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FIFA threat makes World Cup teams nix ‘One Love’ armbands

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-soccer-sports-netherlands-europe-c0e2cc20f8b50ea1b2eaf2e866ec5090

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — FIFA’s threat of on-field punishment for players pushed World Cup teams to back down Monday and abandon a plan for their captains to wear armbands that were seen as a rebuke to host nation Qatar’s human rights record.

Just hours before the first players with the armbands in support of the “One Love” campaign were to take the field, soccer’s governing body warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards — two of which lead to a player’s expulsion from that game and also the next.

That changed the calculus for the seven European teams, which may have expected merely to be fined. The displays are a violation of FIFA rules.

No player had the “One Love” armbands Monday, although England’s Harry Kane wore the FIFA-approved “No Discrimination” armband that was offered as a compromise in the match with Iran.

It was the latest dispute that threatened to overshadow play on the field. Since being awarded the World Cup hosting rights in 2010, conservative Muslim Qatar has faced a raft of criticism, including its treatment of low-paid migrant workers and women and its suppression of free speech. It came under particular fire for its criminalization of homosexuality.

The decision came three days after beer sales at stadiums were suddenly banned under pressure from the Qatari government and two days after FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered an extraordinary tirade defending the host nation’s human rights record.

The captains of seven European nations had vowed to wear armbands carrying the heart-shaped, multicolored logo of the “One Love” campaign, which promotes inclusion and diversity in soccer and society. That set up the prospect of worldwide viewers seeing a symbol of disapproval with the host country and defiance of FIFA on the arms of Kane, the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk and Wales’ Gareth Bale on Monday.

But in the end, the teams said they couldn’t sacrifice success on the field.

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings,” the seven soccer federations said in a joint statement, referring to the yellow cards.

The captains of Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark had also pledged to wear the armbands in the coming days.

“Our No. 1 priority at the World Cup is to win the games,” the Dutch soccer federation said in a separate statement. “Then you don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card.”

The risk of getting a second yellow, which would see a player sent off the field for the rest of the game and banned from the next, is particularly tricky in a tournament where teams play only three games before the knockout rounds begin.

“One thing is clear: We are not going to wear the armband if we are going to get a yellow card,” said Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal. “And I think that we need to question whether this is a correct act on the part of FIFA. I think you can give the answer to that question.”

National soccer federations and fan associations lashed out at FIFA for its decision to penalize the players. Danish soccer federation CEO Jakob Jensen told Danish broadcaster TV2 that the organization was ”extremely disappointed with FIFA,” and German soccer federation president Bernd Neuendorf called it “another low blow.”

“FIFA today prohibited a statement for diversity and human rights — those are values to which it is committed in its own statutes,” Neuendorf told reporters in Qatar. “From our point of view, this is more than frustrating and, I think, an unprecedented action in World Cup history.”

The global players’ union FIFPRO called the FIFA move “disappointing.”

“Players must have a right to express their support for human rights on and off the field of play and we will support any of them who will use their own platforms to do so,” the union said. “We maintain that a rainbow flag is not a political statement but an endorsement of equality and thus a universal human right.”

England’s Football Supporters Association said it felt betrayed by FIFA.

“Today we feel contempt for an organization that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance,” the FSA said.

The Belgium federation expressed frustration that FIFA didn’t act sooner to resolve an issue that began two months ago, only to come to a head on the morning of matches for three teams. The Europeans “tried several times to avoid escalating this initiative … but we have had no response,” the Belgian federation said.

Manon Aubry of France, the president of the Left group at the European Parliament, wore the rainbow armband Monday during a debate on human rights in the context of the World Cup.

“Shame on those who did not allow armbands — ‘One Love’ armbands — to support the LGBTQI. I’m proud to wear that armband here,” said Aubry, who was reprimanded for wearing it inside the Parliament, where such displays are not allowed during plenary sessions.

Gurchaten Sandhu, of the Geneva-based International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, said FIFA put “athletes in a very, very awkward” position.

“You’ve bound the hands of the national teams. They’re there to compete,” he said.

He also criticized Infantino’s speech Saturday in which the soccer chief defended Qatar and lectured Europeans who have criticized the emirate’s human rights record. In that speech, Infantino said: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”

Sandhu took issue with Infantino’s choice of words, saying: “You don’t feel gay. You are gay.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what, if any, influence Qatar’s autocratic government had on the armband decision. The government and its Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the World Cup, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The European plans were in breach of World Cup regulations and FIFA’s general rules on team equipment at its games.

“For FIFA final competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA,” its equipment regulations state.

The soccer body’s proposal, announced Saturday, was for captains to wear armbands with socially aware, though generic, slogans. In that offer, armbands reading “No Discrimination” — the only one of its chosen slogan aligned with the European teams’ wish — would appear only at the quarterfinal stage.

On Monday, it offered the compromise that captains of all 32 teams “will have the opportunity” to wear an armband with the slogan “No Discrimination” in the group games.

Brazil’s players were not planning any type of protest but striker Richarlison said he would “support anything that other players or national teams were doing.”

“We live in a dangerous world where you are not allowed to have an opinion,” he said at Brazil’s training camp. “I support any cause out there.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-soccer-sports-netherlands-europe-c0e2cc20f8b50ea1b2eaf2e866ec5090

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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