dubai on Monday, even though the all-male working group has not spoken to a single member of the team.

It is expected the sub-committee, headed by ICC deputy chair and Singaporean lawyer Imran Khwaja, will recommend that no action be taken against the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) as the situation is “very complex”, leaving the women, now based in Australia, in a prolonged limbo.

During a visit by Afghanistan officials to Australia for the men’s ICC T20 World Cup in November 2022, a member of the women’s team was given the name of the restaurant where the chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Mirwais Ashraf, was dining.

She arrived unannounced hoping to ask for some answers to the many questions they had.

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Neurodiversity Celebration Week: British rower Caragh McMurtry, ironman Sam Holness on being autistic

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Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Caragh McMurtry and Sam Holness talk to Sky Sports News reporter Nick Ransom about being athletes with autism

Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Caragh McMurtry and Sam Holness talk to Sky Sports News reporter Nick Ransom about being athletes with autism

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, celebrating the one in five people who think differently. These include autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic athletes, or those with ADHD, who often face invisible barriers in sport.

In Neurodiversity Celebration Week, former British rower Caragh McMurtry and ironman triathlete Sam Holness talk to Sky Sports News about life thinking differently.

McMurtry, founder of Neurodiverse Sport, an organisation supporting athletes who are neurodivergent, was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder while competing.

Five years later, she was diagnosed as autistic which allowed her to access more support. She is now using her platform to campaign for better access and understanding within sport.

She explained: “It completely revolutionised my performance and my well-being and I went from being spare to making the Olympic team. I got 17 seconds faster on my 2K and I was generally a lot happier.

“Ultimately, I still faced quite a lot of stigma and discrimination and a lot of that came down to a lack of understanding from the people around me and that’s where I decided to step away and create Neurodiverse Sport.

McMurtry was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder while competing, before a correct diagnosis of autism five years later

McMurtry was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder while competing, before a correct diagnosis of autism five years later

“Neurodiverse Sport is ultimately there to change people’s perceptions around neurodiversity, to show them in a positive light or that they can be positive. Difference is not less, it’s not scary, it requires out-of-the-box thinking. It could provide that extra edge.

“We want to create role models because that is something that is really lacking, particularly in sport, because athletes are advised not to disclose their neurodivergence.

“We want to do those things by campaigns, raising awareness and educating sports teams and sports organisations and that’s something we’ve really started to do.”

“There have been a lot of athletes that have come forward and it increases exponentially. A month ago I would have said I’d had 100 athletes come to me and now I can probably say I’ve had 150. A lot of them are elite or people on the Olympic programmes.

McMurtry said many who have contacted her have said, while they are not ready to talk publicly about being neurodivergent, the organisation’s presence has made a difference.

While competing as a rower, McMurtry’s blunt and honest manner often caused issues, as did sensory challenges. She points towards unconscious bias and wants coaches to be aware of neurodiversity.

“It could make a real difference, if something goes wrong with the team, to not pinpoint it down to the person that looks different. It’s human nature really, but it really sent me on a downward spiral.

McMurtry says her autism diagnosis 'completely revolutionised my performance and my wellbeing', as she 'got 17 seconds faster on my 2K'

McMurtry says her autism diagnosis ‘completely revolutionised my performance and my wellbeing’, as she ‘got 17 seconds faster on my 2K’

“It baffles me that neurodiversity is something that is still stigmatised in sport. I just don’t understand how you’re trying to get 0.001 out of your performance, like why are we not looking into that?

“I really think that people, athletes that are different, shouldn’t be made to feel as bad as they do, as isolated as they do. Their differences can be embraced, optimised, then if they don’t make it, that’s fine, it’s fair.”

One athlete McMurtry has already endorsed through her work is Sam Holness, an ironman triathlete who was diagnosed as autistic aged three. He did not speak until he was six and lives in west London with his parents.

Now a Guinness World Record holder for being the first autistic person to compete in the Ironman World Championships, Holness wants to inspire others.

While preparing for this week’s ironman in Lanzarote, Holness said his aims for the next year are to complete a full Ironman in less than 10 hours and complete a marathon in less than three.

On his achievements, he said: “I get comments on Instagram about how inspiring I am during races and training. It’s very enjoyable but sometimes I feel like ‘wow’.”

Holness is an Ironman triathlete who was diagnosed as autistic aged three, and didn't speak until he was six

Holness is an Ironman triathlete who was diagnosed as autistic aged three, and didn’t speak until he was six

Holness continues to overcome communication difficulties, something his dad Tony says is one of his biggest achievements. Meeting new people in new environments is particularly hard.

Enthusiasm for exercise and routine is what Holness puts his success down to: “It helps with my confidence and self-esteem. It takes my anxiety away and makes me feel more relaxed.”

Life away from the soothing repetition of training and competition is more difficult. He says: “At the track, sometimes I have to get away because it gets overwhelming”.

Holness is a Guinness World Record holder for being the first autistic person to compete in the Ironman World Championships

Holness is a Guinness World Record holder for being the first autistic person to compete in the Ironman World Championships

Despite this, Holness has got better at managing crowds. He grew up struggling with parties and gatherings, even attending church, but it was at university, fellow students helped introduce him to new environments.

Thanks to the support of parents Tony and Marilyn, Holness is now able to travel all around the world and compete. As well as difficulties socially, he struggles with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which requires a carefully constructed diet.

Despite all the difficulties, Holness is clearly enjoying breaking stereotypes as an ironman and using his love of repetitive activity to his advantage.

Holness says for the next year, his aim is to “get to the podium and become a professional triathlete.” This year’s World Championships will be held in Finland, for which he hopes to qualify again.

McMurtry and Holness’ experiences offer an insight into the strengths and challenges of thinking differently in sport. However, like many athletes, they wonder when sport will more openly discuss neurodiversity.

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Macron kicks off Olympic countdown 500 days before Paris Games

French President Emmanuel Macron launched the countdown to the 2024 Paris Olympics on Tuesday, taking stock of preparations for the mammoth event as officials race to get the city’s transport network into shape and stage an opening ceremony unlike any other.

Macron, who has promised an “unforgettable” curtain-raiser, hosted the Olympics’ organisers and business partners at the Élysée Palace to discuss preparations for the world’s biggest sporting event. He addressed several hundred civil servants involved in the effort in a speech at Paris police headquarters, on the banks of the River Seine, later Tuesday.

On the eve of his visit, Macron teased the event by tweeting the cover of Time Magazine’s latest issue, headlined on the race to clean up “the world’s most romantic river”.

“With 500 days to go, we are within reach of achieving one of the greatest legacies of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris,” the French president wrote, referencing a hugely ambitious 1.4-billion-euro plan to clean up the heavily polluted waterway in time for the Games.

Making the Seine fit for swimming is an old Parisian dream. In 1988, former French president Jacques Chirac, then the city’s mayor, famously promised to make the river swimmable “in three years” – a pledge he never delivered on.

The dream has become a necessity now that Paris has pledged to stage several Olympics events, including the 10 kilometre swimming marathon, in the Seine – as it did back in 1900, when it first hosted the Games.

The prospect of athletes swimming down the world-famous river, alongside Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, was a major asset for the French capital’s bid to host the “biggest show on earth”.


The city’s famed waterway is the focus of another mammoth challenge for organisers of the 33rd Summer Olympiad, one that is bound to give French officials many a sleepless night over the coming 500 days.

In perhaps the biggest gamble of Paris 2024, organisers plan to take the opening ceremony out of its traditional stadium setting and stage it on water.

The vision, outlined by Macron, is for sporting delegations to sail down the Seine in an armada of boats, in view of up to 600,000 spectators lining the river’s banks over a six-kilometre stretch.

The appeal of projecting such a bold statement of French ambition before a global TV audience of hundreds of millions is clear. Turning it into reality is said to be giving planners cold sweats.

As the Games loom into view, the number of boats, the arrangements for spectators, crowd control and security measures are still the subject of intense discussions. A first practice run is expected in July this year, with 30 to 40 boats set to participate.

“Everyone is working flat-out on preparations,” one senior French official involved in the process told AFP on condition of anonymity. “A ceremony like this has never taken place before. But we’ll manage it, we’ll be ready.”


Some security experts have voiced concerns, however, warning about the dangers of uncontrolled crowd movements close to the water, and the challenges of securing such a long stretch of water with overlooking buildings.

Sceptics point to the chaotic scenes at last year’s Champions League final in Paris, when Liverpool fans found themselves in a crush outside the stadium, as a reminder of the dangers of badly organised sporting events.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who faced severe criticism for his handling of the Champions League fiasco, travelled to the World Cup in Qatar in November last year on a fact-finding mission. While there, he warned of the dangers of “a drone loaded with explosives that falls on a crowd, on an exposed team, on an opening ceremony like at the Olympic Games, for example”.

Transport woes

For the opening ceremony, Darmanin is counting on 35,000 members of the security forces being on duty, with police already warned that requests for leave over the summer holiday period will not be permitted.

The interior ministry has also suggested 25,000 private security agents should be used for less critical missions, with thousands currently being screened, recruited and trained. However, the low bids being offered by the organising committee mean many private security companies are struggling to recruit staff, another source close to the event told AFP.

On Tuesday, Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said there would be “no taboo” on drafting in the army if necessary, as was the case at the 2012 Olympics in London.

In another recruitment headache, the Paris region’s transport system is scrambling to bounce back from a year of chronic staff shortages and sporadic strikes – one of which precipitated the chaos of the Champions League final.

Like the football final, much of the Olympics will take place in the Seine-Saint-Denis département northeast of Paris, the poorest in metropolitan France and the most densely populated after Paris, known for its creaking transport infrastructure.

There are serious questions about whether the extension of a key metro line to the Athletes’ Village will be completed in time for the Games and a major shortfall in the number of bus drivers is causing concerns too.

“We will do everything we can to be ready in time,” Macron’s former prime minister Jean Castex, now in charge of the RATP transport operator, told reporters last week, promising a massive recruitment drive.

Adding to organisers’ woes, plans to break up the RATP’s monopoly on bus services soon after the Olympics threaten to throw a spanner in the works, with trade unions fiercely opposed to the move and the threat of industrial action hanging over the Games.

Mindful of the tight schedule, Valérie Pécresse, the conservative head of the Paris region, has leveraged the Olympics to secure an additional 200-million-euro budget from the central government, threatening to delay the opening of new transport lines that fall under her remit.

In the best-case scenario, transport will already be well short of what organisers promised when they submitted their final bid seven years ago. A future metro line that promised to link Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport with the Athletes’ Village in “under 30 minutes” will not be ready in time for the Games; nor will the long-delayed CDG Express train linking the airport with the heart of Paris.

(With AFP)

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Slap fighting: The next big thing in combat sports or the quickest route to brain damage?

The competitors stand rigidly upright with their hands behind their backs, waiting to absorb a brutal slap to the face.

When the open-handed blow is delivered, there’s a sharp report and the reaction can be dramatic.

Some fighters barely move, while others stumble backward or fall to the floor. Some are knocked out.

UFC president Dana White is selling slap fighting as the next big thing in combat sports, putting his money and the resources of one of the world’s foremost mixed martial arts organisations behind the Power Slap League.

The Nevada Athletic Commission has sanctioned the league for competitions in Las Vegas.

“It’s a home run,” said Mr White, who is among several UFC officials involved in the league.

Some slap-fighting beatdowns have gone viral, including a graphic video from eastern Europe showing a man who continues to compete even as half of his face swells to seemingly twice its size.

Such exposure has led to questions about the safety of slap fighting, particularly the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

A former chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, which regulates combat sports in the US state, said approving the league was a mistake.

Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, agreed, calling slap fighting “one of the stupidest things you can do”.

“There’s nothing fun, there’s nothing interesting and there’s nothing sporting,” Mr Nowinski said. “They’re trying to dress up a really stupid activity to try to make money.”

Mr White and the competitors remain unfazed, comparing commentary on slapping to the negative reaction the UFC faced in its infancy more than 20 years ago.

“I think it’s definitely overblown with the topics of CTE and the damage that we’re taking,” Ryan Phillips, a Power Slap League fighter, said.

“I think a lot of people still just don’t understand that it’s still a slap.”

Concerns about concussions leading to CTE, which can cause violent mood swings, depression and memory loss, are not confined to combat sports.

The disease has shown up in the brains of former rugby players like Paul Green and several AFL players like Richmond footballer Shane Tuck, whose family has tried to raise awareness about the disease. CTE can only be detected during an autopsy.

White points to early criticism of UFC

Despite the naysayers, Mr White said he believed slap fighting would follow a similar trajectory to mixed martial arts, which late US senator John McCain referred to as “human cockfighting” in 1996, when the UFC did not have weight classes or many rules.

Senator McCain’s criticism helped force the organisation to become more structured, leading to its widespread acceptance.

Mr White said the ratings of the TBS reality show Power Slap: Road to the Title reveal the early popularity of what to many is still a curiosity.

Mr White said he realised there could be a market for the sport in the US when he clocked the millions of YouTube views of slap fighting videos from eastern Europe in 2017 and 2018.

UFC president Dana White is selling slap fighting as the next big thing in combat sports.

The videos were often poorly produced and the slap matches unregulated. Mr White became convinced that fights with written rules and shot with professional video equipment could convert many internet viewers into dedicated, paying fans.

The Nevada commission gave slap fighting some much-needed legitimacy when it unanimously sanctioned the sport in October and a month later awarded Mr White a licence to promote it.

But Mr White’s enterprise was hampered when he was captured on video slapping his wife on New Year’s Eve.

Mr White apologised, but acknowledged it damaged efforts to get the league off the ground. Mr White is no newcomer to controversy: Former UFC fighters Kajan Johnson and Clarence Dollaway filed a lawsuit in 2021 against Endeavor, the organisation’s parent company, alleging that UFC took an inordinate share of the profits.

Decision, knockout or disqualification

But Mr White is charging ahead.

Three qualifying events have taken place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, ahead of the March 11 telecast on the streaming platform Rumble in which champions will be crowned in four weight classes.

Power Slap fights are typically three to five rounds. The fighters take turns hitting each other in the face with an open hand, and those on the receiving end stand with their hands behind their backs.

A fighter has up to 60 seconds to recover and respond after receiving a blow. Fighters can earn up to 10 points based on the effectiveness of the slap and the defender’s reaction.

A man is pictured getting a slap in the face from another man as a cloud of white dust arises from it.
Mr White says slap fighting is safer than boxing or mixed martial arts because each contestant usually takes only three blows per bout.(AP: Mike Roach/Sciaffo LLC)

Fights can end in a decision, knockout, technical knockout or disqualification, such as for an illegal slap. All slaps are subject to video review. Each event has two referees and three judges.

Also present are a supervising doctor and a physician or physician’s assistant, plus three paramedics and three ambulances. Mr White has touted the safety record of the UFC, but has not talked specifically about injuries in the Power Slap League.

Slap fighting ‘safer’ than boxing and MMA

Mr White says slap fighting is safer than boxing or mixed martial arts because each contestant usually takes only three blows per bout. In boxing, Mr White said, that number could be 400 or more, and that did not include the shots taken during sparring. There was no sparring in slap fighting, he noted.

Mr Nowinski of the concussion foundation said while there might be no sparring in practice sessions, that did not mean it did not happen elsewhere. He said comparing boxing to power slapping was misleading because slap fighters took a full blow each time.

“You can slip [boxing] punches,” Mr Nowinski said. But in slap fighting “you’re taking out everything that’s interesting to watch and everything sporting [from boxing] and just doing the brain-damage part.”

Mr Nowinski said slap fighters did not make enough money to justify the risk. The Power Slap League would not disclose how much it paid fighters, but said in a statement that participants were compensated for every match and could also earn “appearance fees” and “additional discretionary bonuses”.

Stephen J Cloobeck, who was the chairman of the Nevada commission when it sanctioned slap fighting, said Mr White and former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta sold him on the legitimacy of the sport.

“I made a mistake,” Mr Cloobeck said. “I’m not happy about it.”

A man slaps another man as two referees look on. Behind them a big screen with the word 'slap' on it in blue.
Travis Aragon slaps Jon Kennedy at a Power Slap event in Rio De Janeiro in November 2022.(AP: Mike Roach/Sciaffo LLC)

The commission recently approved amended rules to better define what constituted a legal slap in an effort to minimise serious injuries.

“The number one thing is the health and safety of the fighter,” commission chairman Anthony Marnell III said at a February 15 meeting. “Always has been, always will be.”

But he went on to say: “It seems like there is a market for this, whether you like it or not.”

Mr Phillips, the slap fighter, said participants could defend themselves without losing points, such as by rolling away before the hand made impact.

And the fighters know if they lose the coin toss and get slapped first, it will hurt.

“I know what’s coming,” fighter Vernon Cathey said. “I’m tensing up. There’s a lot of stuff I can do to protect myself.”


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Jessica Ennis-Hill: Returning from maternity leave to elite sport was ‘one of my biggest challenges’

Jessica Ennis-Hill gave birth to her son in July 2014, before returning to win a third world title in 2015 and claim a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics; “It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done… There is no clear maternity package; it’s still very much a grey area”

Last Updated: 09/03/23 5:20pm

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Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill says the conversation around women’s health in sport is changing, but progress still needs to be made in many areas.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill says the conversation around women’s health in sport is changing, but progress still needs to be made in many areas.

Two-time Olympic medallist Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill described the birth of her first child and her return to elite-level athletics as “one of the most challenging things I’ve done.”

The London 2012 heptathlon champion gave birth to her son Reggie in July 2014, before returning to win a third world title in Beijing in 2015 and claim a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio before announcing her retirement.

With Paris 2024 on the horizon, Ennis-Hill claimed she still gets “that adrenaline rush” when watching her heptathlon event, but stressed that her time at the top is over and she is instead eager to see how an exciting, young Team GB perform on the biggest stage.

Ennis-Hill was speaking to Sky Sports News on a range of topics, including maternity policies in elite sport and the “important conversation” to be had around women’s periods and breaking that taboo…

Ennis-Hill on new government funding for women’s sport

Girls will be granted equal access to all school sport in England as part of a package of measures unveiled by the government to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The government is now promising more than £600m to improve PE across the next two years and up to £57m in funding for facilities outside school hours.

“It makes a huge difference.

“High-profile female athletes performing on the greatest stage, winning medals and taking trophies – doing what they do in such a gracious, incredible way – that transcends down to young girls everywhere, inspiring them.

“And where does it start? At school level.

“So if we can have that funding and that support to really keep those girls engaged at that time, it’s an amazing thing.”

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill says the success of high profile sportswomen can help inspire younger females to take part.

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Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill says the success of high profile sportswomen can help inspire younger females to take part.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill says the success of high profile sportswomen can help inspire younger females to take part.

Ennis-Hill on importance of International Women’s Day

“We’re making steps forward. And we’re seeing it more visibly now.

“We’re not just seeing more high-profile athletes out there performing, but we’re seeing them in the public domain more frequently – hearing their back stories and journeys.

“That’s transcending into younger age groups, which is starting to make a big difference.

“It takes time. It’s a process. But we are making change.

Ennis-Hill on her experience with maternity policies in sport

“I think the conversation around women’s health and female athletes’ physiology – delving deeper into what makes us different and how we perform differently – is so important.

Jessica Ennis-Hill returned to win gold at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing a year on from the birth of her first son

Jessica Ennis-Hill returned to win gold at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing a year on from the birth of her first son

“For me, having my son during my career and then coming back was a real catalyst to that. I didn’t see many athletes do it.

“I didn’t really know it was a thing you could do. I thought you had to have your career, retire and then start your family. But that is beginning to change now. We’re seeing more and more athletes do it – Allyson Felix, Serena Williams.

“And it’s not just athletes starting a family and coming back to participate… they’re coming back to win, at the top of their game again.

“It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done. There’s so much to navigate your way through. There is no clear maternity package; it’s still very much a grey area.

England's Abbie Ward hopes other nations and other sports' governing bodies will follow the RFU in reviewing and improving their maternity policies.

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England’s Abbie Ward hopes other nations and other sports’ governing bodies will follow the RFU in reviewing and improving their maternity policies.

England’s Abbie Ward hopes other nations and other sports’ governing bodies will follow the RFU in reviewing and improving their maternity policies.

“The likes of Allyson Felix campaigning against big brands, putting policies in place and creating real change makes a difference for so many female athletes thinking about doing it.

“It is a challenging time and it still needs some clear definition about how to support those female athletes.”

Ennis-Hill on breaking the taboo topic of women’s periods

“We have to break so many taboos, but it’s an important one for all of us. Not just for young girls and women, but also for men, for dads, for husbands to understand.

“There’s the physiological changes that female athletes go through, and the barriers they face during those hormonal fluctuations throughout their life, but also the mental side of things.

“We see it with tennis at Wimbledon, and the conversation with high-profile tennis players about how uncomfortable they feel wearing certain colours like white.

“That’s a great conversation to have. We have to move with the times, we have to adapt the way we compete and the kit we have in order to feel comfortable and supported, so we can be the best we can be.”

Ennis-Hill on Team GB’s Paris 2024 hopes

“I’m not going to say I miss it. I feel like I’ve had my time at the top and I really enjoy being part of athletics in a different way now.

Keely Hodgkinson celebrates winning gold in the Women 800 meters at the European Athletics Indoor Championships

Keely Hodgkinson celebrates winning gold in the Women 800 meters at the European Athletics Indoor Championships

“It’s looking very strong. There’s some incredible Team GB athletes coming through, like Keely Hodgkinson, Dina Asher-Smith.

“There were some great performances at the European Indoor Championships – we had three gold medals from three female athletes, Hodgkinson, Laura Muir and Jazmin Sawyers. All had sensational performances.

“I’m really looking forward to the Olympics and seeing how Team GB perform, and how many medals we can get.”

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Overlooked for a spot in the Hockeyroos, a perfect storm of events pushed Aleisha Power over the edge

Aleisha Power can vividly remember when her mental health hit rock bottom.

It was 2019. She was on the fringes of the Australian hockey team, dealing with being overlooked for a spot in the Hockeyroos squad.

And then a perfect storm of events pushed her over the edge.

“I had a really rough relationship breakdown,” she said.

“And then I totalled my car. And then while I was loaning my mum’s car, my wallet was stolen out of the car and they went on a tap and pay spree and took a lot of money.

“It just felt like someone was tipping a bucket of water over me.

“I just felt like I could not breathe anymore. I was like, I need help.”

Individually, these events might not seem catastrophic, but for Power it followed years of relentlessly pursuing a spot in the Hockeyroos, following her debut in 2017.

Power has now won medals at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup, after recovering from a mental health battle.(AAP: Darren England)

“[I thought] I’ve made it now I’ve played for the Hockeyroos. And I really want to be in the squad,” she said.

“But then it’s like ‘nah, nah, nah’. And you can’t really commit to a full-time job or a career, because you’re like, ‘what if I can do it and play for the Hockeyroos?’

“Then you’re in this mindset of like, well, why am I committing to this? I don’t know if I’m ever going to make it.

“I felt like my life did not move for like three years.”

The repeated rejection, the cascade of external events and unacknowledged poor mental health led Power to cycle through periods of manic motivation to deep crashes.

A hockey goalkeeper tries to save a ball in training
Power cycled through stages of manic energy and isolation, as she tried to deal with poor mental health.(ABC News: Tom Wildie)

“I’m going do everything, I’m going to be this, so I’m going to work my ass off, to then like, I can’t function as a human, I’m crying all the time. I don’t want to leave my house,” she said.

Power realised she needed help, and reached out to psychologists at the Western Australian Institute of Sport.

It took her 18 months to start feeling like herself again, which coincided with her return to the Hockeyroos team, and ultimately the squad.

From Northam to the world stage

Power grew up playing a lot of different sports in Northam, a 100 kilometre drive north-east of Perth.

She moved to Perth as a teenager, going to boarding school while she played hockey.

At 16, she was selected at a junior Australian level, eventually working her way up to the Hockeyroos.

A hockey goalkeeper tries to save a ball in training
Power has now played six times for Australia, after not making the side for four years
(ABC News: Tom Wildie)

“The hardest part was actually cracking the Hockeyroos squad as a goalkeeper. It’s quite a competitive position,” she said.

“It took me four years after my debut to grind away to finally get selected on my squad and that was kind of like finally my foot was in the door at a career playing for Australia.”

Since returning to the Hockeyroos squad, Power has won a Commonwealth Games silver and a World Cup bronze medal.

A serious looking woman points a hockey stick towards the camera.
It took Aleisha Power four long years to get back in the Hockeyroos team. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)

But she’s also taking on another challenge, becoming an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Mental Fitness Ambassador.

It’s a partnership between the AIS and the Black Dog Institute which facilitates current and former elite athletes speaking with high-schoolers about mental health.

Power is one of 22 ambassadors, along with boxer Caitlin Parker and swimmer Mitch Larkin.

“I just remember feeling a lot of pressure to be something in high school, like you have to be something and you have to choose a career,” she said.

“I don’t think there was any sort of like, ‘are you looking after yourself? Can you be a good person?’

A hockey goalkeeper smiles after training
Power is one of 22 elite athletes who will visit schools to talk to children about mental health.(ABC News: Glyn Jones)

“I feel like [school was] missing the human side of school kids.

“If you’re not looking after yourself and knowing your worth and having a healthy mind, you’re not going to be successful and whatever you choose to do anyway.”

More athletes seeking help

Power is not an anomaly in terms of elite athletes seeking help, with the AIS revealing numbers have more than doubled in four years.

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A new sports gambling self-exclusion register is almost here, but some are betting it won’t work

A new national self-exclusion register to help problem gamblers block themselves from the lure of sports betting is due to be launched any day.

But despite a $40 million price tag there’s no guarantee it will be an effective harm minimisation tool.

And the strongest critic is the de facto national regulator, which argues its existing system of PDF documents combined with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet might be just as, if not more, effective.

The incoming register, dubbed BetStop, was initially recommended in 2015 by former-New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell as part of his federal review into offshore wagering.

In 2021, the Commonwealth government signed a $14 million contract to build the system that it was expected to launch last year.

The system only reached testing phase in recent months, and in January of this year the software provider, Big Village, went into administration.

Industry body Responsible Wagering Australia noted in a submission to the House of Representatives’ current inquiry into online gambling there had been issues with the register’s technical implementation.

Despite these setbacks — and a protracted period of consultation — the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) expects BetStop to launch “as soon as possible”.

“Industry trials have been successful and have demonstrated that the solution can handle in excess of a million requests from wagering providers per minute and respond in fractions of a second,” an ACMA spokesperson told the ABC.

“These figures simulated the type of activity that might be seen at peak gambling periods like the Melbourne Cup.”

How it works

The register will allow people who wish to be excluded from gambling communications to sign up. For example, a person recovering from gambling addiction might register as part of ongoing treatment.

Providers, whatever their home state and territory, will be required to check whether customers’ personal details match any records on BetStop, and bar the person from signing up and betting if they have been found to have self-excluded.

But the Northern Territory Racing Commission, which oversees companies handling $50 billion in betting turnover each year and currently runs its own self-exclusion register, fears some may find holes in the system.

“The majority of complaints made to the commission about the opening of new betting accounts by persons who are self-excluded involve some level of deliberately altered information, such as an altered name, date of birth, address, mobile telephone number or other personal detail,” chair Alastair Shields said in his submission to the House of Representatives inquiry.

“It is the commission’s experience that self-excluded persons who are in the grip of a gambling addiction will go to extraordinary lengths to circumvent a system designed to prevent them from opening an account and using it to gamble.”

The current system used by the Northern Territory and the companies licensed there, such as SportsBet, Bet365, Entain and Betr, is based on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and a collection of PDFs.

The documents are shared with betting companies, and the companies are responsible for ensuring new customers have not previously self-excluded using a manual checking process.

Although the ACMA has implemented algorithms to identify similar records when a company seeks to check a new customer with BetStop, Mr Shields fears it may not be enough.

“If a self-excluded person in the grip of a gambling addiction is able to modify their personal details in such a way that their details are not assessed by BetStop as belonging to a self-excluded person, BetStop will not asses the person as being self-excluded, and the gambling operator will allow them to open a new account and commence gambling,” he said.

The ACMA confirmed to the ABC that the system design had been finalised, but its spokesperson also said they had contemplated tweaks following the launch.

“We will monitor the service when it goes live to determine whether any improvements are required,” they said.

Mr Shields has pledged for the Northern Territory to maintain its own “low-tech” approach until BetStop has been established and is proven to be effective.

Issues, but optimism

Among submissions to the House of Representatives inquiry into online gambling, others have identified potential issues.

Wesley Mission noted BetStop “still has rules making it harder to get on the register than to open an account”.

Addiction treatment and research centre Turning Point suggested the take-up of BetStop relies on its promotion by sports betting companies.

BetStop is one recommendation flowing from the 2015 review into illegal offshore wagering.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

“When this technology becomes available, its success will hinge upon the requirement for licensed interactive wagering services to prominently advertise BetStop and make it easy for people to sign up with as few taps or clicks as possible,” it said in its submission.

But most contributions referencing BetStop supported the establishment of the new national self-exclusion register.

Monash University Associate Professor Charles Livingstone described it as a “major development in harm minimisation”.

Larger costs, fines

BetStop’s startup and operational costs — estimated to reach $40 million by 2027 — will be met by industry once it launches.

A Responsible Wagering Australia spokesperson said they looked forward to Betstop “becoming operational as soon as possible” and that they were “proud to support its ongoing costs”.

The Northern Territory Racing Commission’s latest decision, which was published on Monday, highlighted how self-exclusion technologies were only as effective as internal company processes.

A live sports betting site on a mobile phone, April 24, 2020.
Companies will face larger fines under federal legislation compared to Northern Territory laws.(ABC News)

Buddybet was fined $13,770 — a 50 per cent discount on the available fine — as a result of the company contacting 232 people who were self-excluded.

The company had been seeking to update the details of more than 3,000 customers and neglected to check the NT’s self-exclusion register before emailing them.

“The commission considers that contacting self-excluded persons is a serious breach of the Code, notwithstanding that the email was not an invitation to bet, and no accounts were opened or bets placed as a result,” stated the decision.

The fine under BetStop legislation for a similar breach may be as high as $49,500 per email.

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Michael Klim talks about his swim challenge, the 2000 Olympics and his life with CIDP

Olympian Michael Klim says the support and friendship of the swimming community — including former American arch-rival Gary Hall Jr — has helped him deal with his ongoing health issues from a chronic neural condition.

Dual Olympic gold medallist Klim was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) in 2020.

The condition resulted in ongoing chronic pain, fatigue and difficulty of movement.

Klim was speaking to ABC Sport as he prepared for the Brainwave Klim Swim Challenge in March to raise awareness of, and funds to fight, CIDP and other neural conditions, with children’s charity Brainwave Australia the chief beneficiary.

He also talked about the importance swimming has had in his life and the bond he has with his fellow team members — and rivals — from the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

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Once a little-known event for locals, this outback challenge attracts racing royalty

In the early 1980s, when the Finke Desert Race was a fledgling off-road event, locals would show up on race day with a single hope: that their motorbike would make it there and back along 230 kilometres of unrefined dirt.

Preparation was often minimal, sleep lacking, and sounds of revelry issued into the night. But it wasn’t of concern, because the Alice Springs riders were just there to make the dust fly.

“There used to be a pub at Finke,” long-time race president Antony Yoffa says.

“The competitors used to have a few ales at the end of a race and then go back the next day, and I’m sure that progressed throughout the 80s.”

As entries open for another Finke, almost 50 years since its inception, the game has changed.

Up to 1,000 riders and drivers are expected to line up at the 2023 Finke Desert Race.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

A bustling centre

Come the Queen’s (now King’s) Birthday long weekend, the small outback town swells to capacity with interstate riders and revheads, basking in the picturesque terrain.

Supermarket shelves are stripped bare, while those in the know collect their “Finke packs” from the local butcher, which they’ve ordered a month in advance.

Racing royalty from around the country set the standard for professionalism.

The likes of Toby Price, a eight-time Finke King of the Desert and two-time Dakar Rally champion, lines up on the same track as the rest of the field.

Two men in car racing suits and caps gesturing 'Number 1'.
Toby Price is an eight-time King of the Desert title in 2022, and set a new record for fastest time on four wheels with his navigator Jason Duncan.(ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin)

More than 10,000 spectators skirt the winding, often corrugated track running along the old Ghan railway to the remote Aboriginal community Finke, also known as Apatula, which marks the halfway point of the two-day race.

Finke for the first time

After years of watching cars, bikes and buggies fly by from the sidelines, Alice Springs local Shane Garfath has thrown his hat into the ring for the first time.

“I’m definitely not podium-worthy, I’m an amateur as far as they come and purely in it for the fun,” he said.

“I’ve camped out and watched it for a long time now, but you get a bit itchy just watching.”

A man stands holding up his motorbike in a shed.
Alice Springs local Shane Garfath is competing in his first Finke Desert Race in 2023.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

Motor sports are not cheap. A new bike, suspension, and protective gear can run up a hefty five-figure bill. That’s before the race entrance fee of $900, a jump from the 2022 price.

But it’s a price Garfath is willing to pay.

“If I can get some sponsorship, that’d be great,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, if it’s coming out of my pocket, I’ll make it work.

“It comes down to wanting to do it.”

The final frontier

As the competition has developed, Finke has developed into a more highly regulated event, combating the Northern Territory’s often-quoted reputation as the nation’s wild west.

In 2021, after a fatal collision between a race vehicle and a group of spectators, the organisers’ hands were forced.

Sandy off-road track with police cars parked nearby.
The site along the Finke Desert Race track where Nigel Harris lost his life.(Supplied: Northern Territory Coroners Court)

Sweeping new safety measures were imposed, including spectator exclusion zones banning onlookers from particularly dangerous parts of the track.

A coronial inquest into the death of Nigel Harris will continue later this year.

The event’s maturation has also seen an evolution of competitors, with a growing number of older riders travelling from interstate for a bucket list trip.

An ageing line-up

For Michael Vroom, former Finke champion and now co-owner at Outback Motorcycle Adventures, the changing landscape has created a business opportunity.

He offers a package for fly-in riders, providing everything from the bike, to food, transport, and camping gear.

A middle-aged man sits in his motorbike workshop.
Mr Vroom says a growing number of older riders from interstate are forking out thousands of dollars to compete.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

“Finke has just continued to grow and grow over many years, to the point now where it’s more of a national event than then a local event,” he said.

“With that comes a lot of competitors, and it brings a lot of people to town.

“It’s not just the motorbike industry, it’s everything around it, and it’s simply a great event for the town.”

Vroom, who grew up with the desert race etched into his calendar, said despite its growth, enthusiasm for riding was waning in the younger generation.

Two men sitting in camp chairs behind flags that say
Spectators were told to stand at least 20 metres from the track, and to keep campsites and fixed structures 30 metres back.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

“That might be a reflection of the economy and all sorts of factors that go beyond just motorcycle riding,” he said.

“It’s expensive — simple as that. With the cost of living and the cost of the event going up, it’s a lot of money and it takes a lot of commitment to take part.

“Eventually, that will have an effect on those that can do the race.”

Looking to a dusty future

In 2026, Finke will mark its 50th anniversary milestone, with plans already underway to bring as many as possible of the 56 riders who competed in the inaugural event back to town.

While entry numbers have dipped slightly this year, President Antony Yoffa believes it will be a near-full field once again come June.

“We’ve almost plateaued with entry numbers in its current format,” he said.

A man on a motorbike taking part in Finke Desert Race.
The Finke Desert Race will return to the Red Centre on June 9-12, 2023.(Supplied: Ryan Scott Young)

“When you have both cars and bikes competing on the same day, daylight is an issue, plus there needs to be a certain amount of separation between each race.

“In the future, if we were to move to separate days, that may allow for more competitors.”

Mr Yoffa, who is serving in his 23rd year on the Finke committee, acknowledged the importance of maintaining local interest in the event for the next generation of revheads.

“This is Christmas for Alice Springs,” he said.

“As long as young Alice Springs riders continue to join the motorcycle club, buy motorbikes locally, and compete locally, the event will continue for some time to come, long after I’ve moved on.”

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Submissions to Senate concussion inquiry call for national registry, more research, consistent guidelines

Australia’s peak body for general practice has called for government investment to tackle the issue of concussion in sport, including research funding, bigger Medicare rebates for longer consults and the establishment of an Australia-wide concussion registry.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is one of a number of groups and individuals to put in submissions to a Senate committee inquiry into the impact of concussion and head trauma in contact sports.

The RACGP said the current lack of consistent definitions for concussion was resulting in confusion and an inconsistent approach to treatment and management of concussion, while differences in protocols between sports were adding to the problem.

RACGP national president Dr Nicole Higgins said there was insufficient evidence to fully understand and determine the long-term impacts of concussion and head trauma, and that significant research was needed.

“We need a national approach to management of concussion, with evidence-based guidelines across all sports and codes, ” Dr Higgins said.

“It’s also important that all sports — and across all states and nationally — there’s a commitment to management and reporting to ensure we have the data available.”

The latest international Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport is due to be handed down later this year.

Dr Higgins said she hoped the release would allow a consistent definition of concussion.

The RACGP’s submission said the development of an Australia-wide concussion registry would provide a valuable source of data to determine long-term impacts of concussion and repeated head trauma.

The submission said GPs play a vital role in monitoring and managing prolonged concussion symptoms, such as post-concussion syndrome and suspected chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“Applying a 10 per cent increase to Medicare rebates for longer consultations and introducing a new 60-minute-plus consultation Medicare item would make a real difference for GPs and practice teams managing these complex health issues.”

Other submissions received by the committee include:

Sydney-based neurologist Dr Rowena Mobbs said in her submission that the community had “turned a blind eye to systematic concussion”.

“The absence of mandatory reporting on concussion, neurological care after concussion, and stories of returning to the field too early are harrowing,” Dr Mobbs said.

“Furthermore, the dearth of meaningful, fully independent, and appropriately funded research has represented a dark chapter in Australian sport.”

Among her recommendations were:

  • Federal government funding for longitudinal research on patients with existing symptoms of CTE
  • The federal government to mandate a code of conduct for sports organisations including a public register of suspected and confirmed player concussions, funding independent neurological player assessments after concussion, and establishing sub-specialist concussion and CTE clinics for at-risk athletes

Insurance for long-term injuries ‘inadequate and inequitable’

Monash University law academic Dr Eric Windholz said existing insurance arrangements for long-term injuries from concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports were inadequate, inequitable and in some cases may operate in breach of worker’s compensation laws.

Dr Windholz said injury payment schemes had maximum payment periods and ceased on the expiry of players’ contracts.

He said state and territory workers’ compensation schemes had exemptions for professional players, but that the arguments for the exemptions were “redundant in a world in which sport has been corporatised and commercialised”.

Support ‘basically non-existent’ says former Australian Rules player

Retired Queensland Australian Rules player Lydia Pingel called for accountability for sporting clubs and organisations to ensure they took protocols and guidelines seriously.

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