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Albania soccer federation fights fan’s extradition to Serbia

July 29, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s soccer federation is calling on Albanian authorities to stop the extradition to Serbia of a man who has claimed to have flown a drone carrying a nationalist banner over a stadium in Serbia, a display that prompted fan violence.

Ismail Morinaj was arrested in Croatia in June based on an arrest warrant from Serbia. A court in Dubrovnik agreed this week to extradite the 35-year-old Albanian to Belgrade. An Albanian Football Federation statement issued Saturday called on Albania’s government “to intervene within the legal context to stop extradition of Ismail Morinaj to Serbia.”

The federation assured Morinaj’s family it would keep fighting to prevent his extradition, saying it “is fully committed to exploiting all its institutional and diplomatic roads,” the statement said. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama has negotiated with Croatian authorities in the last two days “for the final solution of the process,” according to another statement from the federation.

Justice Minister Gazmend Bardhi also has formally asked Croatian authorities not to approve the Serbian request, arguing that “Albanian citizen Ismail Morina is endangered to suffer from politically motivated persecution or discrimination.”

A group of Albanian fans, Tifozet kuq e zi, (or Red and black fans, in English) has called for an evening rally in Albania’s capital, Tirana, to pressure the government to get involved. Morinaj, who is from the northeastern Kukes area but lives in Italy, has been a regular at the Albanian national team’s away matches.

His brother Xhevair complained to television station Report TV about the government’s lack of attention, saying Ismail’s life would be in danger in Serbia. “We call on the Albanian state to intervene and stop extradition to Serbia. We, as a family, would do something very radical which would surprise everyone,” he said without elaborating.

Violence interrupted an October 2014 European qualifying match between the Serbian and Albanian teams when a drone with an Albanian banner appeared over the pitch. The 0-0 game was suspended after Serbian fans injured some of the Albanian players who had tried rushing a Serbian player who pulled down the banner.

European soccer’s governing body ultimately awarded Albania the match victory, helping win the tiny western Balkan country a spot in the Euro 2016 finals, its first major tournament.

French president pushes Paris Olympic bid, vets ministers

May 16, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is building a new government he hopes will have more gender balance, fewer positions and be less subject to scandal as it carries out his plans to overhaul the country’s labor laws and politics.

The government will be formally presented on Wednesday. Macron’s office delayed the announcement, initially expected Tuesday, while authorities check the tax records and backgrounds of ministerial candidates for potential conflicts of interest.

Macron won the May 7 presidential runoff in part on promises to clean up the corruption and stagnation ascribed to traditional parties. He said he would require his ministers to sign a commitment to “integrity and morality.”

The 5-year term of his immediate predecessor, Socialist President Francois Hollande, was tarnished early on by financial scandals. The new government is expected to have an equal number of women and men and a smaller number of Cabinet posts than under Hollande.

It’s a delicate balancing act, as the centrist Macron tries to redesign French politics by borrowing ministers from left and right, and combining new talent with experienced heavyweights who can help him make his mark on Europe and world affairs.

The president named low-profile, center-right Edouard Philippe as prime minister on Monday. Others whose names are circulating are television personality and environmental activist Nicolas Hulot; Axelle Tessandier, who created a startup in San Francisco before joining Macron’s campaign; center-right European lawmaker Sylvie Goulard; and prominent centrist party leader Francois Bayrou.

Outgoing Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a Socialist, may end up remaining in his post to ensure continuity in French military operations against Islamic extremists in Syria, Iraq and Africa. The biggest scandal to taint Hollande’s administration concerned then-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac. After months of public denials and lies, Cahuzac acknowledged in 2013 holding illegal foreign bank accounts for two decades.

Cahuzac’s case prompted the appointment of a new national financial prosecutor to focus on complex cases of serious economic and financial crime and the enactment of a law requiring ministers and lawmakers to declare their financial assets.

In his second full day in office, Macron also hosted a delegation from the International Olympic Committee in the Elysee Palace, a symbolically important gesture of support for the French capital’s bid in its heated race against Los Angeles for the 2024 Games.

Macron pushed the Paris Olympic bid with a visiting IOC delegation. Macron said he would go to Lausanne, Switzerland, for a key IOC meeting in July and he may go to Lima, Peru, in September, where the committee makes its final decision.

“This discussion left no doubt about the fact that the Paris bid is enjoying extremely strong support from all public authorities,” Patrick Baumann, head of the IOC evaluation commission told reporters after the meeting.

Winning the games would be a big boost for France after years of fading global influence — and a boost for Macron as the untested 39-year-old president embarks on an effort to reinvigorate the French economy amid skepticism.

Meanwhile, criticism from Socialists and conservative Republicans met Macron’s nomination of Philippe as prime minister. The traditional parties fear being sidelined by Macron’s growing centrist party, Republic on the Move, in crucial parliamentary elections next month.

Macron “wants to create a majority by exploding the right as he exploded the left,” senior Republicans lawmaker Bernard Accoyer told France-2 TV station Tuesday. The new government may only serve for a few weeks. If Macron’s party doesn’t win a majority in the June 11 and 18 elections, he might have to form a coalition and adjust the makeup of the government. He also could end up with a government led by an opposition party.

Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.

Peru organizes 2019 Pan Am Games in wake of deadly flooding

May 21, 2017

Construction for the 2019 Pan American Games is way behind schedule. But that’s a secondary problem. The quadrennial event in Lima, Peru, has no sponsors, no marketing and is relying on a $1.2 billion budget financed by the national government.

“This is the biggest challenge I have today — the sponsors,” Neven Ilic, the president of the Pan American Sports Organization, told The Associated Press. “Now we have to go to the market to find sponsors.”

Peru is organizing the largest sports event in its history — in the wake of the worst flooding in recent memory. Flooding earlier this year in the north of the country, and in Lima, killed more than 100 and displaced thousands. President Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki has put reconstruction costs at up to $9 billion, raising questions about the propriety of big spending on a two-week sports event.

Supporters like Kuczysnki say the country can afford both, while critics point out that last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro generated as much bad news as good. Nine months after the games ended, Rio organizers still owe creditors about $30 million. Many venues are abandoned, searching for events and money for maintenance.

“Peru has accepted being the host of the Pan American Games,” Kuczysnki told reporters. “It would be a real tragedy not to keep our pledge and dedicate all the needed resources to the reconstruction, and to the Pan American Games.”

Elected last month as president of the regional sports body PASO, Ilic has been lobbying in Lima for several weeks to get everyone behind the project. Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda said the games should be cancelled when the floods hit in March. Since then, he’s said they should go ahead.

“We know everything about all the problems they have, but today I think they are ready,” said Ilic, a Chilean and grandson of Croatian immigrants. He termed the construction schedule “tight, very short” and said all venue and related construction needed to start in September.

The biggest project is an athletes’ village composed of seven 20-story towers. A metro line is also just 15 percent completed. The country’s comptroller said last month that 40 percent should be done at this stage.

Ilic said he’ll look to some of the IOC’s big sponsors like Coca-Cola as potential clients. “First, we have to have a good proposal to present,” he said. Seeking expertise, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with Britain to line up British companies to help deliver security, construction, and event management.

Ilic has promised “no white elephants.” “We have asked them to please build (venues) in accordance with your reality, your culture,” Ilic said. “They don’t have big stadiums, big construction.” The continental championships open July 26, 2019, and will attract 7,000 athletes from Alaska to Argentina. For many it’s a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The last two Pan Am Games were in Toronto in 2015, and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. Rio hosted the 2007 edition, which it used to lobby for the Olympics. Rolando Arellano, the president of Lima-based Arellano Marketing, said most Peruvians were unaware the games were coming, and few “know what that means.”

He said the commitment to the Pan Am Games has put the government in a bind. “If the government spends on this, they can be seen as insensitive to other problems,” Arellano told AP. “But if they don’t, they will lose their image. Either way, they are not in a very comfortable position.”

The Peruvian capital is also host in September to the International Olympic Committee, which will meet to pick either Paris or Los Angeles as the venue for the 2024 Olympics. There was also pressure to cancel that event.

These meetings take place with scandal hovering over Peru’s national Olympic committee. Jose Quinones was disqualified last year by a Peruvian government body as president of the local Olympic committee with reports suggesting he misappropriated $3.3 million. Peru is to elect a new president in June.

Fransicso Boza, the secretary general of the Peruvian Olympic Committee, is also being investigated by a prosecutor on corruption charges. He was Peru’s flagbearer in the Rio Olympics and an Olympic silver medalist in shooting in the 1984 Olympics.

“Peru has seen a lot of progress in the last 15 years, so we must show off our development,” Arellano said. “This puts Lima and Peru in the international news. That could be a big win. Of course, you are not sure you are going to gain only goodwill.”

Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima contributed to this report.

With Macron on board, Paris 2024 bid is ‘ready right now’

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Paris bid leaders want to capitalize on the sense of optimism surrounding new President Emmanuel Macron to beat Los Angeles and secure the Olympic Games in 2024 , not 2028. With the IOC currently assessing a proposal to award the next two Olympics — one to each city — Paris officials insist the French capital city is the right choice for 2024.

The 39-year-old Macron, France’s youngest-ever president, officially took office on Sunday as the IOC evaluation commission started a three-day visit to Paris. “Our team has a new member, the new President of France, Emmanuel Macron,” bid leader Tony Estanguet said on Sunday. “He’s been a fantastic supporter of our bid from the beginning. He will be with us all the way to Lima and hopefully beyond.”

Los Angeles and Paris are the only two bidders left for the 2024 Games, which will be awarded in September at a meeting of Olympic leaders in Peru. The race began with five cities, but Rome, Hamburg, Germany, and Budapest, Hungary, all pulled out.

The IOC has four vice presidents looking into the prospect of awarding the 2024 and 2028 Games at the same time in September. “We have one goal during these few days: to convince you that Paris is the right city, with the right vision, at the right moment,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said. “The right city with world-class venues and accommodation, and the best public transport in the world, ready right now.”

International Olympic Committee members were in Los Angeles earlier this week to meet with the U.S. bid leaders and inspect their planned venues. While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appeared at least willing to consider hosting the 2028 Olympics if the city isn’t awarded its first choice of 2024, Hidalgo said Paris is set for the earlier edition.

“With financial and political stability and support, we are ready right now,” Hidalgo said. “At the right moment, as the no risk option.” The French government has pledged one billion euros ($1.1 billion) of support for the Paris bid and Macron is expected to confirm that amount. If Paris is awarded the 2024 Games, the infrastructure budget is expected to total 3 billion euros, with operational costs of 3.2 billion euros.

Paris also plans to underline the compactness of its plans to make the difference. According to the bid dossier, 84 percent of the athletes will be able to reach their competition venues in less than 25 minutes, and more than 70 percent of the proposed venues are existing facilities, with a further 25 percent relying on temporary structures.

Paris, which last staged the Olympics in 1924, failed in bids for the 1992, 2008, and 2012 Games. With the pro-business and pro-EU Macron, Paris bid leaders have a strong supporter. The new president has already thrown his weight behind Paris’ bid, telling IOC President Thomas Bach over the phone of its “expected benefits for all French people.”

Macron won’t attend Sunday’s night gala dinner with IOC members in Paris but is expected to meet with the evaluation commission on Tuesday before they leave. IOC members started their visit with discussions on Paris’ proposals that will be followed by venue visits on Monday and further meetings on the final day.

Voters reject 2026 Olympic bid for St. Moritz, Davos

February 12, 2017

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (AP) — Voters in the Swiss Alps have rejected a second Olympic hosting bid planned for upscale mountain resorts St. Moritz and Davos. The canton (state) of Graubuenden says a referendum on financing a candidacy for the 2026 Winter Games was rejected by 60.1 percent of voters.

In a tighter vote in 2013, the region refused to support a 2022 Winter Games bid. That Swiss project was the likely favorite in a contest won by Beijing. Switzerland now has a second option centered on the town of Sion, which could involve the IOC’s home city, Lausanne.

The Swiss Olympic board meets next month to decide on formally bidding in the 2026 contest. The IOC chooses a host in 2019. Sunday’s ballot was conducted as St. Moritz hosts the two-week ski world championships.

Brazilian soccer great Carlos Alberto Torres dies

October 25, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of Brazil’s World Cup-winning team in 1970 and scorer of one of the sport’s most memorable goals, died on Tuesday. He was 72 and died of after a heart attack at his home in Rio de Janeiro.

A statement on Carlos Alberto’s Facebook page confirmed the death. “It is in deep sorrow that we inform that this Tuesday morning our eternal captain Carlos Alberto Torres passed away in Rio de Janeiro,” the statement said.

Brazil’s football confederation CBF said that his coffin will be placed at its headquarters in Rio on Tuesday evening, enabling the public to visit and pay their respects, and that a funeral service may be held there. He will be buried on Wednesday.

In a statement, the CBF said “Carlos Alberto Torres leaves an enormous legacy of achievements and lots of hard work to support our football.” Last month, his twin brother Carlos Roberto died. One of the best defenders of his generation, Carlos Alberto was innovative in playing box-to-box soccer. That style of play allowed him to score his famous goal at the 1970 World Cup, blasting in a pass from Pele in the 4-1 win against Italy in the final.

That goal, scored after a touch by almost every Brazilian on the pitch , is seen as the pinnacle of a team that was so dominant that it made their yellow shirts into a global brand. Pele, one of Carlos Alberto’s closest friends, said they had a “winning partnership” as teammates and remained close even after they retired. “I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend and brother,” the three-time World Cup winner said in a statement.

At the end of that 1970 final, the 25-year-old Carlos Alberto became the last captain to lift the Jules Rimet trophy — the first three-time World Cup winners earned the right to keep it. The trophy that he famously kissed before lifting as a champion was later destroyed by thieves.

After those glorious days in Mexico, Brazil won two more World Cups in much less impressive fashion. This made Carlos Alberto one of the biggest advocates among his countrymen of a return to an attacking style of football.

For many Brazilians, he was just “The Captain” — even to his friends and family. He made 53 appearances for Brazil. “He was more than a leader, he was an innovative player. That is why he is our eternal captain,” said Carlos Alberto Parreira, a physical therapist on that 1970 team and later the coach when Brazil won the 1994 World Cup.

Former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer, writing on social media, said Carlos Alberto “was like a brother” to him. Beckenbauer played alongside the Brazilian in the United States at the New York Cosmos.

Former Argentina captain Diego Maradona, among many others, also expressed his condolences. Carlos Alberto’s club career in Brazil was primarily with Santos, but he later played for the Cosmos and briefly for the California Surf.

His friendship with Pele was built around their years at Santos. He also played for Rio de Janeiro clubs Fluminense, Botafogo and Flamengo. He retired in 1982. All of those clubs expressed condolences to his family and fans.

His coaching career was not as impressive, but Carlos Alberto still won a Brazilian championship with Flamengo in 1983. The former footballer also had a brief appearance as a city councilor in Rio from 1989 to 1993.

Carlos Alberto was working as a soccer commentator for sports channel SporTV and was on the air on Sunday covering a match.

Stephen Wade in Rio de Janeiro also contributed to this report.

Belorussian capital Minsk awarded 2019 European Games

October 21, 2016

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The capital of Belarus was chosen Friday to host the 2019 European Games, ending more than a year of uncertainty after the previous host pulled out. The European Olympic Committee’s general assembly approved the choice of Minsk, which was the only candidate to stage the second edition of the multi-sport event.

The motion passed easily, despite calls led by the Danish Olympic Committee to postpone the decision, arguing there was a lack of clarity over financing. “Belarus is not a superpower but we pay a lot of attention to sports,” President Alexander Lukashenko told the assembly. “You can count on Belarus.”

Lukashenko also urged more events from the European Games to be made qualifiers for the Olympics in order to attract more top athletes and fans after some leading competitors opted to skip the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, last year.

Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is likely to face criticism over its human rights record. The country is also currently in recession, raising concerns over the cost of hosting the games. Belorussian sports have also been dogged by doping cases.

The 2019 European Games were originally scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, which pulled out last year citing financial reasons. Russia was the EOC’s preferred backup choice, but showed little interest even before the International Olympic Committee said it was not an appropriate host because of doping scandals.

Last year’s games in Baku were hounded by controversies over human rights and lavish spending. Launched as an equivalent to long-established continental events, such as the Asian Games and Pan American Games, the European Games cost several billion dollars, with many new venues built. The opening ceremony in Baku alone had a price tag of $95 million, Azerbaijan’s sports minister said at the time.

Minsk would likely need to spend far less to host the games, having built or refurbished many sports venues in recent years. The Belorussian capital hosted the world track cycling championships in 2013 and world ice hockey championships a year later.

Previously, Belarus had said it would only host the games on the condition it received financial support, a question which was not resolved Friday by the EOC. “Money is the main issue here. The second European Games will require huge investments,” Belarus Olympic Committee deputy president Maxim Ryzhenkov said Wednesday. “Belarus invites the International Olympic Committee and EOC to assume a part of the expenses.”

Belarus has retained much of the economic and political structure from Soviet times, and Lukashenko has regularly been criticized by human rights groups over jailed political opponents and the country’s use of the death penalty.

The country also has a record of doping in ice hockey, weightlifting and track and field. The head of the national track federation served a doping ban during his career as an athlete. The Minsk assembly took place without EOC president Patrick Hickey, who is unable to leave Brazil since he was arrested in August during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on ticket scalping charges.

Lukashenko said there was “no proof” Hickey had done anything wrong, while acting EOC president Janez Kocijancic said he was concerned for Hickey’s health. “His health is deteriorating. He has problems with the heart. The surgeons and doctors suggest that he should be treated in Ireland,” Kocijancic said. “Patrick Hickey deserves much better treatment, he deserves the opportunity to prove his innocence and he must be returned home to improve his health.”

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