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Saka, Rashford help England rout Iran 6-2 at World Cup

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-iran-sports-soccer-europe-bb1dc3325ded3f04c84d02aa07575525

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — When Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford last walked off the field at a major international soccer tournament, they were bombarded with racist abuse.

Three goals for England in the team’s opening match at this year’s World Cup was their immediate riposte.

Saka scored two before giving way to Rashford, who added another in the second half of England’s 6-2 rout of Iran on Monday.

The jubilant scene at the Khalifa International Stadium was in contrast to the tears shed following England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy in last year’s European Championship final. Saka and Rashford both failed to convert from the spot and were targeted on social media.

“It is a moment that has been with me and will be with me forever,” said Saka, who was only 19 during Euro 2020. “But I am so blessed and so grateful to have the coaching staff, not only here with the team at England, but also at Arsenal.

“My friends and my family put their arm around me along with my teammates and the nation supported me to help me get back to a good place. I feel that love from everyone around me.”

The win also provides encouragement for coach Gareth Southgate, who has faced the most troubled period of his England tenure over the last year. In a difficult buildup to the tournament in Qatar, he was booed after a 4-0 loss to Hungary in June and was humiliated by his own fans when they chanted, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Hundreds of fans missed the start of Monday’s match because of an issue with digital tickets. When they eventually made their way to their seats, they witnessed an utterly dominant display from England.

Jude Bellingham’s first international goal opened the scoring in the 35th minute.

Saka then got his first of the match in the 43rd and Raheem Sterling added another in first-half stoppage time. Saka scored his second shortly after the hour, but Mehdi Taremi pulled one back for Iran in the 65th minute.

Rashford struck six minutes later to extend England’s lead to 5-1, and Jack Grealish also stepped off the bench to score a sixth in the 90th. Taremi added another for Iran from the penalty spot deep in stoppage time after John Stones was penalized for holding Morteza Pouraliganji’s shirt in the box.

The game was delayed for several minutes in the first half when Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand clashed heads with a teammate. He was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher with the score still 0-0.

His replacement, Hossein Hosseini, was left with the unenviable task of facing England’s potent attack.

The match had a total of 29 minutes of stoppage time, 15 minutes in the first half and 14 in the second.

After the match, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz pleaded with fans to support the team following apparent boos during the national anthem amid protests in the nation for women’s rights.

“All the Iranians in the stadium are welcome, and feel free to criticize,” he said. “Those who come to disturb the team with issues that are not only about football opinions are not welcome. They are just simple football boys. They have one dream, to play football. It is not their fault that the World Cup happens at the moment. The moral is: Let the kids play the game. They want to represent the country, represent the people.”

BRILLIANT BELLINGHAM

Bellingham had not even made his senior debut by the time of the last World Cup in 2018. Now the Borussia Dortmund midfielder is one of the most coveted players in the Europe and is expected to spark a major transfer battle at the end of the season. Monday’s performance is likely to see his reputation grow even more.

KANE’S OK

Southgate said Harry Kane was not injured despite concerns when he went down under a challenge in the second half and was later substituted.

“I think Harry is fine,” the coach said. “It looked a bad tackle, but he carried on and we took him off because we thought it was a moment when we could do that.”

UP NEXT

England faces the United States on Friday and Iran takes on Wales.

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

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-iran-sports-soccer-europe-bb1dc3325ded3f04c84d02aa07575525

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NBA suspends Brooks, fines Mitchell for Grizz-Cavs scuffle

Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks has been suspended one game without pay by the NBA, and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell fined $20,000 for their roles in an on-court incident on Thursday night.

The league announced the punishments on Friday.

Brooks swung and struck Mitchell in the groin area during the third quarter after the Grizzlies guard had fallen to the floor. Mitchell retaliated by throwing the ball at Brooks and then shoving him.

Both players were ejected in Cleveland’s 128-113 win.

Afterward, Mitchell accused Brooks of being a dirty player.

“That’s just who he is,″ Mitchell said. “We’ve seen it a bunch in this league with him. Him and I have had our personal battles for years. There’s no place for that in the game. This has been brewing for years with me and other guys in the league. This isn’t new.”

The league said Brooks will serve his suspension on Sunday, when the Grizzlies host the Toronto Raptors.

Initially, Mitchell was scheduled to speak with reporters in Cleveland’s locker room. But the All-Star guard opted for the team’s larger interview room so he could address the incident with Brooks.

“I’m losing money,” Mitchell said before answering questions.

Mitchell said he and Brooks have been feuding for years. He also noted that Brooks has had similar altercations with other players.

“I’m not typically someone who gets ejected for stuff like that,” Mitchell said. “But at the end of the day, I think my reaction was reacting to a cheap shot. If punishment doesn’t come from that, he’s just going to keep doing it.

“It’s just dumb to be honest with you and I’m going to appeal it because I don’t think I should’ve gotten ejected for defending myself.”

Before his ejection, Mitchell was having a rough night. He scored just six points on 2-of -1 shooting in 22 minutes while being guarded by Brooks. The two had matched up regularly when Mitchell played for Utah.

“That was cool when we were just talking, but that right there, a line has to be drawn,” Mitchell said. “The NBA has to do something about it. I’m not the only person this has happened to and there’s no place for that in this game.

“I took matters into my own hands. When you have a cheap shot like that, there was no need to do that.”

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

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Column: IOC talks tough on Russia — until Paris on horizon

The IOC likes to talk tough — as long as it’s not heading into an Olympic year.

Not surprisingly, as we draw ever closer to the cash cow that is Paris 2024, the hypocrites running the Olympic movement are eager to get Russia back in the games.

They’ll surely find a way, despite Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and growing threats of a boycott from those who don’t think the Russians should be allowed anywhere near the City of Light — even if, ludicrously, the IOC is trying to pass it off as a human rights issue.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy put it more accurately: “A white or any neutral flag is impossible for Russian athletes. All their flags are stained in blood.”

For once, just once, we’d love to see the International Olympic Committee do the right thing:

Make it clear that the Russians — and their accomplices from Belarus — will not be allowed to compete on the world’s biggest sporting stage until they halt the war in Ukraine.

There’s certainly precedent for such a decision.

— After World War I, the losing countries — Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey (the successor to the Ottoman Empire) — were barred from the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. In fact, Germany’s ban lasted until 1928.

— The IOC acted in similar fashion against the two nations blamed for igniting World War II. Germany (which had split into two countries) and Japan were prohibited from competing at the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, as well as the Summer Games a few months later in London.

— South Africa was rightfully barred from the Olympics from 1964 through 1988 and kicked out of the IOC altogether for waging war on its own people through its abhorrent apartheid system. Only when white-minority rule collapsed was South Africa allowed to compete again at the Barcelona Games in 1992.

IOC officials maintain that Russia doesn’t deserve to be treated like South Africa because it’s not under United Nations sanctions.

Of course, that’s a disingenuous argument. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, which means it has the right to veto any measure. In other words, there is no chance of UN sanctions — which presumably means the Russians could never be barred from the Olympics.

Frankly, Russia should’ve been kicked out after its massive, state-sponsored doping ring from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games was exposed, not to mention its continued efforts to cover up a level of cheating that hadn’t been seen since the notorious East German days.

But the IOC could never muster the courage to pull the trigger on a proper punishment, instead allowing the Russians to compete at the last three Olympics as supposedly neutral athletes known by the ludicrous monikers of OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia) and ROC (Russian Olympic Committee).

Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine a mere four days after the closing ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, a curious sense of timing that may not have been coincidental.

At that point, with the next Olympics nearly 2 1/2 years away, the IOC could lead worldwide sanctions that barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at most international competitions across a wide range of sports.

Those bans largely remain in place, but now the next Olympics are a year closer. The IOC has changed course, looking for a way out to give a pair of warmongering nations a way in.

With its usual double-speak, the IOC said its mission is “to unite the entire world in a peaceful competition.” Instead, its cow-towing to Russia could spark the biggest Olympic boycott since the Cold War era.

Ukraine has raised the possibility of sitting out the Paris Games if the Russians are there. Neighboring countries such as Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have signaled they may be willing to follow that lead.

The United States is highly unlikely to join such a protest, especially after the Jimmy Carter-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the invasion of Afghanistan is largely viewed as a major blunder that left behind lingering bitterness from athletes who missed out on their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The new leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee sent out a letter to athletes and other stakeholders last week, reiterating the organization’s support for finding a way for Russian athletes to compete in Paris as neutrals.

“We encouraged the IOC to continue exploring a process that would preserve the existing sanctions, ensuring only neutral athletes who are clean are welcome to compete,” Gene Sykes wrote. “If these conditions of neutrality and safe, clean, and fair competition can be met, we believe the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games can prevail.”

If the IOC is determined to clear the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris, it goes without saying they should only allow those who haven’t actively supported the war, though that requirement may pose some challenges of its own.

Going further, it should only be athletes who compete in individual sports, perhaps making them part of the Refugee Team to further dilute any connection to the shameful deeds of their homelands.

Even then, contact sports such as judo and wrestling might also be ruled out to avoid putting athletes in the unenviable position of deciding whether to withdraw rather than grappling with a competitor from Russia or Belarus.

By all means, Russia and Belarus should be barred from any team sports in Paris, since it would be clear which countries those squads were representing no matter the acronym.

There’s one athlete who, if reports out of Ukraine are accurate, definitely won’t get a chance to compete in Paris next summer.

Volodymyr Androshchuk, a 22-year-old Ukrainian decathlete-turned-soldier, who was killed in recent days while fighting the Russian invaders, according to Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs.

“RIP, Volodymyr,” Gerashchenko tweeted. “We keep losing our best people.”

Your move, IOC.

For once, do your best.

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Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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

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Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — With next year’s Paris Olympics on the horizon and Russia’s invasion looking more like a prolonged conflict, Ukraine’s sports minister on Friday renewed a threat to boycott the games if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete and said Kyiv would lobby other nations to join.

Such a move could lead to the biggest rift in the Olympic movement since the Cold War era.

No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games. But Ukraine won support from Poland, the Baltic nations and Denmark, who pushed back against an International Olympic Committee plan to allow delegations from Russia and ally Belarus to compete in Paris as “neutral athletes,” without flags or anthems.

“We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, who also heads its national Olympic committee, citing attacks on his country, the deaths of its athletes and the destruction of its sports facilities.

A meeting of his committee did not commit to a boycott but approved plans to try to persuade global sports officials in the next two months — including discussion of a possible boycott.

Huttsait added: “As a last option, but I note that this is my personal opinion, if we do not succeed, then we will have to boycott the Olympic Games.”

Paris will be the final Olympics under outgoing IOC head Thomas Bach, who is looking to his legacy after a tenure marked by disputes over Russia’s status — first over widespread doping scandals and now over the war in Ukraine.

Bach’s views were shaped when he was an Olympic gold medalist in fencing and his country, West Germany, took part in the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He has condemned that decision ever since.

Russia has cautiously welcomed the IOC’s decision to give it a path to the Olympics but demands it drop a condition that would leave out those athletes deemed to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.”

Russian Olympic Committee head Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who was a teammate of Ukraine’s Huttsait at the 1992 Olympics, called that aspect discriminatory. The IOC, which previously recommended excluding Russia and Belarus from world sports on safety grounds, now argues it cannot discriminate against them purely based on citizenship.

The leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged the IOC to ban Russia and said a boycott was a possibility.

“I think that our efforts should be on convincing our other friends and allies that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes is just wrong,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. “So boycotting is the next step. I think people will understand why this is necessary.”

The IOC said in a statement that “this threat of a boycott only leads to further escalation of the situation, not only in sport, but also in the wider context. It is regretful that politicians are misusing athletes and sport as tools to achieve their political objectives.”

It added bluntly: “Why punish athletes from your country for the Russian government starting the war?”

Poland’s sports minister Kamil Bortniczuk said as many as 40 countries could jointly condemn Russian and Belarusian participation at Paris in a statement next week but that it could stop short of a boycott threat. He told state news agency PAP that the IOC was being “naive” and should reflect on its position.

Denmark wants a ban on Russian athletes “from all international sports as long as their attacks on Ukraine continue,” said Danish Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.

“We must not waver in relation to Russia. The government’s line is clear. Russia must be banned,” he said. “This also applies to Russian athletes who participate under a neutral flag. It is completely incomprehensible that there are apparently doubts about the line in the IOC.”

Asked by The Associated Press about the boycott threats and the IOC plan, Paris 2024 organizing committee head Tony Estanguet would not comment “about political decisions.”

“My job is to make sure that all athletes who want to participate will be offered the best conditions in terms of security, to offer them the chance to live their dream,” he said in Marseille.

Ukraine boycotted some sporting events last year rather than compete against Russians.

Huttsait said a boycott would be very tough, saying it was “very important for us that our flag is at the Olympic Games; it is very important for us that our athletes are on the podium. So that we show that our Ukraine was, is, and will be.”

Marta Fedina, 21, an Olympic bronze medalist in artistic swimming, said in Kyiv she was “ready for a boycott.”

“How will I explain to our defenders if I am even present on the same sports ground with these people,” she said, referring to Russian athletes. She noted her swimming pool in Kharkiv, where she was living when Moscow invaded, was ruined by the war.

Speakers at the Ukrainian Olympic Committee’s assembly meeting raised concerns about Moscow using Paris for propaganda and noted the close ties between some athletes and the Russian military.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday if athletes from the two countries compete, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states.” Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympics.

If the IOC’s proposal takes effect, Paris would be the fourth straight Olympics where Russian athletes have competed without the national flag or anthem. The Russian teams at the Winter Olympics in 2018 and 2022 and the Summer Olympics in 2021 were all caught up in the fallout from a series of doping cases.

The last time multiple countries boycotted an Olympics was in 1988, when North Korea and others refused to attend the Summer Games in South Korea. The North Korean team was a no-show at the Tokyo Games in 2021, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The IOC barred it from the following Winter Games in Beijing as a result, saying teams had a duty to attend every Olympics.

Although the IOC set the tone of the debate by publishing advice on finding a way to help Russia and Belarus compete, decisions must be made for the governing bodies of individual sports that organize events on the 32-sport Paris program.

Those organizations, many based in the IOC’s home of Lausanne, Switzerland, run their own qualifying and Olympic competitions and decide on eligibility criteria for athletes and teams.

The International Cycling Union signed on to the IOC’s plan ahead of its Olympic qualifying events to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as “neutrals.”

Track and field’s World Athletics and soccer’s FIFA were among most sports that excluded Russian athletes and teams within days of the start of the war. Tennis and cycling let many Russians and Belarusians continue competing as neutrals. Other governing bodies are more closely aligned with the IOC or traditionally have strong commercial and political ties to Russia.

One key meeting could be March 3 in Lausanne of the umbrella group of Summer Games sports, known as ASOIF. It is chaired by Francesco Ricci Bitti, a former IOC member when he led the International Tennis Federation, and includes World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.

ASOIF declined comment Friday, though noted this week “the importance of respecting the specificity of each federation and their particular qualification process” for Paris.

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Graham Dunbar in Geneva, Bishr El-Touni in Marseille, France, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed.

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

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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