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Culture clash? Conservative Qatar preps for World Cup party

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-entertainment-sports-soccer-religion-c3dcfa7cefe111716e2fade034d50eab

On the Instagram accounts of fashion models and superstars last month, the sheikhdom of Qatar looked like one glittering party.

High-heeled designers descended on exhibition openings and fashion shows in downtown Doha. Celebrities, including a prominent gay rights campaigner, snapped selfies on a pulsing dance floor.

“As-salaam ’alykum Doha!” Dutch model Marpessa Hennink proclaimed on Instagram, using the traditional Muslim salutation.

The backlash was swift. Qataris went online to vent their anger about what they called a dangerous and depraved revelry, saying it threatened Qatar’s traditional values ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Arabic hashtag, Stop the Destruction of Our Values, trended for days.

The episode underscores the tensions tearing at Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate that restricts alcohol, bans drugs and suppresses free speech, as it prepares to welcome possibly rowdy crowds for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Our religion and customs prohibit indecent clothing and behavior,” Moheba Al Kheer, a Qatari citizen, said of the avant-garde artists and flamboyant models who mingled with Qatari socialites in late October. “It’s normal for us to worry when we see these kinds of people.”

World Cup organizers say everyone is welcome during the tournament. Already, foreigners outnumber citizens 10 to one in Qatar. Some Qataris are liberal and open to mixing with foreigners. Many are thrilled about the tournament. But human rights groups have raised concerns over how police will deal with foreign fans’ violations of the Islamic laws criminalizing public drunkenness, sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Qatar, a tiny Persian Gulf country that once was a dust-blown pearling port, transformed at almost warp-speed into an ultra-modern hub following its 1990s natural gas boom. Expats, including Western consultants and engineers and low-paid South Asian construction workers and cleaners, poured into the country.

Glass-and-steel skyscrapers, luxury hotels and massive malls soon sprung up in the desert. In an effort to diversify away from a carbon-based economy, Qatar’s ruling family bought up stakes in things ranging from global finance and technology to the French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and London real estate.

The ruling emir’s sister, Sheikha Al Mayassa Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, became one of the world’s most important art buyers. His mother, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, became a global style icon and bought several luxury brands, including Valentino.

But even as Qatar, among the world’s wealthiest countries per capita, looked to the West for inspiration, it faced pressure from within to stay true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots. Qatar’s most powerful clan originates from the Arabian Peninsula’s landlocked interior, where the ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism was born.

Qatari rulers treaded the tightrope between placating its conservative citizens and tribes and shoring up soft power as a major global player.

“Doha’s religious discourse to its citizens is very different from its liberal discourse to the West,” said 38-year-old Qatari Mohammed al-Kuwari. “It cannot always succeed at both.”

The glaring spotlight of the World Cup — which requires Qatar to relax access to alcohol, create fun outlets for fans and comply with FIFA rules promoting tolerance and inclusion — raises the stakes.

In years past, the World Cup has turned host countries into the world’s biggest party, with joyous crowds drinking heavily and celebrating together. When emotions run high, fans can be euphoric — or rude and violent.

This will shake up quiet Qatar, where such behavior is deeply taboo and virtually unheard of. Doha is not known for its nightlife. Despite its rapid development over the years, its entertainment offerings remain slim and its public spaces limited.

Some foreign fans fret about how Qatar will handle hordes of drunken hooligans in the streets, given the nation’s public decency laws and strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol.

Swearing and making offensive gestures, dressing immodestly and kissing in public may normally lead to prosecution in Qatar. Anti-gay sentiment runs deep in society, like elsewhere in the Arab world. A senior security official has warned rainbow flags may be confiscated to protect fans from being attacked for promoting gay rights.

Fan anxiety is apparent in recent Reddit message boards: “How would the government know if someone is gay?” “How bad is it to wear short pants (Can I get arrested)?” “Is it true that people who say negative things about Qatar on social media get arrested?”

At the same time, conservative Qataris fret about how much their society can bend to accommodate World Cup guests. Doha plans to throw giant electronic music festivals. Authorities say they’ll turn a blind eye to offenses like public intoxication, intervening only in response to destruction of property and threats to public safety.

“I hope that the World Cup will not strip society of its religion, morals and customs,” said a 28-year-old Qatari man who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

He said he found comfort in a promise from the country’s advisory Shura Council last month that authorities will “ensure the building of a strong society that adheres to its religion” and reject “any excessive behavior” that breaks local taboos.

But because the tournament fulfills the vision of the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to develop the country, experts say the tiny population of Qataris have little choice but to accept whatever comes.

The emirate brooks no dissent. Qatar’s oil and gas wealth has generated a social contract where citizens benefit from a cradle-to-grave welfare state and political rights come after state paternalism.

“If Qatar wants to be on the world map they have to adhere by global standards and values,” said Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor of security studies at King’s College London. “The government will stand its ground on certain issues, and the population will fall in line.”

Al-Kuwari, the citizen, was blunter.

“There is fear,” he said. “If a citizen thinks to criticize, a (prison) sentence awaits him.”

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Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-entertainment-sports-soccer-religion-c3dcfa7cefe111716e2fade034d50eab

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Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games.

Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also arrested on charges of violating anti-monopoly laws, the Tokyo District Prosecutors said in a statement.

Prosecutors have also been investigating a separate bribery scandal centered around former Dentsu executive Haruyuki Takahashi, who was a member of the organizing committee.

The bid-rigging probe in general involves the choice of venues for Olympic test events as well as for the actual Games. It is a joint operation of the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which looks at violations of anti-monopoly laws.

Prosecutors said the officials secretly agreed on the bids in 2018.

Some of the contracts had only one bidder, according to Japanese media reports. Prosecutors say the bid-rigging scandal arrests have just begun and could embroil more companies.

Upon conviction of violation of anti-monopoly laws, individuals can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The sprawling corruption allegations surrounding Tokyo have caused the bid by the northern Japanese city of Sapporo for the 2030 Winter Games to be placed “on hold.” Sapporo was considered the favorite before the scandal.

Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030. Salt Lake officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The official price tag is $13 billion, though a government audit suggests it might be twice that much.

Takahashi and officials at several other companies were earlier arrested in the bribery scandal. Plans for those trials are beginning. Takahashi was released on bail after being held for several months.

Among the companies embroiled in the scandal involving Takahashi are Aoki Holdings, a clothing company that dressed Japan’s Olympic team; Sun Arrow, which produced the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic mascots named Miraitowa and Someity; and Kadokawa Group, the publisher of the Games program and guidebooks.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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Jessica Pegula reveals her mother Kim Pegula’s health crisis

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has revealed that her mother, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner and president Kim Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in June and is still recovering while dealing with significant language and memory issues.

In an essay that The Players’ Tribune published Tuesday, Jessica Pegula detailed for the first time the medical crisis that abruptly removed her mother from the public eye and suggested that her mother may not resume the same level of involvement in the family’s sports franchises.

Kim Pegula, she wrote, went into cardiac arrest while sleeping and received lifesaving CPR from another daughter until paramedics arrived and restored her heartbeat. The family previously said only that Kim Pegula was receiving medical care for “some unexpected health issues” that arose shortly after she celebrated her 53rd birthday.

“My mom is working hard in her recovery, she is improving, but where she ends up is still unknown,” Jessica Pegula, 28, wrote.

She said she decided to write about her mother’s ordeal after Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field during a Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati in what Pegula described as “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment.”

“My stomach sunk because it felt like the exact same thing all over again. I was sitting on the bench for a tennis event in Sydney, Australia. I wanted to throw up,” wrote Jessica Pegula, who is No. 4 in the WTA’s singles rankings. “I was supposed to go on for mixed doubles in 15 minutes and I remember telling one of my teammates, `I am a little freaked out right now, this is too close to home, and I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.’”

As Hamlin began his recovery, Jessica Pegula joined in an outpouring of support from fans and the NFL and wore a white screen-printed patch with Hamlin’s uniform number while playing at the Australian Open. “It didn’t feel like it was just for him, it felt like it was for my mom as well,” she said.

Jessica Pegula had been home in Florida months earlier when she got a call from her sister, Kelly, around midnight on their mother’s birthday and learned that their mother was being rushed to the hospital.

“My mom was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” she wrote. Kelly Pegula, who was staying with their parents, performed CPR — just three months after telling her family that she planned to become certified in the procedure for a job.

“I remember her telling us what she was doing in our family group chat,” Jessica Pegula wrote, “and my mom even responded, `Nice Kells! Now if we have a heart attack you can revive us.’”

Today, Kim Pegula “can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all. The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”

As the first woman to serve as president of an NHL and NFL team at the same time, Kim Pegula “lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone. That she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”

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Mat Ishbia to AP: Suns ‘will be one of best places to work’

Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they’ve faced.

After that, he’ll start fixing.

The tenure of embattled Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.

Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press. “That’s a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don’t have enough information to know what exactly it’s been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five months-plus.”

The 43-year-old Ishbia was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA’s board of governors approved him as the next owner.

The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule – Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.

Ishbia’s name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.

“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”

Ishbia’s company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.

“We’re all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We’re all about people. We’re all about the word ‘team.’ It’s almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they’re doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”

There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.

Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.

“We’ve got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we’re in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”

Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.

He senses another opportunity now.

“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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