Wimbledon stripped of ranking points due to Russian/Belarussian ban

Ciaran O’Mahony

Tennis’ governing bodies have stripped Wimbledon of its tour ranking points, following the All England Club’s (AEC) decision to ban Russian and Belarussian players from this year’s championship.

Players will no longer be able to earn or defend ranking points at Wimbledon, which could effect their overall position on the tour.

The ATP and the WTA released statements describing Wimbledon’s Russian/Belarussian ban as a breach of their rankings agreements, and confirming their penalisation of the tournament.

“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle, which is clearly embodied in the WTA rules, the Grand Slam rules, and the agreement the WTA has with the Grand Slams,” said the WTA in a statement.

The ATP said Wimbledon’s decision undermines “the integrity of the ATP Ranking system” and “the ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination.”

“Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022,” they said.

The AEC has expressed “deep disappointment” with these measures, but re-affirmed its stance on the matter.

“Given the position taken by the UK Government to limit Russia’s global influence, which removed automatic entry by ranking, and the widespread response of Government, industry, sport and creative institutions, we remain of the view that we have made the only viable decision for Wimbledon as a globally renowned sporting event and British institution, and we stand by the decision we have made.”

The British Government had previously expressed concern that a Russian victory at Wimbledon could become a powerful propaganda tool during the country’s illegal occupation of Ukraine.

World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, would have been among the favourites at Wimbledon, if not for the ban. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images.

However, the ATP noted that there were no government mandates in place, and the participation of Russian and Belarussian players, remained at the AEC’s discretion.

“We greatly value our long-standing relationships with Wimbledon and the LTA and do not underestimate the difficult decisions faced in responding to recent UK Government guidance. However, we note that this was informal guidance, not a mandate, which offered an alternative option that would have left the decision in the hands of individual players competing as neutral athletes through a signed declaration.”

While the ATP and WTA’s decision reverberates around the world, players of all nationalities have been permitted to compete in the French Open, which starts on Sunday.

Wimbledon bans Russian and Belarussian players from 2022 championships

Ciaran O’Mahony

The All England Club (AEC) has officially banned Russian and Belarussian tennis players from competing in the 2022 Wimbledon Championships.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the AEC has described the ban as a “sad”, but necessary stand against the country’s “illegal actions” abroad.

The participation of the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Victoria Azarenka, has been in doubt ever since UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston stated that they would need to provide “assurances that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin”, before a House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee in March.

World No. 2 Medvedev, was one of the favourites to win the Championships. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images.

The AEC has now gone a step further, banning them outright in a bid to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible,” as outlined in a statement released yesterday.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with the Championships,” it said.

“It is therefore our intention, with deep regret, to decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022.”

Men’s Tennis’ Governing Body, the ATP, has condemned the decision, describing it as discrimination that will set a harmful precedent.

“We believe that today’s unilateral decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to exclude players from Russia and Belarus from this year’s British grass-court swing is unfair and has the potential to set a damaging precedent for the game,” the ATP said.

“Discrimination based on nationality also constitutes a violation of our agreement with Wimbledon that states that player entry is based solely on ATP rankings.”

The ATP has indicated that it is exploring any potential means of overturning the ban.

“Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our board and member councils.”

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has also stated that it is “very disappointed in today’s announcement by the AELTC and the LTA to ban individual athletes who are from Russia and Belarus from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events.

“A fundamental principal of the WTA is that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination. That principle is expressly set forth in our rules and has been agreed to by both AELTC and LTA. Prohibitions against discrimination are also clearly expressed in their own rules and the Grand Slam rules,” says the WTA.

“The WTA has consistently stated, individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing due to where they are from, or the decisions made by the governments of their countries. Discrimination, and the decision to focus such discrimination against athletes competing on their own as individuals, is neither fair nor justified.”

The Russian/Belarussian ban has drawn significant criticism on social media, with Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova and the Belarussian Tennis Federation (BTF), also criticising the AEC’s actions.

The BTF, in particular, is said to be aggressively pursuing international legal action to overturn the ban.

“Such destructive actions in no way contribute to the resolution of conflicts, but only incite hatred and intolerance on a national basis,” the BTF said in a statement.

“Throughout the history of tennis, armed conflicts have occurred in the world – in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yugoslavia and other countries – but never until now have tournament organisers suspended athletes from the United States, Great Britain and other countries.

“Illegal decisions of international tennis organisations in relation to our athletes undermine the reputation of these organisations.”

Despite the criticism and potential legal ramifications, Chairman of the All England Club, Ian Hewitt, said “we recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime.

“We have very carefully considered the alternative measures that might be taken within the UK Government guidance but, given the high profile environment of The Championships, the importance of not allowing sport to be used to promote the Russian regime and our broader concerns for public and player (including family) safety, we do not believe it is viable to proceed on any other basis at The Championships.”

While they will not be able to compete at Tennis’ biggest event, Russian and Belarussian players will still be permitted to compete at both ATP and WTA events, under a neutral flag, throughout the year.

Power Rankings: Greatest MMA fighters with a Taekwondo base

Ciaran O’Mahony

Taekwondo has shaped some of MMA’s greatest champions and truly iconic moments.

Every fan loves a head-kick KO, but few realise how many of them have been delivered by fighters with a black belt in the Korean Martial Art.

This isn’t surprising given that MMA analysts continue to underrate, and even ignore the discipline, fixating on the skills of Wrestling, Kickboxing and Muay Thai.

Few, if any broadcasters, have highlighted the advantages that Taekwondo’s dynamic footwork and aerial kicks can provide inside the octagon.

Nevertheless, some of the sharpest and deadliest strikers in MMA history were forged in Taekwondo classes.

Below is a list of The Jaded Newsman’s five greatest MMA fighters who fit this description.

5. Benson Henderson

A highly decorated UFC and WEC champion, Henderson’s mother kick-started his fighting career at the age of 9, when she took him to Taekwondo classes. He obtained a black belt, before adding further skills to his game and defeating the likes of Frankie Edgar, Glibert Melendez, Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.

4. Rose Namajunas

Former UFC Strawweight Champion, Rose Namajunas, started Taekwondo at the age of five, gaining her black belt by the age of nine. Her stunning head-kick KO of then-champion, Weili Zhang, was a brilliant demonstration of her traditional martial arts background.

3. Valentina Shevchenko

Arguably on her way to becoming the greatest women’s fighter of all time, Shevchenko’s combat sports journey also began in a Taekwondo school at the age of five. She became a black belt, before perfecting her skills in Muay Thai and Kickboxing – disciplines in which she obtained multiple world titles. “The Bullet” is the reigning UFC Flyweight champion and looks set to dominate the division for years to come. If this KO doesn’t scream Taekwondo to you – nothing will!

2. Anthony Pettis

Another fighter who started Taekwondo at – you guessed it – the age of five. Pettis held a 3rd-degree black belt by time he was 18, before adding a BJJ black belt to his arsenal. One of the Great Lightweights of his era and a UFC and WEC Champion, Pettis is perhaps best known for his “Showtime Kick” on Benson Henderson. Grab your popcorn and check it out below.

1. Anderson Silva

Widely considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest fighter of all time, Mr Silva needs no introduction. He holds the record for the most finishes in UFC title fights and in the history of the UFC Middlweight division. His 16-fight winning streak is one of the most dominant runs in MMA history.

Honourable Mentions:

Yair Rodriguez

Rodriguez’s flashy style and ability to spring unique kicking attacks from almost any angle, have made him a huge fan favourite. The Taekwondo black belt recently came agonisingly close to defeating former UFC champion, Max Holloway, in a “fight of the year” contender. Many believe “El Pantera” has the potential to become champion himself one day.

Edson Barboza

In January 2012, Edson Barboza sent Terry Etim into orbit with perhaps the most vicious head-kick UFC fans had ever seen. Many believe that thunderous wheel kick remains unmatched. Although Barboza never quite reached the pinnacle of the sport, he has been a top contender for years, and people know they’re in for a kicking masterclass whenever he fights.

Ireland’s 15 greatest athletes (we think!)

Ciaran O’Mahony

Ireland may be a small country, but it has punched well above its weight when it comes to sporting achievements on the world stage.

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, The Jaded Newsman is tipping its hat to some of the greatest athletes produced on the Emerald Isle. This list is sure to spark debate and I must admit, it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to 15 names.

Before any GAA fans come banging on my door, I should mention that I have only included athletes that have competed in international sports. As the furthest thing from a GAA expert, I wasn’t able to judge how the likes of Colm Cooper and Henry Shefflin stack up against the rest of the field.

With that said, let’s dive into the list.

15. Derval O’Rourke (Runner)

One of three track and field athletes on this list (all from County Cork), Derval O’Rourke brings a World Championship in hurdles to the table. She shocked the world in Moscow (2006), clocking a PB and winning the 60m hurdles at the World Indoor Athletics Championships. Although she was unable to recapture the same form, O’Rourke also picked up numerous medals at the European Championships in both the 60m and 100m hurdles.

14. Pat O’Callaghan (Hammer Thrower)

His name may not be familiar to many, but it would be absurd to keep a two-time Olympic Gold medallist off this list. O’Callaghan and his two brothers paid their own travel fares to compete in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. It proved to be money well spent as Pat won Gold in the Hammer Throw. His medal presentation was the first time that the Irish tricolour was raised at an Olympic Games. O’Callaghan defended his title in 1932, firmly sealing his place in Irish sporting history.

Photo: Sean Sexton/Getty Images

13. Carl Frampton (Boxer)

It was tough to split Frampton and his former mentor (now turned enemy) Barry McGuigan, but I’m giving “the jackal” the nod. Frampton was a two-weight world champion in the highly competitive Super-Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions. He gained his first world title by easily dispatching Kiko Martinez – the current IBF Featherweight champion – twice. He later defeated his arch-rival and WBA Super-Bantamweight champion, Scott Quigg, before moving up to Featherweight and upsetting the highly rated Leo Santa Cruz.

12. Padraig Harrington (Golfer)

The epitome of an athlete who performed at his best on the biggest stage. Harrington is a three-time major winner, with two British Opens and one PGA Championship to his name. He won all three between 2007-2008, earning PGA Player of the Year and PGA Tour Player of the Year honours. It’s safe to say that at his peak, the Dubliner was on top of the golfing world.

11. Sonia O’Sullivan (Runner)

Undoubtedly one of Ireland’s greatest sportswomen, Sonia O’Sullivan is an incredibly decorated runner. The Cork woman was definitely at her strongest in the 5000m and 2000m races. She set a world record in the 2000m in 1994, which stood until 2017. In the 5000m, O’Sullivan won Gold at the World Championships in 1995 and Silver at the Olympic Games in 2000. She has plenty more medals in her cabinet, but it’s safe to say that the aforementioned achievements alone, have made her an Irish sporting legend.

10. Conor McGregor (MMA Fighter)

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that “The Notorious” set the UFC alight during an incredible three year stretch. His legendary featherweight run included dominant victories over huge names such as Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier and Chad Mendes. But it’s perhaps that viral 13-second KO of the greatest Featherweight of all time, Jose Aldo, for which he is best known. No one could quite believe that the Brazilian’s 10 years of dominance were undone in the same amount of time it takes us to unlock our phones. A masterful performance against Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, silenced any remaining doubters, making McGregor the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion.

9. Liam Brady (Footballer)

One of the greatest playmakers of his generation, Liam Brady is a certified Arsenal legend. Brady had everything you wanted in a footballer – silky skills, vision, strength, and an eye for goal. He was a dominant force in the Premier League during the 1970s, picking up the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in 1978-79, and appearing in the Team of the Season several times. He moved to the mighty Juventus in 1980, winning the Serie A in 1980-81 and 1981-82, before further successful spells at Sampdoria and Inter Milan.

8. Brian O’Driscoll (Rugby Player)

There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe this man’s effortless talent. O’Driscoll was a player who didn’t just do the impossible, but made it look easy. BOD is Ireland’s record cap-holder, a Grand Slam winner, and for many years, was one of the best players in the world. For club, he won three Heineken Cups and three RaboDirect Pro12s. For country, he scored 26 tries in the Six Nations and was shortlisted for the IRB World Player of the Year – three times!

7. Jimmy McLarnin (Boxer)

Contrary to popular belief, Jimmy McLarnin (not Sugar Ray Robinson) was the first boxer to ever be called the best “pound for pound” fighter in the world. “Baby Face” had thunderous power in both hands, which helped him to floor some of the best fighters of his generation. Throughout his career, McLarnin faced World Champions from seven different weight classes, famously defeating five reigning champions in non-title bouts (as well as many future world champions). He finally captured a World Title of his own in 1933, with a vicious first round knockout of Welterweight Champion Young Corbett III. McLarnin would lose and regain the title in a legendary trilogy with the great Barney Ross. The pair contested three razor-close 15-round bouts in one year, with Ross winning the decider in front of 55,000 people at the Polo Grounds. Across 77 professional fights, McLarnin defeated 13 Boxing Hall of Famers.

6. Katie Taylor (Boxer)

The Queen of Irish sport, Katie Taylor is still champion of the world, and it would hardly be surprising if she topped this list in a few years’ time. At 35 years of age, she has already won everything there is to win in Boxing. As an amateur, she won 5 world championship Gold medals (and one bronze), 6 European Championship Golds, and an Olympic Gold. As a pro, she is currently a two-weight world champion and the Undisputed Lightweight Champion of the world.

5. Rory McIlroy (Golfer)

Another sports star who’s not done yet – and we’re hoping he can add some more majors to his resume. Rory McIlroy held Golf’s No. 1 ranking for 106 weeks. Between 2011-2014, he won two PGA Championships, a US Open and a British Open. Throughout his career, he has scooped the following accolades on multiple occasions: PGA Tour Leading Money Winner, PGA Player of the Year, PGA Tour Player of the Year, European Tour Golfer of the Year. Enough said.

4. Stephen Roche (Cyclist)

If not for injuries, Stephen Roche may well have gone down as the greatest cyclist of all time. However, despite persistent knee problems, he is still considered an all-time great. Most professional cyclists hope to win one of the following races throughout the course of their career – the Tour De France, Giro D’Italia and the Road Cycling World Championship. If they’re lucky, they might even win a couple of them. Roche won all three of these races in one year. He is one of only two men to achieve this extraordinary “Triple Crown” and no one has done it since. While he clocked up 58 professional victories overall, and even added a World Championship Bronze medal to his list of accolades, his knee injuries severely shortened his prime.

3. Sean Kelly (Cyclist)

Stephen Roche’s achievements are hard to top, but his former teammate Sean Kelly, finds himself higher on the list due to his sustained dominance. Kelly is widely considered one of the greatest road cyclists ever. Arguably the best sprinter and classics rider of his generation, he won 9 monuments classics and 196 professional races. This included seven consecutive Paris-Nice victories and the 1988 Vuelta a Espana. Kelly won the coveted Green Jersey at the Tour de France four times as well as two Bronze medals at the Road Cycling World Championships. He was also the first cyclist to capture the No. 1 ranking – a position he held for five years.

2. Roy Keane (Footballer)

The man, the myth, the legend. Manchester United’s (and quite possibly the English Premier League’s) greatest captain drove the club to incredible heights for 12 years. Keane is best known as a tough-tackling midfield general, but he was also incredibly skilled. Blessed with pace and an excellent engine, his passing was top class and his finishing was extremely underrated. Ultimately, Keane’s best attribute was his ability to control a game and set the tempo. In 2000, he was recognised as the best player in the Premier League, winning FWA Footballer of the Year and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. For United, he won 7 Premier Leagues, 4 FA Cups and the Champions League. Keane is also consistently selected in Premier League Teams of the Decade and Teams of the Century by football experts far and wide.

1. George Best (Footballer)

Perhaps the most talented footballer that ever lived, George Best’s story is one of greatness and sadness, in equal measure. In 1961, Manchester United Manager Matt Busby received a telegram from his scout in Northern Ireland, Bob Bishop. It contained just eight memorable words.

“I think I have found you a genius.”

Bishop was watching a 15 year old George Best, who was immediately snapped up. His prediction was proven right as Best carried United to the top of European Football just a few years later. During that period, Best became football’s first true superstar. A player so famous that he transcended the sport and became a pop icon. His silky skills dazzled football fans, while his good-looks and exploits off the pitch, made him a prime target for the tabloids. Who can forget this famous quote:

“If you’d given me the choice of going out and beating four men and smashing a goal in from 30 yards against Liverpool, or going to bed with Miss World, it would have been a difficult choice. Luckily, I had both.”

Thrown into the spotlight at just 17 years of age, Best battled an alcohol addiction that would curtail his career before he’d even reached his mid-20s. It was an addiction that dogged him for the rest of his life.

Nevertheless, his astonishing highlight reels live on and football experts agree that he was one of the greatest players ever. Best spearheaded Manchester United’s European Cup triumph in 1968, winning the coveted Ballon d’Or that season. He also won 2 First-Division titles with United and was the club’s top scorer for 5 consecutive seasons – all whilst battling serious personal demons. He came 5th in the Fifa Player of the (20th) Century vote and 8th in World Soccer’s Greatest Players of the 20th Century list.

But the honour Best cherished the most, was Pele’s confirmation that he was the best player in the world. “George Best until today, is a footballer without comparison and his technical skills will never be forgotten,” said the Brazilian.

In response, Best said “Pelé called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.”

We all salute you George. Rest in peace.

Wood retains belt with devastating KO of Conlan

Ciaran O’Mahony

Michael Conlan was less than two minutes from glory. The Irishman’s silky skills had confounded Leigh Wood for eleven rounds, putting him well ahead on the judges’ scorecards.

The situation was clear. Wood, the WBA featherweight champion, needed a knockout in the final round of the fight, while Conlan only needed to stay on his feet to achieve a lifelong dream.

But Boxing is a cruel sport and as the cliche goes, one punch can change everything.

Not only did Conlan fail to stay on his feet, he failed to stay in the ring, as the Champion delivered a savage right hook, when he needed it most.

Wood sent Conlan through the ropes, delivering a dramatic ending to what was surely the fight of the year – so far.

Michael Conlan slumps through the ropes as Leigh Wood completes a dramatic comeback victory. Photo: Zach Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.

Conlan dominated the fight early, knocking Wood down in the 1st round, and almost finishing him.

A well-disguised left hook found the Englishman’s jaw and put him flat on his back. In the 2nd round, he ate similar left hooks over and over again. He was dazed, he was wobbly, he looked shot.

It took Wood several rounds to recover from that early damage, eventually findings his legs down the stretch.

By then, he was well behind on the cards and his trainer, Ben Davison, let him know all about it.

A dazed Wood rises from the canvas in Round one. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.

Conlan had been cleaner, faster and calmer. He made all the right choices, pressing the action and throwing intelligent combinations at the correct moments, and stepping out of range when his heavy-handed nemesis looked threatening.

It was the Olympic Bronze medallist’s fight to lose.

Conlan’s career had been carefully managed up to this point. Despite his ready-made Irish fanbase and amateur credentials, his team avoided rushing him into a world title fight.

Some of the Belfast man’s previous outings left experts questioning if he really had the ability to reach the very top of the professional ranks.

Not tonight, it seemed. They were preparing to eat their words as Conlan gave a gritty world champion a lesson. That is, until Conlan himself was given the most painful lesson of all.

In the 5th and 6th rounds, Wood upped the ante, attacking Conlan with quick flurries, rather than loading up with singular attacks.

Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

The fight was becoming more competitive, but Conlan was still taking the rounds with cleaner and sharper punches.

In the 8th, Wood was hurt again with heavy shots, but he wore them well, continuing to pour on the pressure.

That pressure began to tell in the 10th, when he pinned Conlan to the ropes and began to drain him with aggressive bodywork.

Then came the 11th, where things really started to turn. Wood sent Conlan to the canvas with a big left hook. The Irishman disputed the knockdown, claiming he’d slipped, but it gave Wood the momentum he needed to turn it on in the final round.

Conlan hits the canvas in Rd 11. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.

With 1:44 left in the 12th, Wood pinned Conlan against the ropes again and let vicious flurries fly.

One of those punches caught Conlan, putting him unconscious against the ropes, before slumping through them, as the referee stopped the fight.

Conlan had failed to put a proud champion away when he was there for the taking – and he paid the ultimate price.

If this was a “Hail Mary”, Wood’s prayers had certainly been answered. It was his second 12th round stoppage in a row.

Photo: Nigel Roddis via Getty Images.

But the way Conlan flew through the ropes was so disturbing, that celebrations were muted.

Watching someone go limp and free-fall out of the ring in such a manner – made you wonder if he would ever be the same. Not Michael Conlan, the fighter. But Michael Conlan, the person.

Can we be certain that he will make a full and speedy recovery? I truly hope so and my thoughts are with him and his family.

The result did not go his way, but he still put on an exceptional performance against world-class opposition. Conlan was almost perfect from start to finish, but almost was not enough.

“Thank you to all the fans. All the Irish travelling fans. First of all I just want to say I hope Michael is ok. I can’t celebrate until I know he’s alright. My thoughts are with him at the minute,” Wood said after the fight.

He said what we were all thinking. Classy words from a humble and worthy champion.

We all hope that both men return to their families safely.

Aus Open 2022 Predictions

Ciaran O’Mahony

Tennis fans, the wait is finally over. The Australian Open is upon us!

Melbourne Park may be Novak Djokovic’s playground, but his Visa cancellation has given the men’s field a huge opportunity to lift the Norman Brooks cup.

A new men’s champion will be crowned for the first time since 2018, when Roger Federer clinched his 20th Grand Slam.

Federer will also be missing, and as Nadal and Murray battle on in their twilight years, a fresh champion seems likely.

On the women’s side, Ash Barty remains a heavy favourite in her home slam. The World Number one’s stiffest challenge may come from four-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka, who is aiming to put a turbulent 2021 behind her.

Women’s favourite Ash Barty. Photo: Simon M Bruty via Getty Images

But there are other former champions right on their heels, including Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Iga Swiatek.

It’s a tough tournament to predict, but we’re willing to put our reputation on the line with some bold(?) tips.

Here are the Jaded Newsman’s predicted sleepers, flops and champions for AO22.

Men’s Sleepers

Gael Monfils

I’m taking a huge leap of faith here as Monfils doesn’t always bring his A-game to the biggest stage. His tendency to take unnecessary risks can often result in early round marathons that leave him drained for the big matches. But Monfils has played with a rare discipline of late and he looks like a man who realises his time is running out. A semi final run is definitely achievable for “La Monf”.

Taylor Fritz

One of the most improved players on the tour last year, Fritz has the tools to give anyone problems. His nightmare draw means he could face Tiafoe, Bautista Agut and Tsitsipas in the first four rounds. But if he’s firing, he can beat the lot of them. The talented American was unlucky to lose a tense 5-setter to Djokovic last year, but he will bury those painful memories in 2022.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

It might seem odd to call the world no. 9 a sleeper, but few believe he can make a run to the final. I’m going big and predicting just that. He’s a prodigiously talented shotmaker, who is quickly maturing into the full package. When FAA does put it all together, he’s going to do some damage. The young Canadian will go deep in the tournament and knock off at least one of the Top 5 seeds.

Felix Auger-Aliassime. Photo: Elsa via Getty Images.

Men’s Flops

Andrey Rublev

The Russian had a tough finish to the 2021 season and he is yet to prove he can beat elite competition in the majors. May find a way past Marin Cilic, but unlikely to beat Auger-Aliassime in the 4th round.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas will be aiming to improve on an impressive semi final showing last year, however, he’s arrived in poor form. After coming agonisingly close to French Open glory last year, the Greek suffered a serious slump. He’s also had elbow injury surgery during the offseason. Expect an early exit.

Stefanos Tsitsipas. Photo: Tim Clayton via Getty Images.

Andy Murray

Murray’s a great champion and it would be a tremendous comeback story, but his body won’t hold up at Melbourne Park. Although his run to the Sydney final featured some encouraging wins, he did them all the hard way. It’s hard to see him sustaining that sort of effort over 5 sets past the 3rd round here.

Champion

Alexander Zverev

I’m not sure how many times I’ve said this ahead of a Grand Slam – it feels like 100 – but this will be the tournament where Alexander Zverev finally fulfils his promise. He was close to winning a pandemic-effected US Open in 2019, but he really seemed to turn a corner at the Tokyo Olympics. That Gold Medal should spur him on to greater things and avoiding Medvedev until the final is a major bonus. Zverev will become the first German to win an Australian Open since Boris Becker in 1996.

Alexander Zverev. Photo: Sarah Stier via Getty Images

Women’s Sleepers

Maddison Keys

Enters the Open with an Adelaide International title under her belt. Keys has the weapons to give anyone problems if she can maintain some consistency. If she gets through a tricky opening match against Sofia Kenin, the momentum should carry her past the quarter finals.

Maddison Keys. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images.

Maria Sakkari

There are some concerns about Sakkari’s form leading into the AO, but she’ll arrive with huge support from Australia’s Greek community. The world number 6 will ride that wave to an impressive showing.

Iga Swiatek

Swiatek won’t win the tournament, but the 2020 French Open champion should make her first Australian quarter final or better. She’ll arrive full of confidence after a strong showing in Adelaide.

Women’s Flops

Simona Halep

A multiple slam winner, who made the final here in 2018, Halep has a nightmare draw. Add an injury-ravaged 2021 to the mix and it’s hard to see her going far.

Naomi Osaka

When Osaka’s at her best, she’s arguably the benchmark in women’s tennis. But a tumultuous 2021 that included struggles with mental health and serious inactivity, means her preparation has been far from ideal. She’s likely to face Anisimova and Barty in the and 3rd and 4th rounds, where she’ll be eliminated.

Naomi Osaka. Photo: Tim Clayton via Getty Images.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka’s confidence is at rock bottom. She’s been bounced in the 1st round at two consecutive warmup events. During those matches, she served a total of 40 double faults. The young Belarussian looks set to struggle in Melbourne.

Champion

Garbine Muguruza

Last year’s finalist will go one better this year. Muguruza played exceptional tennis to clinch the WTA Finals last season. The 28 year old has two slams to her name and a fairly favourable draw. Barty may be the favourite, but the pressure of playing in her home tournament will weigh on her heavily. Muguruza’s poise and experience will carry her to the title.

Garbine Muguruza. Photo: Clive Brunskill via Getty Images.

AIS to increase sports funding ahead of Paris 2024

Ciaran O’Mahony

The Australian Institute of Sport has committed $257 million in funding for Olympic and Paralympic sports ahead of Paris 2024.

Canoeing, Women’s Rugby 7s, Rowing and Surfing, are among numerous sports that will receive huge funding increases in a bid to create sustainable Olympic success.

It is the first time that the AIS has allocated funds for a full Olympic cycle, as it aims to build on Australia’s medal haul in Tokyo and eclipse it at the Brisbane 2032 Games.

AIS CEO Peter Conde says the long-term funding model will give Australian athletes the best chance of success on the world stage.

“The Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympic Games inspired us all and we have worked with Government to secure longer-term funding to forward plan and continue building on that success. This is why we are now launching an even stronger platform for Paris,” Mr Conde says.

“This overall commitment to high performance sport furthers the aim of the National High Performance Sport Strategy to create conditions for sustainable success not only for Paris, but Los Angeles 2028 and our home Games in Brisbane in 2032,” he says.

AIS CEO Peter Conde. Photo: AIS Twitter Page

This announcement follows the organisation’s commitment to deliver $14.6 million in direct athlete grants and $82.2 million allocated for wellbeing and high performance programs in the 2021 Federal Budget.

Sports that will receive the biggest boosts include:

  • Women’s Rugby 7s will receive a 39% increase for a total of $2.5m p.a.
  • Para and Able Canoe funding will rise to a combined $7.15m p.a.
  • Para and Able Rowing will receive $10.055m p.a.
  • Surfing funding to increase by 30% to $2m p.a.
  • Skating to receive $0.85m p.a.
  • Para-Table Tennis funding to increase by 74% to $0.9m p.a.

Australia’s Women’s Rugby 7s team were among the big winners in the AIS’ latest funding announcement. Photo: Greg Baker via Getty Images.

Australian Sports Commission Chair Josephine Sukkar described the news as “an exciting time for Australian Sport.”

“Paris is now only two and half years away, and our commitment to longer term success, the green and gold runway to Brisbane 2032, is also front of mind,” she says.

“I would like to thank the Australian Government for sharing the vision of the AIS and recognising the value of allocating funding for a full Games cycle. It is a huge show of support for the Australian high performance system, the sports and our athletes.”

Carlos Alcaraz: Tennis’ Next Great Champion?

Ciaran O’Mahony

As the dust settles on the 2021 season, a new tennis era beckons.

Yes, I know we’ve said that many times before.

“The Big Three are done, it’s time for them to step aside for the next generation.”

Remember that US Open in 2014? Cilic destroyed Federer on his way to the title, while Nishikori gave Djokovic a lesson to reach his first Grand Slam Final. All while Nadal was absent with a wrist injury.

The spell had finally been broken, we thought. New champions would emerge as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic faded into irrelevance.

But time and time again, these legends have refused to fold, setting new records and re-defining what was even possible.

Thus, my proclamation that a new era has arrived – and I really mean it this time – seems a little premature.

It seems incredibly premature when you consider that Novak Djokovic just came agonisingly close to a calendar-year Grand Slam. He was inches from sporting immortality.

But for my money, a new star emerged in New York and it wasn’t even the man who defeated Djokovic in the US Open final.

His name is Carlos Alcaraz.

To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Daniil Medvedev. He’s proven himself to be a great champion and I have no doubt that he has more Grand Slam titles ahead of him. Medvedev is now the benchmark for the next generation.

It won’t be long before he snatches Djokovic’s crown as world number one.

US Open Champion and world no. 2, Daniil Medvedev. Photo: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images

For so long, we thought Zverev or Tsitsipas would be the first players to break the Big Three’s dominance. They look the part and they have all of the style and tools.

But Medvedev, with his iron will and awkward groundstrokes, has delivered substance over style.

He will go down as a great champion, but there’s a rapidly rising Spaniard who appears to have a higher ceiling.

Why? Well, the kid has just about everything.

Standing at 6’1″, Alcaraz is 3-4 inches shorter than Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev. But what he lacks in height, he makes up for with pure firepower.

The 18 year old already strikes the ball cleaner and more destructively than most of the tour. He rips it with such spin and fury that renowned tennis coach, Patrick Mouratoglu said “I can’t remember who is the last player that I have seen hitting the ball so hard.”

His forehand and backhand are equally lethal, leaving his opponents almost permanently on the back foot, with little chance of relief.

Defensively, Alcaraz is just as sound, using his speed and slices to neutralise his opponents’ attacks.

While Medvedev is easily one of tennis’ most renowned brick walls, I doubt he’d beat Alcaraz in a 20 yard dash.

Of course, that’s not everything. There’s plenty to be said for anticipation and a player’s ability to construct a point. But seriously, look at this hustle below. Not to mention his poise and reaction time.

Note how quickly Alcaraz turned defence into attack in this clip. It’s a skill very few players possess.

Alcaraz’s athleticism is unmatched, with the Spaniard sliding around the court and producing acrobatic forms of defence that would make a gymnast – or even Novak Djokovic – proud.

Still only a teenager, Alcaraz has the physical build of a prime Rafael Nadal. A comparison that will no doubt, be repeated ad nauseam.

When he’s not bludgeoning the ball for clean winners, he’s utilising abrupt changes of pace to change the course of a point.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a stunning breakthrough season, rising from 141 in the world, all the way up to 32.

He’s made plenty of history along the way.

In April, he became the youngest match winner in the history of the Madrid Open, with a win over Adrian Mannarino.

At the French Open, he claimed a major scalp in 28th seed, Nikoloz Basilashvilli, before he was eliminated in the 3rd round.

He rebounded with his first ATP title at the Croatia Open, adding further notches to his belt such as Filip Krajinovic and Richard Gasquet. This victory made him the youngest tour-level champion since 2008.

But it’s at the US Open where Alcaraz really showed his mettle.

He destroyed 26th seed Cameron Norrie in the 1st round, before overcoming the talented Arthur Rinderknech in four sets.

However, his 3rd round clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas gave us a true window into his potential.

We’d seen him beat good players, even hit them off the court. But a Top 3 player at a Grand Slam? In 24,000 seater stadium? This was a different level.

Alcaraz overpowered Tsitsipas early, but the most impressive aspect of the match was that when Stefanos found a new gear, so did the 18 year old.

It was an up and down performance that featured some dips in energy and consistency, but never a drop of the shoulders. He showed the maturity and composure of a veteran.

He was brave and relentless, treating the crowd to some audacious shotmaking.

Over 5 sets, every time Tsitsipas raised the bar, Alcaraz met the challenge, eventually triumphing in a fifth set tiebreak.

Tsitsipas seemed stunned in the aftermath. “[His] ball speed was incredible,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard. [It] took time to adjust.”

He went on to become the US Open’s youngest quarter finalist ever, and the youngest player to defeat a Top-3 seed.

When you look at the highlights above, you have to ask yourself. If Alcaraz is this good already, how good will he be in two years?

As he continues to grow into his frame, his strength, fitness and mental fortitude, will only deepen. So too, will his tennis IQ and capacity to perform under pressure.

Many experts have analysed his game and found few weaknesses. He even has brilliant touch at the net.

Andy Murray has called Alcaraz a future world number one, marvelling at his physicality.

“He hits the ball really hard from the back of the court, and I’d probably say like physically, I don’t really like comparing like myself to other young players, but if I think back to when I was 18 in comparison to him, from a physical perspective he is unbelievably strong,” Murray told Chris Oddo.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he did really well in a Slam and was able to win long matches, like long five-set matches, already. A lot of younger players when they are 18, 19, are not physically ready for that. I’d say that’s probably the thing that sort of stands out, physically he seems, very, very strong.”

“He is obviously an excellent mover around the court as well, so that’s a big positive.”

Former Doubles Champion and Tennis analyst, Todd Woodbridge, provided further insights into the regard with which the tour holds the Spaniard.

During Channel Nine’s coverage of the US Open, he said “the word around the locker room and the playing group is that this kid is the closest thing to Rafa since Nadal came along.”

“You get one of these players every 15 years. We had Michael Chang in my era, or Lleyton Hewitt a bit later,” Woodbridge said. “This era has been cruel, because the younger players haven’t been able to break through against the Big Three.

“But this young guy has the chance to be the next dominant player, that’s what the whisper is around the tennis community.”

Carlos Alcaraz celebrates his victory at the Next Gen Finals. Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

Under the guidance of Juan Carlos Ferrero, a strong coach and former champion himself, the sky appears to be the limit.

Alcaraz finished the year in style by clinching the Next Gen ATP Finals title, and if I’m any judge, he’ll need to invest in a bigger trophy cabinet soon.

“It was my blood, it was my life, it was my breath”: The rise of Rwanda’s first female football coach

By Ciaran O’Mahony

Grace Nyinawumuntu lost her parents at just 11 years of age.  

It was 1994 and they were among 800,000 people slaughtered when Rwanda’s ethnic Hutus attempted to wipe out the Tutsi minority.

She spent those vicious “100 days of slaughter” in hiding, along with her younger brother and sister.

They knew what would happen if they were found. No men, women or children were spared, until the extremist Government was overthrown by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

But even when the killings stopped, life was not easy.

“I grew up in the orphanage centre because I lost my parents during the genocide,” Nyinawumunutu says.

“We lost my brother during that time.”

She prefers not to dwell too much on the pain of the past, but she will never forget.

“It was not easy to survive.”

“But I tried my best just to be who I am today.”

For most of her teenage years, Nyinawumuntu grieved in isolation. Distancing herself from the outside world seemed like the safest means of coping with grave trauma and loss.

“Every time, I needed to stay alone. To be alone.”  

She may never have dug herself out of this emotional abyss if it wasn’t for her greatest passion – sport.

“Sport gave me happiness,” Nyinawumuntu says.

“After that period of genocide, if there is no sport, I cannot be alive at that time.”

Grace Nyinawumuntu. Photo: Bogarts via Getty Images.

Nyinawumuntu was drawn to football, in particular, from a young age. There was something about it that captivated her, even though her parents discouraged her from playing.

“I was very interested in playing football, something [which] of course my mother never approved, even support[ed].”

“It was forbidden to see a girl or a woman who played.”

“Football was regarded as a boy’s game in our society and a girl was never supported to play.”

At the time, Rwandans believed it was inappropriate for girls to play football, because they were uncomfortable with the idea of them wearing shorts and lifting their legs to kick the ball.

Throughout her childhood, Nyinawumuntu was forbidden from kicking a single ball. Even at school.

She had to settle for more ‘appropriate’ sports such as handball and volleyball. They weren’t football, but they were a welcome distraction from her private sadness.  

“I had to participate in the other sports like handball or like volleyball. Because in my life, I didn’t survive without doing sport.”

“It was my blood, it was my life, it was my breath.”

Women’s football finally arrives in Rwanda

One year after Nyinawumuntu finished school, she finally got her chance to play the sport she craved.  

An ambitious entrepreneur named Felicite Rwemarika had just established Rwanda’s first football program for girls and women.

Rwemarika created the Association of Kigali Women in Sports (AKWOS) in 2003, to provide an outlet for women to work through their trauma and heal together.

“With the culture [in Rwanda], they could not believe that women can play sports,” says Rwemarika, who is now a member of the International Olympic Committee and President of the Rwanda Women and Sports Commission.  

“They would say ‘this woman is crazy, maybe she’s traumatised because of genocide.’”

“I said ‘no, sport is for everyone. Everyone can play sports, everyone can join sports for a creation. For unity, for talking [about] our issues.’”

A group of girls take to the field in Rwanda. Photo: AKWOS Facebook page

Word spread across the country of this group of women playing football. When the news reached Nyinawumuntu, she set off without hesitatation, to chase her dream.

“It was a time I finally managed to found [sic] a way I can play.”  

“We had only one team [at the time] created by Rwemarika Felicite,” says Nyinawumuntu. “I tried to attend her first team, where I have been selected on my first time to be in the national women’s team.”

Finally getting the chance to play, and cultivate her talent as a Centre-Back, Nyinawumuntu began healing from old wounds.

“Sport helped me so much because I have [been] in the bad situation of losing my parents. [The] bad situation of losing my brother.”

“But after joining the team of Felicite, [that] is the time I started to [be] having happiness from the team.”

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, Gabriela Ramos, has seen first-hand, the positive effect sport can have on women like Nyinawumuntu.

Ramos says sport provides an escape that helps women overcome hardship and increase their sense of self-worth.

Early positive experiences with sport, especially in school and community settings, are critical to address three intersecting global crises that girls face disproportionally: physical inactivity, mental health conditions and inequality,” she says.

“Girls’ lack of self-confidence and negative stereotypes hinder their perspective to succeed in life.”

“Programmes delivering quality Physical Education have therefore a real power to provide meaningful change to women’s lives.”

Felicite Rwemarika can attest to this, having given Nyinawumuntu and many other Rwandan women a sporting platform.

“After the genocide, women were the most vulnerable,” she says. “They were worried [and in fear] of [their] life and they are waiting just to die tomorrow.”

Playing football with other women who’d experienced similar trauma helped them to overcome this fear, according to Rwemarika.

Nyinawumuntu did just that. When she was out on the pitch, there was only one thing on her mind.

“When you go to do sport, even if you have different problem[s], you live on the pitch where you practice the sport,” she says.

“That’s why I can say that sport is a good medicine.”

Turning her passion into a career

Huge growth in Nyinawumuntu’s skills and wellbeing fuelled dreams of a career in sport.

But her friends and extended family scoffed at the idea. They told her sports would make her ugly and her legs would become beefy and masculine.

“[They were] telling me you will not get a job, you will be like a man, you can’t give birth, you can’t have a husband.”

While there were many doubters, she still had Felicite Rwemarika in her corner. Rwemarika recognised her talent and urged her to follow her heart.

“After she qualified to go to university, she wanted to do sports and people said how can you go to university to do sports? Sports will do nothing to you. It will not help you in any way,” says Rwemarika.

“She came back to me and I said ‘this is your passion, you need to do sports.’”

Grace Nyinawumuntu (Centre Left) with Felicite Rwemarika (Centre Right). Photo: AKWOS Facebook page

Nyinawumuntu went for it, becoming Rwanda’s first woman to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education in 2004. But just when things were finally coming together, a cruel twist of fate changed everything.

She seriously injured her knee, and it was immediately apparent that she may never play football again.  

“It was something I can’t understand in my heart,” she laments.  

She wasn’t sure where to go from there, feeling so strongly that she could “never survive without doing sport, especially football.”

The voices that told her to give up on sport grew louder after the injury, but she continued to tune them out – until she found an answer.

“I didn’t see a woman who is [a] referee,” she thought. So why not break new ground?

She decided to become the country’s first female football referee “to show the men and the women, the Rwandan society, even the girl[s], even the woman, can do the same as the men.”

Soon after, she learned of a training program for referees – one that only men attended.

While some may have been too intimidated to approach the organisers, Nyinawumuntu did so with confidence and a determination to go where no Rwandan woman had gone before.

“I don’t fear anything, I am confident of everything I do.”

“I went to the [people] responsible for that training and I request[ed] to be the one of the trainees in the referee training.”

“The first question he asked me, ‘Grace are you ready to be a referee? The first [woman] referee in Rwanda?’”

“I said, ‘I’m ready, very ready.’”

She passed the course with flying colours and was officially employed as a professional referee.

While she’d clinched employment in the sports industry, she didn’t feel like she’d made it yet. She still had a point to prove – that she was even better than the male referees.

It didn’t take her long to prove it, as she explains.

“I did better refereeing than the men because I started in the junior teams [and] women teams. But after 6 months, only 6 months, they promote[d] me in[to] the second division for men.”

“After 2 years they promoted me in the first division [for] men.”

Back to the drawing board  

Nyinawumuntu’s rapid rise came to a devastating halt, however, when her knee flared up again. It became particularly bad in 2007 and she knew it was only a matter of time before she’d be forced to stop refereeing.

Once again, she found herself fighting to keep her sporting dreams alive, so she turned to the Rwandan Football Federation for help.

She requested a transition from refereeing to coaching, which they granted.

Nyinawumuntu soon found herself attending football coaching development courses run by the German Football Association (GFA) across Rwanda.

She was among a group of 25 coaches, three of which would be selected for specialist training in Germany.

But in order to be considered for that trip to Germany, Nyinawumuntu would need to run practical demonstrations, training sessions and football matches.  

In other words, she needed a team to coach, and fast.

With Felicite Rwemarika’s help, she appealed to the mayor of Kigali city to create Rwanda’s first professional women’s football team.

He accepted their pitch with great excitement and thus, Rwanda’s first professional women’s football team, AS Kigali, was formed in 2008.

Being the head coach of an exciting new team came with weighty expectations, but Nyinawumuntu thrived in her new role, selecting AS Kigali’s first squad, and moulding it into a formidable team.

She had also unlocked another historic achievement in Rwandan women’s sport. She was the country’s first woman to become a professional football coach.

“I started to train that team in order to show the leader[s] of the federation that I am able to be a good coach even if I am a girl,” says Nyinawumuntu.  

She was acutely aware that her story could be “a powerful tool to help other women, even out[side] of the country of Rwanda.”

Her efforts were quickly noticed by Rwanda’s Technical Director of Football. After just 4 months of observing her coaching, the Rwandan FA not only named her amongst the top 3 performers in the coaching course, they told Nyinawumuntu to coach a new women’s national team.

She took this team to Germany for a series of friendlies against junior/3rd division women’s teams.

Across six matches, they won 3 and lost 3. It an extremely successful showing given how new women’s football was to Rwanda.

This campaign also demonstrated how rapidly Nyinawumuntu’s coaching skills were growing and the GFA invited her back for further managerial training a month later.

She was there for just 8 months before she was awarded a UEFA B Licence for coaching in Europe and a C-Licence for CAF.

When she returned to Rwanda, it didn’t take Nyinawumuntu long to show the fruits of all this training and experience. From 2009 to 2017, she guided AS Kigali to 9 consecutive national league titles. All of this whilst coaching the national women’s team from 2014-2017.

Her rapid and incredible success was truly inspiring for girls and women across the country, according to Felicite Rwemarika.

“They have realised that women have some potential, women can do it,” says Rwemarika.

“We are having women coaches, we’re having a national women’s coach.”

“At least there has been I can say about 80% of mindsets changed.”

Sharing her success with other women

In 2018, Nyinawumuntu spent some time away from the pitch, working as an Administrator and Financial Manager for AKWOS.

She also trained 100 women to become football coaches, to build on the increasing recognition for women’s sports in Rwanda.

She felt it was important to use her success to create opportunities for other women too.

“I try to be a good role model of other women as a support I need to give our country.”

“Sport is a great tool to help the girls and the women to become confident.”

Ultimately, she hopes to tackle negative stereotypes about women’s presence in sport. Not just in men’s minds, but in women’s.

“My wish is to help other women to be like me, or more like me.”

“I think everything I do, I just need to show the society that even women have ability to do the same as the men.”

“Many women were motivated to be like Grace.”

When a European football giant came calling  

The latest chapter in Nyinawumuntu’s coaching career began in 2019, when representatives from the mighty Paris St Germain (PSG) arrived in Rwanda to establish a new football academy.  

Nyinawumuntu was invited as one of 22 coaching finalists, to a 3-day workshop run by PSG’s Head of Coaching, Benjamin Houri.

Nyinawumuntu may have been the only female coach there, but that wasn’t the only reason she stood out. She excelled in both the theoretical and practical sessions, beating out all of the competition to become PSG Rwanda’s Technical Director.

It was another incredible triumph not only for Nyinawumuntu, but all Rwandan women, says Ms Rwemarika.

“That will be a motivation for people to see,” says Rwemarika.

“This girl was an orphan, but now she’s doing great. She has constructed her own house, she has her own car. She was the national women’s coach, now she’s the technical director [at PSG].”

Grace Nyinawumuntu (Centre) at the PSG Academy, Rwanda. Photo: PSG Academy Rwanda Instagram

Nyinawumuntu and her new staff began scouting Rwanda’s young talent in July this year, with the academy officially launching in September.

She’s pleased that PSG has established an academy in Rwanda and believes it will have a significant impact on the quality of the country’s domestic and international teams.

She beams when she considers everything she’s achieved at just 37 years of age.

So many people told Nyinawumuntu she would never have a career in sport, and yet she’s working for one of football’s biggest powerhouses.

“People who are in the area of sport. I can tell you that 60% even didn’t see my face, but they know my name.”

“Everywhere I go, they know Grace. Everywhere they need to see Grace.”

Her dogged refusal to let any obstacles prevent her from pursuing sport has taken her so far, and Nyinawumuntu says sport has given her so much in return.

“Everything I have. The house I have, the car I have, everything I have – came from sport. And also sport gave me the happiness after that genocide happened in Rwanda.”

“[It] is a good tool that can help everyone to overcome any challenge.”

Aussie Olympic samples still clean after re-testing

By Ciaran O’Mahony

One hundred blood and urine samples from Australia’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls have been re-tested and given the “all clear” by Sport Integrity Australia.

The samples were collected from July 2013 to September 2016 and placed in long-term storage.

A recent re-analysis by the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory returned zero positive results from these randomly selected samples.

SIA’s Chief Science Officer, Dr Naomi Speer, says re-testing is essential in the fight against doping, particularly as anti-doping bodies are often playing catch up with new methods of avoiding detection.  

“It enables us to take advantage of advances in scientific knowledge and capability to detect doping which wasn’t detectable at the time a sample was collected,” she says.

Prior to Tokyo 2020, SIA and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) told The Jaded Newsman that re-testing would be a major tool in their fight against athletes who used performance enhancing drugs during Covid-19 lockdowns.

“Some athletes take smaller amounts in the hope that they will be undetectable, which is why we utilise the Athlete Biological Passport and Retrospective Testing,” said SIA’s CEO David Sharpe.

David Sharpe, CEO Sport Integrity Australia. Photo: SIA Facebook Page.

“All athletes would be very familiar with the IOC’s re-testing program which has proved successful in back-capturing drug cheats by using new technologies to detect past infringements,” the AOC told us.  

“That program will continue to be a deterrent to anyone who might think they can use the pandemic to escape detection.”

WADA and the International Testing Agency (ITA) echoed this sentiment.

“The samples collected prior to and during the Games will be stored for up to 10 years and re-analysed at a later point in time when technology and analysis will further advance,” said ITA spokesperson Marta Nawrocka.

Over the 12 months prior to Tokyo, SIA collected 2,541 samples from Australian athletes in contention for the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Under the World Anti-doping Code, athletes can be disciplined within 10 years of the date a doping violation occurred.  

Irish speed walker Rob Heffernan was a beneficiary of this rule, retrospectively receiving Olympic bronze, four years after competing at the London Olympics.

His message to prospective dopers is simple. “Athletes need to know if they cheat, they will be caught.”

Opinion: What Happened to Football’s ‘Number 10’?

By Ciaran O’Mahony

The ‘number 10’ has been the most important position in football for years.

Some of the most gifted footballers we’ve ever seen played there. Zidane, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Platini, Eusebio – The list goes on.

But while we’ve been distracted by Ronaldo and Messi’s record-setting performances, football has changed.

Slowly, but surely, the number 10 has been disappearing.

What is a No. 10?

As the team’s primary playmaker, the ‘number 10’ operates in a free role between the midfield and the forwards. They lead the attack, using their vision, control and passing range to dictate the play.

‘Number 10’s’ are responsible for unlocking the opposition’s defence by playing their wingers and forwards through on goal and finding space to score themselves. In many ways, they are the attacking heartbeat of the team.

All of the mid-to-late twentieth century’s most successful teams were built around such a playmaker.

Zinedine Zidane. Photo: Pool MERILLON/STEVENS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Formations

The tactical evolution of the game has played a major part in the number 10’s demise. The most common modern formations (4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1) do not accomodate the position.

The midfield in a 4-3-3 system usually consists of two advanced midfielders (left and right) and a deeper-lying defensive midfielder. The defensive midfielder occupies the central space traditionally reserved for the classic ‘number 10’.

While the 4-2-3-1 allows attacking midfielders to flourish, it doesn’t rely on one player to make the team tick. Some might say that teams with this system have three ‘number 10’s’, but that goes against the whole purpose of the position.

There is only space for one ‘true’ number 10, rather than three out and out playmakers.

Congested Midfield

It’s almost impossible to play a ‘number 10’ against modern formations because the centre of the park is so congested. Three-man midfields have taken away the space where they used to thrive. Modern managers are also reluctant to rely on one player to conduct their team’s attack.

Their logic is that if their ‘luxury player’ has an off-day or a dip in form, the entire team will suffer.

This mentality doesn’t exactly give modern players the confidence to back themselves and be creative.

Photo: Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images

Why is This a Problem?

Within these formations, many players that previously played behind a front two are now being used as wingers or played up front either as a striker or a ‘false nine’. Some of them have the pace to shine as wingers, while others can still operate effectively up front.

But many talented players lacking in pace or ill-suited to playing up front are being denied the opportunity to dictate attacks as playmakers.

These players are being wasted in the modern game, either on the bench or in another position.

The Case of Juan Roman Riquelme

Juan Roman Riquelme’s career is an excellent example of a good ‘number 10’ being wasted. The Argentinian was a silky playmaker with exceptional vision, intelligence and passing ability. He emerged when the speed of the game was changing rapidly and teams were beginning to experiment with their formations.

In a previous era, Riquelme would have been hot property, but when he arrived at Barcelona, Louis Van Gaal had no interest in playing a ‘number 10’.

Riquelme was given little game time and regularly played out of position. His lack of pace, trickery and ability to play directly, were badly exposed.

It was clear that Riquelme had been played out of position when Barcelona sold him to lowly Villarreal. The “Yellow Submarine” allowed him to roam the space between the midfield and the strikers, and find holes in the opposition’s defence.

Juan Roman Riquelme. Photo: Luis Bagu/Getty Images

The team found immediate success, finishing as high as third in the league in 2004/05. Riquelme scored 15 goals and helped Diego Forlan win the European Golden Boot that season.

He looked like a completely different player. Suddenly, we realised he was world-class.

We may never have known how good he actually was if he hadn’t found a team that was willing to play him in his best position.

Is the ‘Number 10’ Dead?

The ‘number 10’ isn’t completely extinct yet. There are still some great players out there who are arguably keeping the position alive such as James Rodriguez, Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata.

It seems likely that many young players will suffer a similar fate to Riquelme, though, and they are even less likely to get the second chance he got at Villarreal.

Sadly, many technically gifted youngsters destined to be the next Eusebio or Dennis Bergkamp may never get the chance to show their true quality.

Opinion: Why is Nadal so good on clay?

By Ciaran O’Mahony

For over a decade, beating Rafael Nadal on clay has been one of the toughest tasks in sport.

It won’t be long before the old cliché is changed to “death, taxes and Nadal winning the French Open”.

His absurd dominance on the red dirt has forced tennis fans to view 2-3 months of the tennis calendar as a foregone conclusion.

It’s like the rest of the field is a giant piñata and Rafa is a hyper 5 year old wielding a baseball bat. And boy does he swing it with bad intentions!

But why, exactly, is Nadal so damn good on clay?

Patience and Tactical Brilliance

Experts tend to focus on his heavy, looping forehand and incredible athleticism.

Those are fundamental weapons for sure, but there’s a lot more to it.

Nadal deserves more credit for his tactical brilliance. His ability to dictate the play and cleverly construct each point is one of his biggest strengths.

Clay is a much slower surface than hard or grass courts, which means that even the most powerful players on the tour have to work harder to produce a winner.

Players who normally blast their way to victory with powerful groundstrokes have to be much more patient and consistent on clay.

They have more time to play their shots, but they have to treat it like a chess match and wait for the right moment to pull the trigger.

No one does this better than Nadal. How often do you see him throw a point away because he grew impatient?

Exactly. He refuses to miss!

The longer the rally goes, the more comfortable he becomes and the more frustrated his opponents get.

He may be aggressive, but he never rushes things and always seems to know exactly when to let rip. His heavy topspin also means that his shots loop well over the net, giving him plenty of margin for error.

Photo: Julian Finney via Getty Images

Toughness and Athleticism

Add Nadal’s immense athleticism to the above, and he can outlast almost anyone.

The points are so long and punishing on clay, that many of the matches seriously test players’ fitness and strength of will.

No one on the tour loves a gritty battle more than Nadal, whose mental toughness and conditioning are unparalleled.

His speed and footwork allow him to extend every point as he retrieves shots that no one else can. By blunting his opponents’ offense, he forces them to engage in long rallies with him.

His opponents have to work harder than they would against anyone else to make any in-roads. Some players are up for the challenge, but they struggle to sustain the level of skill, fitness and patience required for an entire match against Nadal.

Whether it takes him one hour or four, he will eventually break you – physically or mentally.

There’s nothing worse than hitting a shot that would normally be a clean winner and watching the ball come back at you with interest. Try experiencing that over and over again, for hours.

That Forehand

Heavy topspin is extremely effective on clay and Nadal’s forehand is arguably the heaviest groundstroke in the game.

His shots get an extra kick as they dig into the surface, bouncing up higher and at a greater angle than on faster surfaces.

His opponents often have to hit the ball from shoulder-height as a result. These high balls make it extremely difficult for them to generate speed, depth, power and angles with their shots.

Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images

Nadal’s topspin also forces them well behind the baseline, which puts them seriously on the back foot – clay is so slippery that it’s difficult to recover from this position.

With his opponents on the defensive, Nadal can control the rest of the point, breaking them down shot by shot, as he patiently creates openings to rip a trademark forehand winner.

The extreme spin he generates also allows him to create unique angles that give him a further edge in longer rallies.

These angles are difficult for right-handers to deal with, particularly on the backhand side as his cross-court forehand bounces at an acute angle away from their backhand.

Nadal can also hit more forehands on clay than any other surface because the ball comes at him so slowly that he can run around his backhand and hit an off-forehand or whip the ball down the line.

Given that it’s arguably the most devastating shot in the game, it’s almost unfair on everyone else that Nadal can hit more forehands on clay.

Conclusion

His whipping forehand is a major weapon, but his ability to take charge of the point, out-think and out-last his opponents is ultimately what separates Nadal from the pack.