Chinese players will not be banned from events due to coronavirus: Badminton World Federation

KUALA LUMPUR: The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has said that it will not restrict Chinese players from participating in international competitions due to the coronavirus epidemic.

More than 550 people have died in mainland China due to the flu-like virus after it first emerged in Wuhan, Hubei province, late last year and it has also shut down Chinese cities and forced thousands more into quarantine around the world.

More than two dozen airlines have suspended or restricted flights to China and several countries have banned entry to anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.

READ: More Chinese cities shut down as novel coronavirus death toll rises

“The BWF is looking into the implications of these travel restrictions, which may mean players and officials from China will not be able to participate in BWF-sanctioned tournaments easily,” the governing body said in a statement.

“The BWF would like to make it clear … that it will not be restricting participation of Chinese players and officials, or any other players or officials, at international badminton and para badminton tournaments.”

The BWF said it had asked member associations to contact national health authorities to make them aware international players will arrive in their country.

“We trust tournament hosts will provide full assistance and treat all athletes from all member associations equally … all normal tournament conventions and etiquette will apply such as the coin toss, shaking of hands,” BWF added.

READ: Commentary: We know more about the novel coronavirus but uncertainty remains about how virus spreads

The epidemic has wreaked havoc on the international sporting calendar with a number of tournaments cancelled or postponed.

Last week, the Feb 25 to Mar 1 China Masters badminton tournament in Hainan – part of the qualifying process for the Tokyo Olympics – was postponed after some players withdrew.

The BWF is hopeful the Badminton Asia Championships could still go ahead in Wuhan from Apr 21 to Apr 26.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage on the Wuhan coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the Wuhan virus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram 

Wuhan coronavirus forces postponement of badminton Olympic qualifier China Masters

BEIJING: The coronavirus epidemic continued to wreak havoc on the international sporting calendar on Saturday (Feb 1) when the Lingshui China Masters badminton tournament, part of the qualifying process for the Tokyo Olympics, was postponed.

Organizers made the decision to put off the event, which was scheduled to take place from Feb 25 to Mar 1 in Hainan, after a number of players withdrew.

“The Badminton World Federation (BWF) and Chinese Badminton Association (CBA) can confirm the decision to postpone the Lingshui China Masters 2020 … in the wake of growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in China and surrounding areas,” said a BWF statement.

“BWF and CBA have considered all necessary health, safety and logistical risks and both parties believe it is sensible to postpone the tournament at this time.”

READ: Coronavirus chaos in China’s sporting calendar

The tournament was likely to be moved to a new date in May, the BWF added, but ranking points earned at the rescheduled event would no longer count towards Olympic qualification.

The number of deaths from the coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, rose by 46 to 259 on Friday, the country’s health authority said on Saturday.

The BWF said it hoped the flagship Badminton Asia Championships (BAC) might still go ahead in Wuhan from Apr 21 to 26.

“It is … too early at this time to make any final conclusions related to this event,” the statement added.

“The 2020 Badminton Asia Championships falls within the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification window and is one of the last opportunities for athletes to qualify for the Olympics Games.”

The China Masters was the second event in Hainan to be affected by the epidemic this week after an elite women’s international golf tournament, the Blue Bay LPGA, was cancelled on Friday.

The IAAF world indoor athletics championships, which were due to be held in Nanjing from Mar 13 to 15, have been postponed until next year.

Other Olympic qualifiers impacted include a four-team women’s soccer tournament involving China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand, which was moved from Wuhan to Australia.

The schedule had to be further reshuffled when the China team were placed in quarantine in Brisbane by Australian authorities until after Feb 5.

Qualifying tournaments in boxing and basketball for this year’s Olympics were also moved from China, while other events have been cancelled or postponed.

The Tokyo Olympics take place in the Japanese capital from Jul 24 to Aug 9.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage on the Wuhan coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the Wuhan virus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram 

Saudi wealth fund in talks to buy Newcastle United for £340 million: Report

REUTERS: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is in talks to buy English football club Newcastle United for about £340 million (US$444.5 million), the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday (Jan 25), citing people familiar with the discussions.

The deal would represent an exit for British billionaire Mike Ashley, who made his fortune from sportswear retailer Sports Direct (renamed Frasers Group last month) and first bought into Newcastle United in 2007.

The WSJ said Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, together with a group of investors organised by British financier Amanda Staveley, are in discussions to buy the Premier League club and a deal could be days or weeks away.

A spokesman for Newcastle United declined to comment on Saturday, while Saudi’s Public Investment Fund was not immediately available for comment.

The tentative deal could still break down, the WSJ added.

Newcastle United has been up for sale a number of times and was last year rumoured to be on the brink of being bought by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan, but that deal did not go ahead.

Ashley, who owns a controlling stake in the club, has not always been popular among fans and thousands have been staying away from matches this season to protest at his ownership.

Around a third of English soccer clubs are under foreign ownership. Premier League clubs Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are all under control of Americans, while Manchester City is owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

Olympic makeover: All aboard for new sports lighting up Tokyo 2020

TOKYO: Modern upstarts skateboarding and surfing as well as the ancient martial art of karate are among new sports for 2020 ready to inject some street cred into Tokyo.

AFP Sport guides you through the new kids on the Olympic block this summer:

SURFING

Arguably the coolest sport never to have appeared at the Olympics, surfing will be one of the hottest tickets at Tokyo 2020 – if there are waves.

Surfing - arguably the coolest sport never to make the Olympics
Surfing – arguably the coolest sport never to make the Olympics. (Photo: AFP/Adrian DENNIS)

While the Tsurigasaki Beach venue is unlikely to produce the sort of massive barrels seen in Hawaii or Tahiti, fans should see an almighty scrap for gold with Honolulu-born John John Florence and explosive Brazilians Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina among the men’s favourites.

American Carissa Moore and Australia’s seven-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore look the ones to beat in the women’s competition, although Moore’s countrywoman Caroline Marks and Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons might have a say.

Old school “soul surfers” still argue that surfing is more a way of life than a sport. Try telling that to the lucky few who will be waxing down their boards at Tokyo 2020.

SKATEBOARDING

Another sport very much “down with the kids” is skateboarding, also brought in to help give the fuddy-duddy Olympics a trendy makeover.

Divided into “street”, run over a street-like course with a range of obstacles, and “park”, on a hollowed-out bowl with a series of steep drops and challenging undulations, the hipster sport is poised to turn schoolchildren into global superstars chased by sponsors offering them millions of dollars.

Eleven-year-old Sky Brown, who opted to skate for Britain rather than Japan and is also a professional surfer, faces Japanese world champion Misugu Okamoto, herself just 13, in what will be an absorbing women’s park competition.

Skateboarding -- Olympic effort to get down with the kids
Skateboarding – Olympic effort to get down with the kids. (Photo: AFP/STR)

In contrast, the men’s field could see a winner who is old enough to vote with American four-time world champion Nyjah Huston a hot tip to win a historic first Olympic street gold.

SPORT CLIMBING

After a spate of white-knuckle documentaries in recent years, sport climbing looks set to become another surefire hit for the Olympics.

Rankings in three formats – one-on-one speed, the ninja-like bouldering and dynamic lead climbing – are compiled for a total score.

Czech sensation Adam Ondra, who started climbing when he was six and makes the hair-raising sport look ridiculously easy, is the man to beat though he can expect to be pushed by the likes of Canada’s Sean McColl, Austria’s Jakob Schubert and local favourite Tomoa Narasaki.

Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret is one to watch in the women’s event as she looks to spoil Japanese veteran Akiyo Noguchi’s swan song.

KARATE

Long seen as the poor relation of judo, expect karate to pack a punch this summer in what will be a short-lived Olympic debut.

The ancient form of warrior combat, which dates back centuries to what is now Okinawa, has been left out of the 2024 Paris Olympics – in favour of breakdancing.

Karate will have a short stint as an Olympic sport
Karate will have a short stint as an Olympic sport. (Photo: AFP/JAVIER SORIANO)

But Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna, a native of subtropical Okinawa, will be one of those looking to leave his mark at Tokyo 2020 as the triple world champion goes for gold in the “kata” discipline, where fighters execute choreographed sequences of punches and kicks against an invisible opponent.

Iran, whose former judo world champion Saeid Mollaei defected last year after complaining he had been ordered to lose to an Israeli rival, could be dark horses following diplomatic efforts between the International Olympic Committee and Iranian officials to negotiate an end to Tehran’s decades-long boycott against Israeli athletes.

BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL

Baseball makes its Olympic return in Tokyo for the first time since its controversial exit after Beijing in 2008, with what looks a wide-open tournament.

South Korea stunned defending champions Cuba in the final to win gold 12 years ago to scuttle their bid for a fourth Olympic crown.

Shohei Ohtani will be a massive crowd favourite on home turf
Shohei Ohtani will be a massive crowd favourite on home turf. (Photo: AFP/John MCCOY)

But baseball-mad Japan will hope that the hosts can recapture the magic that swept them to back-to-back World Baseball Classic titles in 2006 and 2009.

Japan’s two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani could provide the spark for Samurai Japan, but don’t back against the Americans or Cubans with the Dominican Republic also a gold medal threat.

The United States will start favourites to regain the Olympic softball title they have won on four of the five occasions the competition has been held, their golden streak only halted by Japan’s women in the 2008 final.

Russia, heat cloud Tokyo 2020 Olympics with six months to go

TOYKO: Uncertainty over Russia’s participation for the third consecutive Olympics and concerns over the heat hang heavy over Tokyo 2020 preparations, with only six months until the opening ceremony.

The Japanese capital has avoided many of the crises that dogged previous Games – International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach said the city is the best prepared host city he has seen, with facilities complete well ahead of schedule and tickets massively oversubscribed.

But elements largely out of organisers’ control have overshadowed the run-up to the 2020 Games, the second time they will have been held in Tokyo after 1964, when a post-war Japan wowed the world with its technological prowess and economic “miracle”.

Chief among these is whether Russian athletes will compete after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) imposed a four-year ban from international sporting events over what it views as a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Moscow has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but sources have told AFP a decision is not expected before May, just weeks before the Games open on Jul 24.

Bach has urged CAS, the world’s highest sports court, to give a decision that “does not leave room for any kind of interpretation”, warning of “real, total confusion” if the ruling is not watertight.

Russia’s up-in-the-air participation follows confusion at the Rio Games, where the IOC allowed individual federations to decide whether to permit athletes to compete.

At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the IOC barred the Russian Olympic Committee but allowed clean Russian athletes to take part as neutral competitors.

DECISION WITHOUT AGREEMENT

Even less predictable than Russian participation is the Tokyo weather, which has resulted in the unprecedented moving of the marathon from the host city over safety concerns.

In 1964, the Games were held in October to avoid the hot and humid Tokyo summer where the temperatures can exceed 40 Celsius.

But athletes in 2020 will have no such respite, with some doctors warning there could be deadly emergencies, and concerns have been raised for volunteers, spectators and the competitors.

Test events last summer gave organisers a taste of what could be to come. A French triathlete was hospitalised with suspected heatstroke and several spectators were taken ill at a rowing event.

Tokyo 2020 has rolled out a series of measures designed to counter the heat, including artificial snow, cooling mist sprays, paper fans and towels to cool the neck.

Events have been brought forward earlier to avoid the burning afternoon sun but the most extraordinary change was shifting the marathon and race walk 800km north to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido.

The move, which apparently caught Tokyo officials off guard when it was announced by the IOC, sparked fury in the capital, with city mayor Yuriko Koike describing it as “a decision without an agreement”.

Kazunori Asaba – training chief of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations – went further. “It’s like the athletes who had been training for many years to climb Everest were told just nine months before they would go to a different mountain,” he said.

WE’RE NOT COMPLACENT

Tokyo officials are also carrying out drills in case of natural disaster in one of the world’s most active seismic regions, which also gets battered by several typhoons each year.

Last year’s Rugby World Cup was affected by the huge Typhoon Hagibis, which forced the cancellation of three matches.

With six months to go, excitement is building and nearly 60,000 fans packed out the new National Stadium for its opening to see three-time 100m sprint gold medallist Usain Bolt trot around the track.

Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto, who represented Japan at seven Olympic Games as a speed skater and cyclist, said the country would stop at nothing to pull off a spectacular show.

“Last week I was in Lausanne, where President Bach again complimented our preparations. But we’re not complacent. We will do everything possible, I will do my best as a minister, to make the Games a success,” she told reporters.

Football: China slaps spending curbs on clubs amid finance squeeze

HONG KONG: Chinese football authorities have announced major curbs on spending by clubs ahead of the 2020 season that include a cap on foreign and domestic players’ salaries as they seek to stave off financial ruin.

Overseas recruits to the Chinese Super League in the upcoming winter transfer window will be limited to earning 3 million euro (US$3.3 million) after tax, the first time a salary cap has been implemented in the Chinese Super League in more than a decade.

Additionally, a ceiling of 10 million yuan (US$1.4 million) has been placed on Chinese players’ salaries.

Clubs will also not be permitted to spend more than 1.1 billion yuan on their operations throughout the upcoming campaign, with salaries not to exceed 60 per cent of that amount.

“Our clubs had too much money burned and our professional football has not been run in a sustainable way,” Chinese Football Association chairman Chen Xuyuan said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

“If we don’t take timely action, I fear it will collapse.”

The new rules were confirmed after a meeting of the Chinese Football Association on Wednesday and do not extend to bonuses that can be paid, which could give clubs some flexibility to pursue star signings.

Clubs will also be permitted to sign a fifth player from overseas, up from the current quota of four, but will only be allowed to field four foreigners on the pitch at any one time.

Officials have routinely sought to curb excessive spending in the Chinese Super League after a major outlay on foreign stars ahead of the 2017 season saw the arrival of players such as Brazilian star Oscar and Carlos Tevez from Argentina on huge salaries.

Later that year, a 100 per cent levy was placed on transfers valued at over 45 million yuan involving foreign players while the same condition was imposed on domestic moves worth more than 20 million yuan.

Money has poured into Chinese football from the country’s private sector since Xi Jinping, a football fan who has declared his desire to improve the nation’s standing within the game, became president in 2013.

Wales international Gareth Bale was the latest global superstar to be linked with a move to China following his falling out with Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. That transfer to Jiangsu Suning fell through before the closure of the transfer window last summer.

However, the influx of foreign talent, expected to lift standards at a club level, has done little to reverse the national team’s dismal fortunes, with China failing to qualify for the finals of the World Cup since their debut appearance in 2002.

The national team is currently struggling to qualify for the next tournament in Qatar in 2022, with Italian Marcello Lippi quitting as head coach in November and a replacement yet to be appointed.