ER on the field: An inside look at how NFL medical teams prepare for a game day emergency | CNN



CNN
— 

When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin dropped to the ground from a cardiac arrest earlier this month, help was by his side in under 10 seconds to administer CPR.

It wasn’t coincidence or luck. Rather, it’s the result of careful planning and practice – the execution of detailed choreography performed by the medical personnel present at every National Football League game.

Saving Hamlin’s life was the ultimate test.

“What we want is that the players are getting the same care here that they would if they were in a hospital or health care facility and that’s what the system has been set up to do,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Saturday.

About 30 medical personnel are at every game, including orthopedic and trauma specialists, athletic trainers, paramedics and dentists. Sills gave CNN a rare behind-the-scenes look at the league’s medical personnel during Saturday’s playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers. The goal, Sills said, is to deliver hospital-quality care on the gridiron.

When Hamlin collapsed on January 2, speed was of the essence. Studies find that for every minute someone who experiences cardiac arrest and doesn’t receive CPR, their chances of survival decrease 7 to 10%.

Hamlin’s heart was restarted on the field. The 24-year-old spent more than a week in the hospital in Cincinnati, then transferred to a hospital in Buffalo before he was released home last week.

Sills said that being on the field was likely a factor for Hamlin: Survival is more likely for someone who experiences cardiac arrest in the hospital. One study found that 10 to 12% those who have cardiac arrest outside of the hospital survive to discharge, but that survival rate more than doubled for those who experienced cardiac arrest in the hospital.

“I think he was being resuscitated as he would have been in an emergency room at that moment,” Sills said.

Hear audio of medical personnel treating Damar Hamlin after he collapsed

The NFL requires all teams to have an emergency action plan, or EAP, for all player facilities, including practice fields.

The plans are filed by the teams every year and are approved by the League as well as the NFL Players Association, the players’ union, Sills said. They run drills on the plan, so when an event like Hamlin’s cardiac arrest occurs, the medical team’s choreography is close to automatic.

“The EAP was followed to a letter that night,” Sills said. “In that moment everyone knew what they needed to do, how they needed to do it and had the equipment to do it and felt comfortable.”

These plans include details about where ambulances are located, the quickest route to the hospital, where medical equipment is stored, and even what radio and hand signals will be used in case of a medical event.

While the teams are all connected by radio, the sound from the game and the crowd can be overwhelming.

“It gets loud and so having those nonverbal signs is a way for us to communicate,” explained Dr. Kevin Kaplan, Jacksonville Jaguars’ head physician. For example, using two hands as if driving a steering wheel indicates needing the medical cart, while crossing arms to make an “X” is an all-call for medical personnel.

The home team sends the plan to the visiting team a week before the game. Then, an hour before kickoff, medical teams from both teams gather to review and confirm the details in what’s known as a “60-minute meeting.”

Medical teams from the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars gathered for the 60-minute meeting ahead of kickoff on Saturday.

It’s like the NFL’s version of what happens in a hospital: Before doctors perform a procedure, the medical team gathers for a “timeout” to review who is responsible for what.

Before the football game, they identify the team physicians, athletic trainers and key trauma personnel, including an airway specialist who can place a breathing tube in moments, if needed.

In the excitement of game day, there needs to be a simple, clear way to identify who can help in case of an emergency. At any NFL game, you’ll see it: a red hat.

Dr. Justin Deaton, NFL airway management physician, wears a red hat on the sideline of the Jacksonville Jaguars-Los Angeles Chargers game on Saturday.

“That signifies me as the emergency physician, the airway physician, so that even the other team knows when I come out what my role is,” Dr. Justin Deaton told Gupta. “Once I come out onto the field, I kind of take over, I identify if the patient is either unconscious or has an airway obstruction.”

At every game, Deaton stands along the 30 yard line, just like his counterparts at other games.

“We standardize the location so that everybody knows where our airway physician is going to be located,” said Sills.

If the player isn’t breathing, it’s up to Deaton to identify who will administer CPR. If the player’s breathing is blocked and he can’t breathe on his own, Deaton may have to intubate the player on the field. In order to do so, he carries a videoscope to look down someone’s throat and an ultrasound machine.

In the event Deaton can’t get the patient to breathe through their mouth, he’s prepared to essentially do surgery on the field.

“If someone has an obstruction or significant trauma to the face and we can’t secure an airway by the mouth, we’re able to make an incision and insert that way,” he told Gupta. “I really have all the resources available here that I would have in an emergency room.”

The challenge is that they’re surrounded by chaos – not the more controlled environment of the emergency department or operation room.

“When you have a larger-than-average-sized person that’s laying flat on the ground and not able to be elevated to a certain level with extra equipment, plus cameras and other people around, those are really the confounders and things that make it more difficult to manage,” Deaton said.

In football, it’s not just about executing in the moment – it’s about anticipating. The same is true for medical personnel.

The NFL includes certified athletic trainers on its medical team to serve as spotters. They’re positioned throughout the stadium, including a booth that oversees the entire stadium, to watch the game in real time and again in replay – sometimes over and over – to immediately catch any injuries or assess those that might have been overlooked. They have around 30 different angles of the field at their fingertips.

“We watch every play probably minimally four times and then we’ll go back and watch it again,” said Sue Stanley-Green, one of the athletic trainer spotters assigned to Saturday’s game. “We just want to make sure we don’t miss anything.”

Spotters around the field at every game have different views of plays -- and potential injuries.

The spotters who sit in a stadium booth above the field are able to communicate directly with the medical team on the sidelines and direct them to concerning plays and possible injuries. They also have a unique line of communication to the referees, and the ability to stop the game for a medical timeout.

Sills acknowledges that there is always room for improvement and need to evolve.

In September, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa experienced an apparent head injury while playing against the Bills. He stumbled after being hit, but was allowed to return to the game. The incident put new scrutiny of the NFL and its policies.

Afterward, the league changed its concussion policy. Now, Sills says, “if we see something that looks like ataxia on video, (players) are done.”

Sills said he believes the NFL’s network of practices is working to keep players safe, and the league is currently reviewing the moments around Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. One aspect of emergencies that Sills wants to see more work on is privacy.

In the moments after Hamlin fell, his teammates formed “kind of a shield,” Sills said, which limited the view of Hamlin.

“I think there’s some things there that we may look at,” Sill said. “Obviously any of us would want some privacy in a moment like that.”

But when facing a test like saving a life on the field, “everything went really as well as you could have asked to have gone in the moment,” Sills said. “It’s always about the right people, the right plan and the right equipment.”

Bob Costas Damar Hamlin split for video

Bob Costas: Hamlin collapsing is not an indictment of NFL safety

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Lovie Smith said the NFL had ‘a problem’ about Black coaches. A year later he was fired and the league is being criticized yet again about its lack of diversity | CNN



CNN
— 

When Lovie Smith was hired by the Houston Texans in February 2022 as the team’s new head coach, he said the NFL had “a problem” with hiring Black coaches and diversity.

“I realize the amount of Black head coaches there are in the National Football League,” Smith told reporters just under a year ago.

“There’s Mike Tomlin and I think there’s me, I don’t know of many more. So there’s a problem, and it’s obvious for us. And after there’s a problem, what are you going to do about it?”

Smith was fired Monday at the end of his one and only season at the helm of the Texans, finishing with a record of 3-13-1.

Smith is the second Black coach in two years to be relieved of his duties by the Texans, which fired David Culley at the end of the 2021 season.

Smith’s time in charge wasn’t full of wins and high points – though his parting gift to the organization was a last-minute Hail Mary victory over the Indianapolis Colts, which saw them relinquish the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft to the Chicago Bears. But his Texans team showed togetherness and competence, traits often desired by outfits undergoing a rebuild.

Houston general manager Nick Caserio said Smith’s firing was the best decision for the team right now.

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Lovie Smith for everything he has contributed to our team over the last two seasons as a coach and a leader,” Caserio said in a statement.

“I’m constantly evaluating our football operation and believe this is the best decision for us at this time. It is my responsibility to build a comprehensive and competitive program that can sustain success over a long period of time. We aren’t there right now, however, with the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I’m confident in the direction of our football program moving forward.”

But the firing of the 64-year-old coach, the Texans organization as a whole, and the measures implemented by the league to promote diversity have been heavily criticized by former players and TV pundits.

“The Houston Texans have fired Lovie Smith after 1 year. Using 2 Black Head Coaches to tank and then firing them after 1 year shouldn’t sit right with anyone,” former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III tweeted Sunday, when news of Smith’s firing broke.

On ESPN, Stephen A. Smith and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin also condemned the decision. Smith called the Texans organization an “atrocity.”

“They are an embarrassment. And as far as I’m concerned, if you’re an African American, and you aspire to be a head coach in the National Football League, there are 31 teams you should hope for. You should hope beyond God that the Houston Texans never call you,” Smith said.

Irvin said Black coaches are being used as “scapegoats” by the Texans.

“It’s a mess in Houston and they bring these guys in and they use them as scapegoats. And this is what African American coaches have been yelling about for a while and it’s blatant, right in our face,” he said.

When CNN contacted the Texans for comment, the team highlighted the moment at Monday’s news conference when Caserio was asked why any Black coach would consider working for the team, and his response was that individual candidates would have to make their own choices.

Smith on the sidelines during a game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“In the end it’s not about race. It’s about finding quality coaches,” the general manager said. “There’s a lot of quality coaches. David (Culley) is a quality coach. Lovie (Smith) is a quality coach.

“In the end, each coach has their own beliefs. Each coach has their own philosophy. Each coach has their comfort level about what we’re doing. That’s all I can do is just be honest and forthright, which I’ve done from the day that I took this job, and I’m going to continue to do that and try to find a coach that we feel makes the most sense for this organization. That’s the simplest way I can answer it, and that’s my commitment.

“That’s what I’m hired to do, and that’s what I’m in the position to do. At some point, if somebody feels that that’s not the right decision for this organization, then I have to respect that, and I have to accept it.”

CNN has reached out to Lovie Smith for comment.

At the beginning of the 2022 season, NFL.com reported Smith was one one of just six minority head coaches in the NFL, a low number in a league where nearly 70% of the players are Black.

Since Art Shell was hired by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989 as the first Black head coach in modern history, there have been 191 people hired as head coaches, but just 24 have been Black.

However, the NFL has taken steps to increase diversity in the coaching ranks.

Notably, in 2003, the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule to improve hiring practices in a bid to “increase the number of minorities hired in head coach, general manager, and executive positions.”

But the Rooney Rule hasn’t been an unqualified success.

In 2003, the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for not interviewing any minority coaches before hiring Steve Mariucci as their new head coach.

In response to criticism, the NFL announced it was setting up a diversity advisory committee of outside experts to review its hiring practices last March. Teams would also be required to hire minority coaches as offensive assistants.

Despite changes to the rule being implemented in recent years to strengthen it, a 2022 lawsuit alleges that some teams have implemented “sham” interviews to fulfill the league’s diversity requirements.

Last February, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a federal civil lawsuit against the NFL, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins organizations alleging racial discrimination.

Flores looks on during his time as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins during a game against the New York Jets.

Flores, who is Black, said in his lawsuit that the Giants interviewed him for their vacant head coaching job under disingenuous circumstances.

Two months after submitting the initial lawsuit, Flores added the Texans to it, alleging the organization declined to hire him this offseason as head coach “due to his decision to file this action and speak publicly about systemic discrimination in the NFL.”

In response to the lawsuit, the Texans said their “search for our head coach was very thorough and inclusive.”

The NFL called Flores’ allegations meritless.

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the league said in response to the lawsuit.

“Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

But 12 months after firing their last Black head coach, the Texans have fired another one.

“How do you hire two African Americans, leave them one year and then get rid them?” questioned NFL Hall of Famer Irvin.

“You know the mess that Houston is,” Irvin added. “We get the worst jobs and we don’t get the opportunity to fix the worst jobs, just like this.

“I don’t know any great White coach that would take the (Texans) job unless you give them some guarantees. ‘You’re going to have to guarantee me four years to turn this place around.’ But the African American coaches can’t come in with that power because Lovie wouldn’t have got another job.

“This was his last chance to get back into the NFL and you have to take what’s on the table to try to change that.”

Irvin speaks on media row ahead of Super Bowl LVI on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles.

The Texans are now searching for a new head coach under general manager Caserio. The new appointment will be Caserio’s third coach in the role: It is almost unprecedented for a general manager to get the opportunity to hire a third head coach with the same team.

Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair said he would take on a more active role in the hiring process. The next head coach will be the organization’s fourth in three years.

According to the NFL, the Texans have requested to speak to five candidates already about filling Smith’s position, a list that includes two Black coaches.

After Smith was hired in March 2021, McNair said: “I’ve never seen a more thorough, inclusive, and in-depth process than what Nick (Caserio) just went through with our coaching search.”

At that introductory news conference, Smith spoke candidly about how to bring greater diversity to the NFL coaching ranks.

“People in positions of authority throughout – head coaches, general managers – you’ve got to be deliberate about trying to get more Black athletes in some of the quality control positions just throughout your program. If you get that, they can move up, that’s one way to get more.”

Smith continued: “It’s not just an interview, if you’re interviewing a Black guy. It’s about having a whole lot of guys to choose from that look like me. And it’s just not about talk. You look at my staff, that’s what I believe in. And letting those guys show you who they are. That’s how we can increase it, then it’s left up to people to choose. We all have an opportunity to choose, and that’s how I think we’ll get it done.”



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Damar Hamlin could be released from a Buffalo hospital in the next day or two | CNN



CNN
— 

A week after suffering a cardiac arrest while playing the Cincinnati Bengals, doctors are hoping Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is healthy enough to be released from a Buffalo hospital within 24 to 48 hours, Michael Hughes, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Kaleida Health, told CNN on Tuesday.

Doctors are finishing tests and are identifying possible causes of the event, including whether there were any pre-existing conditions that played a role in Hamlin’s January 2 cardiac arrest.

“Hamlin is going through a series of testing and evaluation today,” Kaleida Health said in a statement Tuesday. The Buffalo General Medical Center team will also “potentially treat any pathology that may be found, as well as plan for his recovery, discharge and rehabilitation.”

Hamlin himself updated his fans Tuesday afternoon.

“Not home quite just yet,” Hamlin tweeted. “Still doing & passing a bunch of test. Special thank-you to Buffalo General it’s been nothing but love since arrival! Keep me in y’all prayers please!”

Hamlin was transferred from a Cincinnati hospital to the Buffalo hospital on Monday after doctors determined his critical condition had improved to good or fair – surpassing expectations.

“We felt that it was safe and proper to help get him back to the greater Buffalo area,” Dr. Timothy Pritts, chief of surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said Monday.

Hamlin’s parents flew from Cincinnati back home to Pittsburgh but then flew to Buffalo. They were en route Tuesday from the Buffalo Bills’ practice facility and were expected to arrive at the hospital to see Hamlin soon.

Hamlin, a second-year NFL player, has been regaining strength over the past several days after his sudden collapse after a tackle against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

“He’s certainly on what we consider a very normal to even accelerated trajectory from the life-threatening event that he underwent,” Pritts said, “but he’s making great progress.”

Normal recovery from a cardiac arrest can be measured in weeks to months, Pritts explained. But Hamlin has been beating that timeline at each stage and is neurologically intact.

Still, Pritts said it’s too early to say when Hamlin could get back to normal life or what caused his heart to stop, saying more testing is needed.

Hamlin was sedated and on a ventilator for days after his cardiac arrest. On Friday morning, the breathing tube was removed, and Hamlin began walking with some help by that afternoon, his doctors said Monday.

The safety’s condition was upgraded Monday because his organ systems were stable and he no longer needed intensive nursing or respiratory therapy, doctors said.

“He walks normally,” said Dr. William Knight, a neurovascular critical care expert who treated Hamlin at UC Health. “He is admittedly a little weak. I don’t think that’s of any real surprise after what he went through, just regaining his strength. And that’s part of his recovery process.”

Hamlin’s release Monday meant he could return to Buffalo, which prompted even more encouragement and eagerness for some of his teammates to see him again.

“Super excited that he’s back in Buffalo and what a job that the team of docs and the medical team did out in Cincinnati, and now he’s in great care here in Buffalo. We’re happy to have him back,” Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters Monday.

After seeing him Monday, McDermott said Hamlin was “tired” but seemed happy. “Happy to be back in Buffalo and around a familiar area to him. I know he’s taking it just one step at a time.”

The coach also said his team has grown since Hamlin was injured, saying such experiences nurture growth.

“We will all have grown as people, and as men in this case,” McDermott said, noting there’s a plan in place for the players and staff to visit Hamlin “at the proper time.”

“Having him nearby will give us more comfort” and inspire the team as it prepares for the postseason, McDermott said.

Although Hamlin was not with the team when they played Sunday against the New England Patriots, his support was definitely felt.

When his team scored a touchdown, Hamlin set off alarms in the ICU, Pritts said.

“When the opening kickoff was run back, he jumped up and down and got out of his chair and set – I think – every alarm off in the ICU in the process, but he was fine, it was just an appropriate reaction to a very exciting play. He very much enjoyed it,” Pritts said.

Hamlin was “beyond excited” Sunday and felt “very supported by the outpouring of love from across the league, especially from the Buffalo area. We’ve learned this week that the Bills mafia is a very real thing,” Pritts added.

The immediate medical response to Hamlin’s collapse helped save his life, and the Buffalo Bills are now encouraging people to learn how to administer CPR.

Assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington is credited with performing CPR when Hamlin lost his pulse on the field and needed to be revived through resuscitation and defibrillation.

The medical response was part of an emergency action plan that “involves team, independent medical and athletic training staff, equipment and security personnel, and is reviewed prior to every game,” a Monday statement from the Bills read.

The team pledged support for resources including CPR certifications, automated external defibrillator units and guidance developing cardiac emergency response plans within the Buffalo community, according to the statement.

“We encourage all our fans to continue showing your support and take the next step by obtaining CPR certification,” the Bills said.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Hughes’ remarks about Hamlin’s injury and recovery.



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‘That’s all we needed’: Bills’ Damar Hamlin is breathing on his own and talked to teammates, bolstering them for Sunday’s regular season finale | CNN



CNN
— 

Just days after his stunning on-field cardiac arrest, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is breathing on his own and speaking to family, physicians and teammates – positive updates that Bills players say will bolster them in this weekend’s matchup against the New England Patriots.

“To hear him talk to us, it was everything, and that’s what we needed. Literally that’s all we needed,” Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins said of the team’s Friday video call with Hamlin, who is still undergoing treatment at a Cincinnati hospital.

Hamlin – who was sedated and placed on a ventilator after his collapse Monday – began awakening late this week and was able to have his breathing tube removed before Friday morning, physicians have said.

“Love you boys,” the 24-year-old player told his team Friday via FaceTime, according to head coach Sean McDermott, who added that Hamlin flexed his arms and made his signature heart-shaped hand gesture during the call.

Hamlin collapsed during the “Monday Night Football” game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals.

He “is making continued progress in his recovery yet remains in critical condition” and “his neurologic function is excellent,” the Bills tweeted Saturday, citing his physicians.

Dawkins described the emotional “roller coaster” this week has been for the team – who watched in shock as Hamlin received CPR on the field and was carried from the stadium in an ambulance. But he said news of Hamlin’s significant improvement “will for sure fuel us” in the team’s Sunday showdown against the Patriots.

“The excitement was beautiful, it was amazing,” he said of the call with Hamlin. “It has given us so much energy, so much bright, high spirits – whatever you want to call it – it has given it to us to see that boy’s face.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Hamlin’s continued recovery is “uplifting news” for the city of Buffalo, which has recently been struck by several tragedies, including a racist mass shooting and a brutal blizzard that left at least 41 dead in Erie County.

“What happened to Damar Hamlin, his injury, was another gut punch to the city of Buffalo and to see him recovering so remarkably is certainly lifting spirits throughout our community and across the country,” Brown told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Friday.

After millions witnessed Hamlin’s emergency play out live, a wave of support has emerged from fans and strangers across the nation, many of whom have purchased his jersey or donated to his foundation’s charity fund, which has topped $8 million raised as of Saturday morning. Teams across the NFL have also rallied behind the Bills player by wearing his number, 3, lighting up stadiums and scoreboards, and sharing words of solidarity.

Displays of support will continue this weekend as the league prepares for an emotional return to competition for the final games of the regular season on Saturday and Sunday. The NFL plans to honor Hamlin before each game.

The NFL announced Thursday the Bills-Bengals game – which was initially postponed Monday night – will not be resumed or made up.

The cancellation will have no effect on which teams qualify for the playoffs, as both the Bills and Bengals have already secured spots. But the imbalance in number of games played has prompted the league to approve unprecedented provisions for the postseason based on how the Bills and Bengals are seeded and their potential opponents.

As players head into the final week of the regular season, the NFL announced several ways that teams may honor Hamlin before this weekend’s matchups, including holding a “moment of support” before games or outlining the “3” on the 30-yard line in the Bills’ red or blue colors.

Players also have the option to wear shirts emblazoned with “Love for Damar 3” during warmups and the Bills will wear “3” patches on their jerseys, the NFL said.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane – who stayed in Cincinnati following the game’s postponement to be with Hamlin and his family – praised the unified message of support across the league this week, noting how characteristically competitive the sport is.

“Yeah, we go to battle. But in the end, life is the number one battle,” Beane said Friday. “And to see that unity from players, coaches, (general managers), owners, fans, is unheard of. But I think it’s a good light. It sheds a great light on the NFL. The NFL is truly a family.”

The NFL Players Association named Hamlin its Community MVP of Week 18, announcing that the organization will donate $10,000 to his Chasing M’s Foundation.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders said he was able to video chat with Hamlin, telling him, “You know you’re the most famous person in the world right now?”

Hamlin replied, “But not for the right reasons,” according to Sanders, who told Hamlin, “You’re blessed, bro, you don’t know how blessed you are.”

Sanders described Hamlin as his best friend and said the two spoke after every game, according to NFL Network reporter James Palmer.

“We thank the NFL medical personnel and the medical staffs from both teams whose emergency action quite likely saved his life. We are also grateful to the professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who tended to Damar and continue to oversee his care,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an open letter Saturday.

“Seeing the entire NFL family – teams, players, coaches, and fans like you – band together was yet another reminder that football is family: human, loving and resilient,” Goodell said.

Goodell said that players and coaches from all 32 teams will wear “Love for Damar 3” T-shirts during pregame warm-ups this weekend.



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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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LeBron James and Billie Jean King lead tributes to American journalist Grant Wahl | CNN



CNN
— 

The death of prominent journalist Grant Wahl at the World Cup in Qatar has led to an outpouring of shock and grief across the sports world, with NBA star LeBron James and tennis great Billie Jean King leading the tributes to the American.

Prominent American journalist Grant Wahl has died in Qatar after collapsing while covering the World Cup, sparking an outpouring of shock and grief across the sports world. He was 49.

King said Wahl’s death was “heartbreaking.”

“A talented journalist, Grant was an advocate for the LGBTQ community & a prominent voice for women’s soccer,” King tweeted Saturday. “He used his platform to elevate those whose stories needed telling. Prayers for his family.”

On Friday in Philadelphia, basketball star James said he had been “very fond of Grant.” While Wahl was at Sports Illustrated, he did a cover story on James when James was in high school.

“I’ve always kind of watched from a distance even when I moved up in ranks and became a professional, and he went to a different sport,” said James, speaking at a postgame press conference. “Any time his name would come up I’ll always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building … It’s a tragic loss.”

Tyler Adams, the captain of the US men’s national soccer team, which was knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands in the last 16, sent his “deepest sympathy” to Wahl’s wife, Celine Gounder, and to those who knew him.

“As players we have a tremendous amount of respect for the work of journalists, & Grant’s was a giant voice in soccer that has tragically fallen silent,” Adams wrote on Twitter.

Qatar’s World Cup organizers said on Saturday that Wahl “fell ill” in the press area, where he received “immediate medical treatment on site.”

He was then transferred to Hamad General Hospital, said a spokesperson for the Supreme Court Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for planning the tournament.

Wahl was treated in the stadium “for about 20-25 minutes” before he was moved to the hospital, Keir Radnedge, a columnist at World Soccer Magazine, told CNN Saturday.

“This was towards the end of extra time in the match. Suddenly, colleagues up to my left started shouting for medical assistance. Obviously, someone had collapsed. Because the chairs are freestanding, people were able to move the chairs, so it’s possible to create a little bit of space around him,” Radnedge said.

He added that the medical team were there “pretty quickly and were able to, as best they could, give treatment.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reacted to Wahl’s death on Saturday, adding that senior State Department officials were in touch with Qatari officials and Grant’s family.

“Grant Wahl was an inspiration to many. Our thoughts are with his wife Dr. Céline Gounder and all those who loved him. State Department officials are in touch with Grant’s family and with senior officials in the government of Qatar to ensure his family gets the support they need,” Jean-Pierre wrote on Twitter.

“Only some days ago, Grant was recognized by FIFA and AIPS (the International Sports Press Association) for his contribution to reporting on eight consecutive FIFA World Cups,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a statement.

Infantino and FIFA media director Bryan Swanson were at the hospital on Saturday to offer any kind of support needed for the family, friends, and the journalists who were also his housemates in Qatar.

The co-editors in chief of Sports Illustrated, the publication where Wahl spent the majority of his career, said in a joint statement they were “shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing.”

“We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades – no writer in the history of (Sports Illustrated) has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell,” said the statement.

It added that Wahl had first joined the publication in November 1996. He had volunteered to cover the sport as a junior reporter – back before it reached the heights of global popularity it now enjoys – eventually becoming “one of the most respected soccer authorities in the world,” it said.

The statement said that Wahl also worked with other media outlets including Fox Sports. After leaving Sports Illustrated in 2020, he began publishing his podcast and newsletter.

Other current and former US soccer players, including Ali Krieger and Tony Meola, shared their condolences, as did sporting bodies such as Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League.

Wittyngham, Wahl’s podcast co-host, told CNN on Saturday the news of his death had been hard to fathom.

“For Americans, Grant Wahl is the first person you read covering soccer. He was kind of the only person for a while … Grant was the first person who really paid genuine attention to this sport in a meaningful way,” Wittyngham said.

Several journalists shared stories of reporting alongside Wahl, and having encountered him at multiple World Cups over the years.

“Before he became the best covering soccer he did hoops and was so kind to me,” wrote famed broadcaster Dick Vitale.

Timmy T. Davis, the US Ambassador to Qatar, tweeted that Wahl was “a well known and greatly respected reporter who focused on the beautiful game.”

“The entire US Soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” US Soccer said in a statement on its official Twitter account.

“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”

US Soccer praised Wahl’s passion and “belief in the power of the game to advance human rights,” and shared its condolences with Wahl’s wife, Celine Gounder, and his loved ones.

Gounder also posted the US Soccer statement on Twitter.

“I am so thankful for the support of my husband Grant Wahl’s soccer family and of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight. I’m in complete shock,” wrote Gounder, a former CNN contributor who served on the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the department was in “close communication” with Wahl’s family. The World Cup organizers also said they were in touch with the US embassy “to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.”

Wahl wearing a rainbow-colored t-shirt while working at Qatar 2022.

Wahl had covered soccer for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups — six men’s, five women’s – and authored several books on the sport, according to his website.

He had just celebrated his birthday earlier this week with “a great group of media friends at the World Cup,” according to a post on his official Twitter account, which added: “Very thankful for everyone.”

In an episode of the podcast Futbol with Grant Wahl, published days before his death on December 6, he had complained of feeling unwell.

“It had gotten pretty bad in terms of like the tightness in my chest, tightness, pressure. Feeling pretty hairy, bad,” Wahl told co-host Chris Wittyngham in the episode. He added that he sought help at the medical clinic at the World Cup media center, believing he had bronchitis.

He was given cough syrup and ibuprofen, and felt better shortly afterward, he said.

Wahl also said he experienced an “involuntary capitulation by my body and mind” after the US-Netherlands game on December 3.

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve done eight of these on the men’s side,” he said at the time. “And so like, I’ve gotten sick to some extent at every tournament, and it’s just about trying to find a way to like get your work done.”

He further described the incident in a recent newsletter published on December 5, writing that his body had “broke down” after he had little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. He’d had a cold for 10 days, which “turned into something more severe,” he wrote, adding that he felt better after receiving antibiotics and catching up on sleep.

Wahl had made headlines in November by reporting that he was detained and briefly refused entry to a World Cup match because he was wearing a rainbow t-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights.

He said security staff had told him to change his shirt because “it’s not allowed,” and had taken his phone. Wahl said he was released 25 minutes after being detained and received apologies from a FIFA representative and a senior member of the security team at the stadium.

Afterward, Wahl told CNN he “probably will” wear the shirt again.



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Inspired by tough love and true love, Lydia Ko is on top of the world | CNN



CNN
— 

Last year, Lydia Ko’s mother joked that she would retire if her daughter made it back into the top three of the women’s golf world rankings – a position the New Zealander hadn’t occupied in over five years.

Based on what happened next, it can only be assumed that Ko was desperate to put her parent out of work. Because forget third; as 2022 draws to a close, she is streaking clear at the summit.

Victory at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, earlier this month provided a fitting end to what has been a spectacular season for the newly crowned world No. 1. Having climbed back into the top-three at the turn of the year, Ko never once dropped below fifth.

With 14 top-10 finishes in just 22 LPGA Tour starts, she secured wins at the Gainbridge LPGA and BMW Ladies Championship before adding her 19th LPGA title at the season-ending Group Tour Championship. Triumph in Naples earned her a winner’s check of $2 million, the largest payout in LPGA history.

As well as securing her return to world No. 1, Ko was subsequently crowned the LPGA’s Player of the Year and – with $4,364,403 in seasonal winnings – the Tour’s Money Winner. It marked a repeat of her double swoop in 2015, when a teenage Ko dominated the Tour with five wins and a major triumph at the Evian Championship.

On top of all that, she finished with the Tour’s lowest scoring average of 68.988 to lift the LPGA Vare Trophy for the second consecutive year. Only Swedish great Annika Sörenstam, who averaged 68.70 in 2002, has ever shot a lower average over a season.

“I think this is probably the best I’ve played,” she told CNN’s Alex Thomas.

“In 2015, I had just won more frequently in that season … but I think this is the most consistently I’ve played.

“It’s a double-edged sword when you are playing consistently, but you don’t get the win … At the end of the week, it’s very marginal differences that get you from first place to second place, second place to 10th place.”

Ko is glad that her mother did not follow through on her retirement wager, which was perhaps an example of a – very successful – tough love strategy.

“My mom does joke to me at times,” Ko told reporters ahead of her final round in Naples. “She’s like, ‘You played so much better when you were 15.’

“I was like, ‘Thanks, Mom. What am I meant to do with that information?’”

But after closing out the win, Ko praised her mother for keeping her grounded.

“I know that she might be one of my toughest critics, but at the same time I know that she says that because she wants me to just keep growing, and I think she keeps me really humble,” Ko told reporters.

“I should say thank you more often, but I don’t end up saying that. It’s easier to say it when she’s not here. But I have to thank her because she does everything for me.”

Ko became the youngest golfer to win on the LPGA Tour with victory at the Canadian Women’s Open at just 15 years old in 2012, accelerating a meteoric rise for the child prodigy. In 2017, she became the youngest golfer to reach world No. 1, but by August 2020 she had slid outside the top-50 for the first time since her rookie season.

It seems ludicrous to describe an athlete as having a renaissance at 25 years old, but given she was a two-time major winner before her 19th birthday, Ko has already lived a long career – though not that long, she insists.

“Some people, they look at me and say, ‘Oh, you must be, like, 30 by now, right?’ and I’m like, ‘Thank you, but no thank you, I’m still 25,” Ko said.

“My golf game is very different to then. My long game was a strength but when I was struggling through the middle of my career, that was the part that wasn’t as good – I feel like I’m getting those feels back again.

“My strategy around some of the golf courses that I’ve played in my rookie year to now is very different, just because my game is different. But it’s good, it’s like I am evolving.”

A 12-year-old Ko tees off at the New Zealand Men's & Women's Amateur Championship in April 2009.

For all her excellence on the fairways, Ko chalks up much of her improved form to factors away from the course. Paradoxically, more breaks and holidays than before have helped spark more focused, quality practice, consolidating a finely tuned work-life balance.

In August, Ko publicly confirmed her engagement to Chung Jun, the son of a prominent Korean businessman, according to Reuters. In finding love with her fiancé, Ko rediscovered her love for golf.

“I came on tour at such a young age – all I knew was golf. If I had a bad day on the golf course, I was a bad person, if I had a great day on the golf course, I felt like a better person,” Ko said.

“But now I don’t think that affects me as much, because there is obviously my family and the people I love, but there is (now) this one special new person that has come into my life, and I think through him I’ve been just able to enjoy life, enjoy the process.

“He’s helped to make me love the game again – it’s not just work. I think it takes somebody very special to make me realize that.”

Ko celebrates her haul with her fiancé Chung.

After rolling home her putt to secure a two-stroke win over Leona Maguire at the Group Tour Championship, a tearful Ko was embraced by her husband-to-be. It marked the first time Chung had seen his future wife win in person, and yet another emotional success in 2022.

After a frustrating flurry of near-misses on Tour, victory at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea in October saw the South Korean-born Kiwi triumph in the country of her birth for the first time. It had been two and a half years since her Dad had last seen her compete in person, and after surging to a dominant four-shot lead at Oak Valley Country Club, tears welled in Ko’s eyes before they were swiftly doused in champagne.

Ko is showered in champagne after winning the BMW Ladies Championship in October.

“I feel very privileged to have two cultures,” Ko said. “I don’t think I would be the same if I was just a South Korean-born Korean, or just a Kiwi. I think both of those cultures make me who I am.

“When that putt sunk I was about to cry, but there was so much champagne those tears went straight back in. When I started talking about my family and how much South Korea means to me, I think that’s where I got really emotional, and I also just realized how special this win was going to be.”

If her 2023 is anything like her 2022, then there will be plenty more champagne coming Ko’s way.

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#Inspired #tough #love #true #love #Lydia #top #world #CNN

Exclusive: World Cup soccer fans stopped by security officials for wearing rainbow-colored items | CNN



Doha, Qatar
CNN
— 

The World Cup is well underway in Qatar, but issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights for the Gulf state, world soccer governing body FIFA, teams and fans just won’t go away.

On Saturday, two German soccer fans told CNN that they were asked by security officials at Qatar 2022 to remove the rainbow-colored items that they were wearing as they made their way to watch the World Cup match between France and Denmark on Saturday.

CNN witnessed the conclusion to the incident at the Msheireb Metro Station, in Doha, as Bengt Kunkel, who was wearing a rainbow-colored sweatband and his friend – sporting a similarly colored armband – refused to hand over the items. The rainbow is a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.

After taking the Germans to one side, a group of security guards eventually let them go – on condition that they put the rainbow-colored items in their pockets, according to Kunkel.

“Out of nowhere. They took my friend quite aggressively on the arm and pushed him away from the crowd and told him to take it [the armband] off,” Kunkel told CNN, as he recounted details of the incident shortly after it happened.

“Then they took me with him. They said: ‘You’re going to take it off and throw it in the bin or we’ll call the police.’”

The pair refused to throw their items in the bin and said they told security they could call the police.

“We had a little discussion, we were being respectful and said: ‘We’re not going to throw it away but we’re going to put it in our pockets’,” added Kunkel, who travelled to the World Cup to enjoy the soccer tournament, but also to use his social media platform to talk about LGBTQ+ issues and Qatar 2022.

Kunkel and his friend were then allowed to walk down to the station platform where CNN accompanied them to the match. Kunkel’s friend said he didn’t want to talk to CNN.

Once outside Stadium 974, Kunkel put the rainbow-colored armband and wristband back on and walked through security.

CNN witnessed Kunkel being allowed through, though the 23-year-old German was again taken to one side.

Kunkel then told CNN he was stopped four more times before being allowed to take his seat inside the stadium wearing the rainbow-colored items.

Earlier this week, American journalist Grant Wahl and former Wales captain Laura McAllister both said they were told by security staff to remove clothing with rainbow-colored patterns.

Wahl said he was released 25 minutes after being detained and received apologies from a FIFA representative and a senior member of the security team at the stadium.

A detailed view of the

When asked to clarify the dress code for fans, FIFA referred CNN to the tournament handbook, which states “expats and tourists are free to wear the clothing of their choice, as long as it is modest and respectful to the culture.”

After some Wales fans were also denied entry into stadiums for wearing rainbow-colored bucket hats on Monday, the Welsh Football Association (FAW) said FIFA told the federation on Thursday that rainbow-colored flags and hats would be permitted at World Cup stadiums in Qatar.

“In response to the FAW, FIFA has confirmed that fans with Rainbow Wall bucket hats and rainbow flags will be allowed entry to the stadium for @Cymru’s match against Iran on Friday,” it tweeted.

“All World Cup venues have been contacted and instructed to follow the agreed rules & regulations.”

However, Kunkel’s experience on Saturday would seem to suggest that there remains a disconnect between FIFA’s rules and regulations and what is happening on the ground at Qatar 2022.

CNN reached out to FIFA and Qatar’s organizing committee. FIFA referred CNN to Qatar’s organizing committee, which hadn’t replied at the time of publication.

Bengt Kunkel wearing the rainbow-colored armband inside Stadium 974 on Saturday, November 26.

The 23-year-old Kunkel, who is a student sports journalist back in Germany, has been in Qatar with three friends since just before the World Cup kicked off and says he has already had rainbow-colored items confiscated.

Kunkel said he was removed from his seat at the Al Thumana Stadium during Senegal’s game against the Netherlands on Monday and told to take off the items.

On that occasion security threw them in the bin and Kunkel was allowed back to his seat.

“It’s quite a statement to throw a rainbow flag in the garbage,” added Kunkel.

“I’m not part of the LGBTQ community myself, but I can understand those who don’t want to come here [Qatar] because people of the community are being oppressed.”

Kunkel’s trip to Qatar has made headlines in Germany and he met German Interior and Community Minister Nancy Faeser in Doha this week.

German Football Association President Bernd Neuendorf (L) and German Federal Minister of the Interior and Community Nancy Faeser, who is wearing a

Faeser wore the “OneLove” armband, which features the outline of a heart striped in different colors, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino sitting close by during her country’s 2-1 defeat against Japan.

Since the World Cup kicked off, FIFA has found itself at loggerheads with seven European nations playing at Qatar 2022 over the threat of sanctions for any player wearing a “OneLove” armband during games.

Kunkel says he is unhappy that FIFA allowed Qatar to host the World Cup in a country where sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison.

The 23-year-old says both Faeser and the German Football Association (DFB) have been supportive of his actions and that the DFB even provided him with more rainbow items after his were confiscated.

Ahead of its game against Japan earlier this week, Germany’s team posed with their right hands in front of their mouths designed as a protest to FIFA’s decision to ban the “OneLove” armband that many European captains had been hoping to wear in Qatar.

Although supportive of that protest, Kunkel says more can be done.

“The German FA talks a lot about the rights of the LGBTQ community but whenever they fear consequences they seem to back off and I think that’s a little bit sad,” said Kunkel, who returns to Germany on Monday.

Kunkel says he is passionate about using his platform in Qatar to raise awareness, adding that although he’s received a mixed response online, he was congratulated multiple times by fellow fans walking into Saturday’s game.

“I want to be a voice,” said Kunkel, who earlier this week posted a picture of himself on Instagram from Qatar displaying a rainbow-colored sweatband in front of his face, which he had painted with the German flag with a message saying: “Take a stand, be seen, participate in change. Awesome feeling.”

Qatar’s organizing committee, meanwhile, has previously promised to host “an inclusive and discriminatory-free” World Cup in the face of Western criticism regarding its anti-LGBTQ laws – criticism Infantino, speaking generally about Qatar’s human rights record, slammed as “hypocritical” ahead of the tournament.

“It’s so annoying they do this,” Kunkel told CNN. “This isn’t a political issue, it’s basic human rights.”





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Scotland recognized as world’s best golf destination | CNN




CNN
— 

It remains to be seen whether football will come home for England at the World Cup in Qatar next month, but for neighboring Scotland, golf has officially – and finally – returned to its motherland.

Having hosted the game for almost six centuries, “the home of golf” – as Scotland is known – was recognized as the World’s Best Golf Destination for the very first time at the ninth edition of the annual World Golf Awards in Abu Dhabi this week.

Despite the dominance of its legendary St. Andrews Old Course in the World’s Best Golf Course category – with five successive wins after the award’s inception – Scotland had never been recognized as the sport’s best destination.

Portugal had held an iron grip on the title for the award’s first five years, before a victory for Australia was sandwiched between wins for Vietnam in 2019 and 2021.

Yet after a landmark year, which saw Scottish links courses play host to two historic majors – the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews and the first ever Women’s Open at Muirfield – the country finally scooped the prize, as well as the award for Best Golf Destination in Europe.

The sole European contender for the World award, Scotland trumped rival nominees Argentina, Australia, Canada, Dubai, Jamaica, Morocco, and last year’s winner Vietnam.

Scotland’s golf industry is worth upwards of $1.3 billion (£1.1 billion), with an annual golf tourism market bringing in $339 million (£286 million) and supporting over 4,000 jobs, according to Visit Scotland.

“These awards are a fitting end to an extra special year for golf in Scotland and fantastic recognition for all the people who work so hard to grow and enhance our reputation as The Home of Golf,” said Visit Scotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead.

“Golf tourism is a significant boost for the economy and raises Scotland’s profile on the international stage.”

In October, the fabled Alfred Dunhill Links Championship saw professionals and celebrities alike rotate around St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – three of Scotland’s flagship links courses which help attract almost 220,000 annual golf visitors to the country, according to Visit Scotland.

In August, Muirfield staged the Women's Open for first time after hosting 16 editions of the men's tournament.

“Scottish golf tourism is thriving, and Scotland is a bucket list destination for most golfers around the World,” added Dermot Synnott, Director of Global Partnership for the World Golf Awards.

“It offers a vast range of parkland and links options across all its regions, so the travelling golfer really is spoilt for choice.”

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, New York, was crowned the World’s Best Golf Course, continuing a strong American run after back-to-back wins for Augusta National.

Meanwhile, JA The Resort Golf Course in Dubai won Best Nine Hole Golf Course and Costa Navarino in Greece was recognized as the World’s Best Emerging Golf Destination.



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