Category Archives: Sports

Football’s World Cup goes dry

The mighty Budweiser, brewery horses and all, paid a lot to become an official sponsor of the forthcoming World Cup of Football (soccer for the uninitiated).

In return, Budweiser was allowed to set up kiosks in all of the eight stadia that would host individual matches.

Two days before kick-off, Budweiser got a kick where it hurts the most (their wallet, that is): organisers of the Qatar event have announced that alcohol sales to the public would be verboten.

It was bad enough that Budweiser had to promise in the original agreement that they would be indulging paying and imbibing fans in stalls around the stadia only in areas that aren’t too prominent (and can’t be seen worldwide or in the home country in television broadcasts).

Times are changing (and who knows whether we’re changing with them): the leading world football body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) have confirmed that fiery waters in any shape or form would be restricted to corporate hospitality areas at the eight venues. Match-goers will have to make do going dry.

Here’s what FIFA had to say in their official statement: “Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters. There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums. Host country authorities and FIFA will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans. The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.”

At least they kept the trade mark (™) sign intact.

Qatar is and has been a Muslim country for a long time. Muslims have held strong views on the consumption of fiery waters of all kinds. The most interesting part in this context would be only how come anyone could believe Budweiser (or any such business) would get away with prominent presence in venues filled with so many locals: football is quite popular in Qatar.

Such was the power of Qatari money, FIFA agreed to schedule the World Cup for November rather than the usual summer months: June, July and August are unbearably hot in Qatar. Playing high-level sports in open stadia would be dangerous for the athletes’ health. It would be a health risk even for the fans from elsewhere.

In fact, most of the negotiations involving Qatar getting to organise this event in the first place were quite contentious. FIFA swallowed hard to keep Qatar’s handling of immigrant workers as well as its harsh treatment of the LGBT community under wraps.

The decision limiting alcohol sales to fan zones and hotels was a compromise. Qatar opens the tournament with a match facing Ecuador and this major policy change, coming at the last possible moment, didn’t endear the event, or its organisers, or its host country to many of the potential visitors.

Some, such as the Football Supporters’ Association, representing World Cup participants’ England and Wales fans went so far as to object publicly: the U-turn represented a total lack of communication and clarity from organisers, they wrote undiplomatically in a statement of their own.

Nothing doing: the Quatari Royal family said they saw no reason to give the masses of the unwashed access to booze within the stadia, telling the organisers they should be dancing with joy that alcohol sales were permitted at all. Britain’s Sky News reported this in tones that would not indicate whether they were irreverent, angry or just simply bored.

Sponsor Budweiser weren’t altogether too happy, either. Their official Twitter account posted a wry message:Well, this is awkward…”

It disappeared shortly afterwards, without a word of public explanation.

Let’s play ball!

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Facts are no excuse in politically correct world

Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons, at the time of this writing still gainfully employed by the Postmedia company, has committed an unpardonable sin. He did what columnists all over the world are supposed to do. He was controversial, almost to the point of provocative.

He wrote to be read.

Simmons’s regular Sunday contribution to the world of entertainment (professional sports, that is) includes a section named Hear and There.

Simmons hinted that it’s not necessarily one’s skin colour (he avoided gender and every other hot issue of the day) that defines one’s success in whatever endeavour one decides to pursue.

To drive the point home, Simmons compared two careers: Akim Aliu’s and Wayne Simmonds’s. The two are professional hockey players, both of them are black, and each has enjoyed a different level of success.

By the numbers: taken 56th overall in the 2007 NHL draft, Aliu would end up playing just seven NHL games.

Skating for the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and now, the last two seasons, Toronto Maple Leafs, Simmonds has played significant minutes in 1,019 NHL games.

Aliu’s greatest achievement: he made coach Bill Peters persona non grata in North American hockey, getting him fired from a Calgary Flames head coaching job. Aliu accused Peters of racist behaviour. The sin had happened a decade before Aliu called Peters out.

Aliu, a Nigerian-born Canadian-Ukrainian former professional ice hockey player, last played for HC Litvínov in the Czech Extraliga (2019-2020). His professional career spanned AHL and ECHL teams in the Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organisations before a trade sent him to the Calgary Flames.

Aliu’s crowning achievement: encouraged by NHL’s (and Flames’) reaction to his accusations, he founded a group named Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA).

How dared he?

Simmons’s sin? The next 93 words: “No one wants to say this because of the politically correct police and all, but those who coached Akim Aliu must cringe every time they see him in a news report or a commercial talking about what’s wrong with hockey. Like he would know. By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was colour-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?”

That was it.

Having checked with several personal friends within management ranks of HC Litvínov, their replies – independent of one another – were unpleasantly simple and straightforward: we’ve wolfed down a snake on this one (a Czech idiom loosely translated as we’ve fallen for it).

Neither Simmonds nor Aliu were amused.

Simmonds took to Twitter to offer his reply (the quote below leaves all misspellings and unusual turns of phrase untouched):

@Simmonds17

Just a quick msg to the hockey world. I usually don’t have time for this but tonight I do! I really don’t appreciate what your trying to do (Steve Simmons) your article was asinine and in no way reflects the real plight that my self, Akim and other players of colour go through.

You Are Minimizing the pain and suffering and dismissing the actual fight that we as a ppl actually have to endure just to even be accepted in the game of hockey at a lower level nvm the professional ranks. DO NOT EVER use my name or any other player of colour’s name to try and make your point. We will no longer sit by quietly as our characters are assassinated Steve! This will only make us stronger and speak out against ppl of your nature! If you were trying to be cool or funny, you missed your mark. YOUVE BEEN WARNED!!! Ps this is me being nice!

Aliu, (@Dreamer_Aliu78) added his five cents’ worth under a headline saying that hate will never win:

Obviously being in this space there are times that people say negative things about you but you find a way to let it go. But this one got me good. This one got me at my core. … I’ve seen Steve talk negatively about me for some time now and the funny thing is I’ve never spoken to him or met him in my life … people like Steve are what’s wrong with society.

You’re a racist and you’re an arrogant, and you have zero credibility and respect from even your own peers in the media space and athletes alike. And if the Toronto Sun had any integrity whatsoever, you will never write another column again.

End of quote.

Last season’s Stanley Cup champion Nazem Kadri, now of the Calgary Flames, tried to play it somewhat safer, avoiding inflammatory language as much as he could. Kadri tried to build his point around the known rule that columnists write to be read, meaning, their copy has to be around the limits of the barely acceptable.

This is NOT to debate the quality of Simmons’s writing. Suffice it to say that Steve Simmons is the longest-serving member of the Toronto chapter of the Pro Hockey Writers’ Association. To add to his suffering, he has covered the Leafs since 1980.

Ugly head

This entire tropical storm the size of a hurricane inside a teapot is about identity politics.

This tool, used to divide humanity under the motto “Divide and rule,” isn’t new. After all, it even has a Latin name (Divide et impera, and it had existed even before Rome was built: according to historians, the motto started with Philip II of Macedon, who ruled his kingdom from 359 BC until his death in 336 BC.

It’s more interesting to note the hysteria in both Simmonds’s and Aliu’s outbursts: Simmonds bans Simmons from ever using his name (or that of any other player of un-white skin colour). Aliu demands that Toronto Sun fire Simmons on the spot. He’s got some experience in this respect, having achieved a similar goal with Bill Peters in 2019.

The only difference: Peters admitted his guilt, while Simmons expressed an opinion based on undisputable facts.

Yes, there are only a few black hockey players around, at all levels, not only in the penthouse named the NHL.

Has anyone asked whether there are enough black athletes to justify this discrepancy? What if these kids were more interested in baseball, basketball, football (any kind: North American and the rest of the world, a.k.a. soccer)? Or track-and-field, even?

And how about the percentage of white kids, all eager to earn their keep playing hockey, and most of them having to settle down as avid hockey fans, white privilege or not?

And how about the demand made by Aliu that Simmons be fired? Cancel culture or cancel culture?

Akim Aliu, now too old to play in a professional hockey league, should perhaps learn and earn a job more useful than releasing such amounts of hot air into the atmosphere, dividing people by their skin colour and not by their abilities.

Wayne Simmonds would (and should) spend his time much better trying to help his team make it beyond the first round of this season’s Stanley Cup, rather than making irresponsible statements.

In any case, the fact this story has ever erupted is a sign of the tragic state our society has found itself. Constant complaints about the fact that life isn’t a rose garden could be funny (to a degree) as a form of strange folklore. As it is, they are taken seriously, and the pattern is threatening. Gone is the era of “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The saying has been attributed (wrongly, it seems) to 18th century French philosopher François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire.

The attribution matters little, the content matters a lot.

What we’ve been witnessing is constant (and unforgivable) erosion of democratic rights and freedoms. Neither Akim Aliu nor Wayne Simmonds would have been able to accuse others of such (non-existent) heinous crimes if those rights and freedoms didn’t exist.

Democracy has a terrible time defending herself: in most cases, she would have to resort to methods that don’t meet her basic standards.

Should she? Yes, in fact, she has to, it says in this corner.

And, meanwhile, Steve Simmons should simply ignore his politically correct, woke and cancel-culture vulture-like attackers, and go on writing, pissing them all off while he’s at it.

Canadians play hockey in Russia, Ottawa isn’t pleased

Ritch Winter has made a very valid point: the Edmonton-based hockey player agent questioned Canadian government’s demand that Canadian hockey players currently playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) should quit and leave Russia (and Belarus).

The Canadian Press (CP) quoted Adrien Blanchard, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly as writing: “President (Vladimir) Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war on freedom, on democracy and on the rights of Ukrainians, and all people, to determine their own future.

“As Canadians, these are values we hold dear. Athletes who decide to play and associate with Russia and Belarus should explain their decisions to the public.”

Judging by the wording of the CP story, the news agency asked the government official for his take on the issue: he e-mailed his statement to the agency, and the news story fails to say why and how it happened.

To be fair, the CP did quote Winter, even though it was only midway through the story: “We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make those decisions. It’s just an individual decision related to an employment opportunity.

“Has every player that’s gone, push, tugged and pulled and wrestled with the decision? Yeah, absolutely.

“At the end of the day, they’re husbands and fathers who have responsibilities to their families. If you’re a young family with limited resources because you played mostly in the minors, there’s a desire to take care of your family.

“Sometimes that leads people to the oilfields in Kazakhstan and sometimes it leads them to the KHL.”

Four dozen Canadians are employed by KHL clubs this season, of which 44 ply their trade in Russia or Belarus, and the remaining four play for Kazakhstan clubs.

Winter has three clients playing for KHL clubs.

Breaking contracts?

Winter spoke as an experienced player agent, a person who represents his clients and is concerned about their well-being. He obviously is aware that should these players just get up and leave, they would be breaking their contracts. Being employed as a hockey player in a professional league in a country other than your own involves a bit of complicated paperwork, including some linked to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Should you break your valid contract for reasons your current employer finds unacceptable can cause such players all kinds of trouble, including a ban on playing anywhere else.

Not that the week-kneed IIHF would go that far: its current leadership is way too much politically correct to do that, but the risk is there.

Winter didn’t mention another angle, which is understandable: he limited his reaction to pure hockey matters.

The other angle is simple: the government of Canada are acting as if the country were at war with Russia.

Yes, NATO (led by the U.S.) is behind the bellicose rhetoric emanating from 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa (and from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.), but neither the alliance nor her member countries are officially at war with Russia.

That means that all that rhetoric aimed at Russia is nothing but hot air issued on behalf of the United States, whose former Secretary of State, the late Madeleine Albright, but it succinctly when she said that Russia has way too many raw materials, and that isn’t fair.

That would be the same Madeleine Albright who pushed then-President Bill Clinton into abusing NATO and bombing the former Yugoslavian republics into smithereens, neatly sidestepping the United Nations in the process.

Global Affairs Canada (Foreign Affairs is no longer good enough for the current megalomaniac high school substitute drama teacher) instructed Canadians to avoid travelling to Russia and Belarus twice, on the day of the Invasion into Ukraine (Feb. 24), and a few weeks later (March 5).

Naughty players?

The official view: “Our government has been very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” said spokesthingie Blanchard. “If they are in Russia or in Belarus, they should leave now. Our ability to provide consular services may become extremely limited.”

The CP asked nine Canadian hockey players who are currently working in the KHL, asking them what assurances they’d received from KHL officials and their teams about their personal safety. The agency was treated to silence.

Winter has an explanation, and it sounds not only logical, but also aware of true facts: “There were a number of players caught in the crosshairs last year when all of this happened. They stayed and didn’t see any risk.

“From what the players tell me, the environment isn’t changed from what it has (been) previously. Many of them have balanced that risk and determined that they would play there.”

Yes, there were players who turned down opportunities to play in the KHL this season, Winter explained: “Everybody has a different risk profile. I’ve had Canadian and American clients turn down massive amounts of money compared to what they’ll make here.”

While Russia’s laws differ from those respected in the West, an interesting initiative would keep Russian authorities from abusing Canadian players in the KHL (if they keep their noses clean): Russians are playing in the NHL, Winter points out, and that knowledge might convince Russian authorities that avoiding any unpleasantries might be the best course to take.

Czech government stick to their brown-nosing ways

The Czech government told the NHL to tell its member clubs not to include their Russian players on the forthcoming trip to their country.

The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators are supposed to open their seasons Friday, Oct. 7, in Prague’s O2 Arena, with a repeat encounter the very next day.

The Sharks have five players coming out of Russia on their roster, while the Predators have three.

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced they wrote to the NHL head office making this point loud and clear.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek released a statement making this point official.

“We can confirm that the Czech Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the NHL to point out that, at this moment, the Czech Republic or any other state in the (visa free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to the Russian players to enter our territory,” Smolek told Czech publications iDnes.cz and iSport.cz.

Former goalie Dominik Hašek, owner of two Stanley Cup rings and an Olympic gold medallist from Nagano 1998, has joined the Czech government. He also demands that Czech athletes under contract in Russian leagues don’t honour their deals and refuse to play in Russia.

An Associated Press (AP) news item quotes Hašek as tweeting earlier this year: “The NHL San Jose Sharks – Nashville Predators match should take place in Prague in October. If the NHL (given the situation) wants to allow any Russian player to play in this match, I will consider it an inexcusable act.”

Hašek expanded his thought by saying that he would work hard “to ensure that this match does not take place in our country.” He would meet with top Czech government officials to make his point of view known, Hašek added.

San Jose Sharks General Manager Mike Grier’s reaction was blunt and to the point: “We’re a team, so, if they say some guys can’t go over then, either we all go or no one goes. But I’m not anticipating any issues right now.”

In theory, if the Sharks don’t appear for their games, they might lose valuable points by forfeiting, should the Czech government remain stubborn.

“I don’t know how it would go as far as forfeits and things like that,” Grier said. “That’s something for the league to handle. But I’m a pretty firm believer (that) we’re a team here, we’re a group, and it’s not the players’ fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. So I don’t think they should be punished for it.

“We stand with them and we’re all together as one in here. If it comes to that and hopefully it doesn’t — and I’m not anticipating that it will – we’ll do things as a group.”

Sharks’ captain Logan Couture echoed his GM’s view: “My view is we’re a team in here. If we go over there, we want everyone on our team to be there. All the guys that are going to make the team are part of our team.”

Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets (four Russian players) and Colorado Avalanche (two Russians) are supposed to face off in a pair of 2022-23 regular-season games at Nokia Arena in Tampere, Finland, Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5.

Finnish authorities haven’t yet said a word about letting Russian NHL players in but, being candidates for NATO membership, one wonders.

In the case of the Czech government, here’s the main issue: even many of their own country’s citizens are angry about their leaders’ brown-nosing ways so far as both NATO and the European Union (EU) are concerned.

Throughout Czech history, many had issues with politicians who demanded the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and creating Czechoslovakia in 1918.

The country also offered very little resistance to the Nazi occupation (1939-1945), and during the communist era, her main slogan was “With the Soviets for ever, and no other way,” which they changed after the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989 into “With the Americans for ever, and no other way.”

Some claim that this ability to bow to superior power has helped the Czechs survive being surrounded by enemies throughout centuries. Considering that Poland and Hungary, next-door neighbours, have been in similar situations and never surrendered, this claim doesn’t hold much water.

And then it reaches such tragicomic scale as to make moronic bans on Russian-born NHL players coming to play hockey in their country.

Meanwhile, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told AP that he has “no concern” with Russian players entering the Czech Republic in two weeks. That, obviously, must have been before he read the Czech Foreign Ministry statement.

Of course, this kind of development won’t have any impact on issues that really matter.

But if it makes the Czechs ashamed of their government enough so as to kick them out, it would help.

Putin, Putin, la-la-la

The top authority of European football is upset that fans of Turkey’s Fenerbahce club dared chant Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name during their team’s home match against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv.

That particular Champions League qualifying match happened in Istanbul. Dynamo midfielder Vitaly Buyalsky scored to put the Ukrainians ahead. His celebrations included gestures and sounds that even the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) acknowledged looked and sounded as a well-calculated provocation.

Fenerbahce’s fans, known as one of the most volatile supporters’ groups in football (so-called association type, a.k.a. soccer) this side of British Isles expressed their disenchantment by singing Putin, Putin, la-la-la.

And that upset the powers-that-be.

“A UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector will conduct a disciplinary investigation regarding alleged misbehaviour of Fenerbahce supporters during the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, second leg match between Fenerbahce SK and FC Dynamo Kyiv played on 27 July 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey,” the UEFA announced with a seriousness deserving of more serious matters.

Indicating that the matter will receive UEFA’s most serious consideration, and that such consideration may take some time, the European football poohbahs concluded that whatever further information and decision on the matter there can become decided upon “will be made available in due course.”

The statement didn’t mention the chants specifically. It only said that Fenerbahce fans’ behaviour was unbecoming.

What now?

It’s going to be up to UEFA’s top dogs to mete the punishment they feel is proper, and the entire process may take some time. What if Fenerbahce do not like what the UEFA felt correct? Appeals galore, all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and who knows where else. After all, the Court’s main office sits in Lausanne and the UEFA headquarters can be found in Basel.

These two Swiss cities are just about 200 kilometres removed from one another. Travelling by car, using those splendid Swiss freeways, it’s a matter of less than two hours’ worth of a comfortable and safe drive.

While their potential punishment is unknown, an extreme outcome would be that Fenerbahce’s next opponents, Slovácko, would get a bye to the Europa League in their upcoming third-round qualifying tie for the competition on Thursday, August 4. The other option: the Turks may be forced to play the first leg at home against the Czech club behind closed doors.

Nobody has yet got an answer from 1. FC Slovácko which option they would prefer.

The Czech football club is based in Uherské Hradiště. They don’t take it lightly being called Czech, as the official UEFA literature does. Uherské Hradiště is a city in the Moravian region, and the Moravians claim that they not only have better wines than the Czechs, but also that the Apostles of the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius, first landed in Moravia and, in fact, never made it as far as the Czech lands.

And, remember, people in these regions takes such matters very seriously, as if they happened earlier today.

Here’s the issue: should 1. FC Slovácko get a bye into the next round, it’s fine and dandy, except: they will forego gate receipts for the Fenerbahce round.

The team, established in 1927 as SK Staré Město, became 1. FC Synot July 1, 2000 in a merger of the original club with FC Slovácká Slavia Uherské Hradiště. They have played in the Czech First League since 2009, winning the Czech Cup once, and making it to the finals on two more occasions.

The Městský fotbalový stadion at Uherské Hradiště sits 8,000 fans, with another 121 spots for standing room. Not the hugest of football stadia but still, losing gate receipts for what could be expected to be a sell-out could hurt the club.

What happened in Istanbul?

Dynamo midfielder Vitaly Buyalsky put the Ukrainian team ahead in the 57th minute.

He would celebrate, as UEFA described it in their discipline report, “ferociously” and, according to unconfirmed information, was supposed to have made a “provocative gesture” towards fans at the Ulker Stadium.

Everybody and their dog in the football world knows that only the British football hooligans are more devoted to their colours than the fans of Fenerbahce.

As it appeared on numerous social media outlets, that’s when most of the 45,000 fans who had gathered at the Ulker Stadium started chanting Putin’s name.

Shortly before Buyalsky’s opener, a Fenerbahce player had been sent off, and that didn’t improve host team fans’ mood much, either.

Tied at 1–1, the match went into overtime, with the Ukrainian side eventually winning it, 2-1.

Kyiv’s Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu who used to manage teams in Russia, told Turkish broadcasters after the game the chants were unacceptable: they were unsportsmanlike. He didn’t explain his view any further.

Russian athletes have been pariahs in international sports for quite some time. First, it was thanks to a doping scandal with tons of proof that Russian government were involved in the cheating scheme.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, her teams are currently banned from competing in international competitions after UEFA and FIFA followed an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation earlier this year.

The Russian city of St. Petersburg was also stripped of last season’s UEFA Champions League final. It was moved to Paris eventually.

Tying sports to politics isn’t the newest game in town. But it’s the most unsportsmanlike game in the world, no matter who plays it and why.

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