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After Kamila Valieva debacle, IOC president takes rare shots at Russians – CBC.ca

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IOC President Thomas Bach joined the global bandwagon of support for Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva Friday, criticizing her entourage and questioning whether 15-year-old athletes should be put under such pressure at the Olympics.

His tone surprised Olympic observers – accustomed to hearing Bach defend Russian athletes despite the massive 2014 doping scandal – and drew a quick rebuke from Moscow.

Valieva’s emotional breakdown after a mistake-strewn skate and unforgiving questioning by her coach made millions of viewers cringe, especially after a week-long drama over her positive drug test. Bach said he felt the same way, spending much of his news conference taking rare swipes at Russia.

“I was very, very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on TV,” Bach said at an Olympics that began with Vladimir Putin sitting in the VIP section at the opening ceremony despite a Russian troop buildup near the Ukraine border.

Bach had direct criticism of Valieva’s entourage, saying they showed “a tremendous coldness, it was chilling to see this.”

The IOC leader did not mention Eteri Tutberidze, though he clearly targeted the preeminent coach of Russia’s dominant women’s figure skating program.

Bach’s words got him into a testy exchange with a Russian reporter. Later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Bach “does not like the toughness of our coaches, but everyone knows that in elite sports the coach’s toughness is key to the students’ victories.”

WATCH l Valieva struggles in free skate, finishes 4th:

15-year-old Kamila Valieva struggles in free skate, finishes 4th

2 days ago

Duration 9:02

The Russian figure skater fell twice in the final skate of her controversial performance at Beijing 2022. 9:02

The endless Olympic story of unethical behaviour by Russian sports officials is casting a shadow over a fifth straight Games in Bach’s nine years as president. Many critics of the IOC say Valieva’s doping scandal is a direct result of Russia flouting the rules for decades without real punishment from the IOC.

Olympic sports have lived through a decade of Russian doping and cover-ups after the home team was caught cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a personal project of Putin. Through much of that time, the IOC and Bach made excuses for lighter than expected punishments.

Even in Beijing, Russia is technically banned from its third straight Games, but hundreds of Russian athletes are competing in their traditional colours with “Russian Olympic Committee” uniforms and flags. And they are winning medals – more than any country other than Norway.

The Bach-led IOC has consistently tried to keep Russia in the Games, citing the need to let a new generation of “clean athletes” compete as one reason not to ban Russia outright.

“This lack of leadership perpetuates athletes abuse and exposes the lack of oversight,” Rob Koehler of the Global Athlete activist group said Friday.

Trusova, 17, brings up retirement

Global reaction to the Russian teenage skaters’ tears after the women’s figure skating results seemed to change the IOC’s tone. Anna Shcherbakova won gold, Alexandra Trusova won silver, and Valieva stumbled out of the medals into fourth.

Trusova and Valieva sobbed as the scores were read, Trusova talked about retiring at 17 and viewers around the world questioned how youngsters could be put under such pressure.

Athlete mental health and safeguarding young women in sports are key responsibilities for sports bodies, and Bach had to react.

His attack on the entourage did not address the larger culture that has helped Tutberidze flourish, even as her athletes retire in their teens and suffer serious injuries. She is the International Skating Union’s coach of the year and the most powerful figure in Russian skating.

WATCH l Mental performance expert breaks down Valieva’s Olympic journey:

Mental performance expert breaks down Kamila Valieva’s Olympic journey

1 day ago

Duration 6:54

Longtime Olympic sport psychologist Peter Jensen talks to Dylan Moscovitch and Asher Hill and puts Kamila Valieva’s mental challenges in Beijing into context. 6:54

Bach also lamented the ruling in Beijing that let Valieva skate, pending the full doping investigation. Over the years, Bach has defended decisions and rulings that allowed Russian athletes continue to compete.

“The IOC always points blame at everyone else and never accepts accountability,” Koehler said.

Perhaps the most striking response to Valieva’s plight came from Bach’s home country of Germany. Katarina Witt, the last woman to win figure skating gold at two different Olympics, was tearful as she commentated on the event.

“It is so irresponsible what was done here,” said Witt who grew up as a skating phenom in authoritarian East Germany before winning Olympic gold in 1984 and ’88. “The whole world was watching and then she broke. She is 15. She’s a child.”

“There was a political pressure placed on her. I wish someone like her mother or someone responsible would have taken her out of there,” Witt said.

Proximity to Putin a regular criticism of the IOC

A regular criticism of the IOC under Bach is that it has been indulgent of Russia and too close to Putin, who is set to join Olympic sports bodies in May for part of a week-long conference in Ekaterinburg.

Minutes after Bach’s comments about Valieva’s team, a journalist wearing a Russian Olympic Committee team jacket questioned the IOC.

He asked if Bach felt partly responsible for “media chaos” around Valieva that included “hate speeches”, “bullying of a 15-year-old” and “political propaganda.”

An untypically confrontational Bach replied with “the ones who have administered this drug in her body, these are the ones who are guilty.”

Bach generally withholds comments from ongoing investigations. On Friday, he directly contradicted Valieva’s lawyers’ arguments that the sample was accidentally contaminated by her grandfather’s heart medication.

Russian anti-doping officials are responsible for the doping case, but IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency officials have said they will also investigate. Whatever the findings, expect appeals and counter investigations that stretch out for months.

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Families of Flight PS752 victims call for cancellation of soccer match with Iran – CBC News

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Families who lost loved ones in the destruction of Flight PS752 are demanding that Canada Soccer abandon its plan to host Iran for a men’s soccer friendly next month in Vancouver.

The families call the planned match a slap in the face and say they want the federal government to refuse to grant visas to Iranian soccer players and those travelling with the team.

“They have no understanding, they have no sympathy, they have no hearts, in my opinion, Canada Soccer,” said Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for the association representing families. His wife and 9-year-old daughter died on the flight.

“I feel betrayed by the organization and betrayed by the government … This is a way to normalize the relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s called sports-washing.”

South Korea’s Son Heung-min, centre, fights for the ball with Iran’s Shojae Khalilzadeh and Ali Gholi Zadeh, left, in Seoul, South Korea on March 24, 2022. Families of those who died when Iranian forces shot down Flight PS752 say they want to see a planned match in Canada with Iran’s team cancelled. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the Ukrainian jetliner with a pair of surface-to-air missiles shortly after takeoff in Tehran in 2020, killing all 176 people onboard, including 85 Canadians and permanent residents. 

Iran has blamed a series of human errors for the downing of the commercial plane. Canada’s own forensic analysis found that the IRGC’s “recklessness, incompetence, and wanton disregard for human life” was to blame.

A UN special rapporteur went further, accusing Iranian authorities of multiple violations of human rights and international law in the lead-up to the missile attack and its aftermath.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp fired two surface-to-air missiles at Flight PS752, killing all 176 people onboard on Jan, 8, 2020. (Reuters)

Since then, victims’ families have faced intimidation, harassment and threats from “threat actors linked to proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” according to a CSIS report.

The families say this soccer match opens up the border to the IRGC and they wonder whether Iranian intelligence agents will travel with the team to Canada.

Kambiz Foroohar, a journalist and strategic consultant focusing on Iran, has written that in recent decades most sports clubs in Iran have been “taken over by political or security-military organizations, with former Revolutionary guards holding the top positions.”

“Because of football’s popularity, there is significant involvement by regime insiders,” he wrote on the Middle East Institute’s website.

‘It wasn’t a very good idea’ — Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CBC News that arranging the game was not a good idea and that Canada Soccer needs to explain itself. Asked whether the federal government might refuse to grant visas to the visiting Iranian team, Trudeau did not answer.

“This was a choice by [Canada Soccer],” Trudeau told a press conference in St. John’s. “I think it wasn’t a very good idea to invite the Iranian soccer team here to Canada, but that’s something the organizer’s going to have to explain.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement that it could not comment on any specific visa requests “without written consent” due to privacy rules. It said that all visitors are “carefully screened” before coming into Canada and can be considered inadmissible for violating human or international rights, or if there are security concerns. 

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to news of soccer match with Iran

Trudeau says Canada hosting Iran for soccer match was not a ‘very good idea’

15 hours ago

Duration 0:28

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was Canada Soccer’s decision to host Iran for a men’s friendly on June 5 in Vancouver, and that the organizers would have to explain their choice.

On Tuesday, Canada Soccer issued a statement defending the decision to stage the match in Canada.

“At Canada Soccer, we believe in the power of sport and its ability to bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together for a common purpose,” said the statement.

“Iran is one of 32 participating member associations at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and Canada Soccer continues to follow all international protocols in staging this match.  We are focused on preparations for our Men’s National Team to compete on the world stage.”

The destruction of Flight PS752 isn’t the only source of questions about the planned June 5 soccer match at B.C. Place Stadium.

Discrimination against women at soccer matches

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, ordered Iran in 2019 to allow women to access its stadiums without any restrictions. Iran promised to end its roughly 40-year ban and changed the rules on paper.

But Human Rights Watch reported that Iranian authorities stopped dozens of women on March 29 from entering a soccer stadium to watch a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying match between Iran and Lebanon.

A video on social media appears to show women in front of the stadium alleging pepper spray was used to disperse them after they already had purchased tickets to the game in the city of Mashhad.

The Iranian Football Federation later issued a statement saying that, “due to a lack of preparation,” they couldn’t accommodate women at the game and that fraudulent tickets were given out by fans. 

Iranian soccer fan Sahar Khodayari, nicknamed Blue Girl, died after setting herself on fire outside a court in Tehran in 2019. Khodayari had been charged after trying to enter a stadium dressed as a man.

‘My daughter Reera loved soccer’

Esmaeilion questions why a Canadian government that takes pains to present itself as feminist would want to have anything to do with this team. 

“This government claims they are a defender of women’s rights,” he said. “They invite Iranian football federation here. They have no respect for women’s rights.”

His wife Parisa Eghbalian and 9-year-old daughter Reera Esmaeilion died on Flight PS752. Reera played for the Richmond Hill Soccer Club.

Reera Esmaeilion, age 9, playing soccer. She died on Flight PS752 in January, 2020. (Submitted by Hamed Esmaeilion )

“My daughter Reera loved soccer and played the sport every week,” he said. “My memory of her love for this game makes this situation even more confusing and difficult to process.”

He said there’s a double-standard at work in the soccer realm that encourages countries to sanction Russia through sports, but not Iran.

Victims’ families have written letters to Canada Soccer and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. The families say they have not received a response yet. They’re also calling on Canadian players to push back against the game.

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Oilers and Flames alumni recall Battle of Alberta from playoffs past – TSN

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Marty Gelinas saw the Battle of Alberta from both sides over a number of years but there’s one memory that stands out above the rest.

On April 14, 1991 during overtime of Game 6 of the Smythe Division Semifinals, Calgary Flames forward Theo Fleury picked off a Mark Messier pass in the neutral zone and beat Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr to tie the series at 3-3.

Gelinas was just 20 and in his third season as a left-winger with the Oilers, in the last playoff series they played against the Flames, back in 1991. There were plenty of goals, fights, and penalties in that seven-game series, but the former first-round draft pick will never forget Fleury’s celebration after he scored in OT to end Game 6.

Fleury slid on his knees across centre ice at the old Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, an iconic celebration that still makes highlights reels three decades later. For the home team Oilers that night, however, Fleury’s celebration was motivation for Game 7, which Edmonton won with an overtime goal of its own by Esa Tikkanen.

Gelinas, who now works in player development for the Flames, still remembers – 31 years later – the impact Fleury’s celebration had on his underdog Oilers team.

“I remember Theo Fleury coming in our building in Edmonton and he scored a goal in overtime and went the full length of his ice and got on his knees and celebrated,” Gelinas recalled. “You know, those things fuel up the opposite team and it fuelled us up. We went there to Calgary in Game 7…that goal [by Fleury] stuck with us.”

Gelinas, now 51, spent parts of five seasons with the Oilers (and was part of the return for Wayne Gretzky when No. 99 was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988), and also scored several big goals for the Flames during their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the old Smythe Division, postseason Battles Of Alberta were not once-in-a-generation events, but almost an annual rite of spring. Between the 1982-83 and 1990-91 seasons, the two teams met in the playoffs five times, with the Oilers winning four of the meetings. 

“I think it was more or less the cities that were excited that the two teams were always facing off back then,” Joel Otto, who was a big rugged centre for those Flames teams, told TSN.

“Having bragging rights is a big thing out here in Alberta. Unfortunately Edmonton got the better of us more often than not, but they were some memorable series and we are all looking forward to this round. It’s been a long time coming.”

In those days, the Alberta rivals would play each other up to 16 times during the regular season – and that built-up animosity would carry over into the postseason. For the now 60-year-old Otto, the physicality of those rounds stands out.

“I do remember the ‘91 playoffs was very physical,” he said. “I kept saying after the fact that I’d never been hit that hard so many times. Edmonton had a pretty big defence. That was how the game was played.”

He isn’t alone.

“There was a lot of hate involved,” former Flames goalie Mike Vernon said. “I was fortunate enough to play in the ‘86 series and it was just mayhem. Even the trainers got into it, hopping over the glass to get a stick that was thrown in the crowd. There was a lot going on. It was probably a lot more physicality.”

“It was a jungle out there,” said Gelinas. 

While the games were raucous on the ice, the fans were cordial off it.

“The fans were very respectful,” Otto said. “They were awesome…the passion from the fans for the most part was the same, it’s just the stakes are higher during the playoffs.”

Vernon agreed, although he did have one intense experience involving Flames fans in Edmonton.

“One time, I made the mistake on an off-day of going to the golf course and hitting some balls on the range,” he said. “My own fans were like, ‘Shouldn’t you be practising? Shouldn’t you be doing this? Shouldn’t you be doing that?’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m out of here.’”

Vernon, now 59, also remembers the gamesmanship.

“The coaches don’t say much, they hide things, they say things that are off the wall, and you’re scratching your head,” he said. “It’s all about keeping your team focused in what their job is on the ice.”

Vernon, being from Calgary, felt the extra pressure of shining against the provincial rivals.

“There’s a lot of excitement about it but there’s also that pressure,” he said. “Grant Fuhr was the same way [growing up in Edmonton]. Patrick Roy played for the Montreal Canadiens and he grew up in Montreal. It adds a lot of pressure, there’s no doubt. That’s just part of the game. That’s what drives us a bit and maybe forces us to play better. Us three, we had longevity in the NHL. It also pushed us to be better players, I believe.”

Alumni from both teams will no doubt be watching as this second-round series unfolds starting Wednesday in Calgary, and a new chapter of the Battle Of Alberta is written. 

“I anticipate good hockey but very physical,” Vernon said. “I think that with the two-referee system, you can’t get away with anything on the ice. I think discipline is going to be a big key in this. Teams don’t want to be in the penalty box. Both teams have great power plays…I think both teams are going to play very cautiously from that standpoint so you’ll just see good hits. You’ll see great hockey. It’s a given.”

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Six years of harsh reality be damned, the Maple Leafs are sticking to their plan – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Stay the course. Stick to the plan.

We’re painfully close. Closer than it appears.

In the wake of their sixth consecutive opening-round postseason defeat, the Toronto Maple Leafs will septuple down on the Shanaplan, the blueprint.

They have seen enough progress within this sad string of playoff disappointments to not only believe in their strategy but believe harder. Six years of harsh reality be damned.

“Certainly, as we look forward to next year, there’s always going to be new faces. That being said, we will not be making changes just simply for the sake of saying that we made changes,” said Brendan Shanahan, entering the eighth year of his reign and still hunting Round 2.

“In spite of the fact that we were not able to finish Tampa off in Game 6 and Game 7, I saw a different team and a different approach.”

There is no whiff that the off-ice approach, at least publicly, will alter.

History will dictate whether Leaf Nation is rewarded for this regime’s loyalty and belief or foiled by stubbornness and hubris — and left with a diminished pool of picks and prospects.

During the club’s locker cleanout Tuesday, Shanahan gave Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe a firm endorsement for 2022-23.

Dubas not only backed Keefe but said the idea of dialing up experienced free agents Barry Trotz and Peter DeBoer hadn’t crossed his mind.

“I only think Sheldon is going to continue to get better,” Dubas said. “And I think when we speak of Sheldon in 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be in the same way that you [speak about] those two great coaches. And I think that’ll be played out here in Toronto.”

On the surface, no one is lighting a fire under anyone.

Maybe that’s just smart PR.

What would be troubling, though, is this: Maybe it’s complacency.

The air of disappointment, the vows to dig deeper, the sombre tones as the Leafs packed their belongings for the summer… it all felt so familiar. Just part of the cycle.

“As much as winning can bring people together,” Shanahan said, “learning how to deal with the heartbreak and devastation of falling short, depending on what kind of relationship you have, can bring you closer as well.”

What if, for these regular-season superstars, Round 2 has become the new Stanley Cup, the way RFA has become the new UFA?

“I don’t think playing in any passionate hockey market will allow for comfort to seep into a group,” Shanahan defended.

Thing is, plenty of supporters seem content with giving this another go, essentially, as is. Run it back. Hope the Maple Leafs are 100 per cent healthy again, that they draw an easier opponent, and that next time they will have learned their lesson for real.

I threw up a Twitter poll Monday to gauge whom the fans would like to see pay for another long golf season, and 66.9 per cent of 27,200 voters are happy to run this core back with minor changes on the fringes.

While his actions this summer will speak louder, Dubas says he is still content with allocating an inordinate percentage of his cap space to four forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander) and an offensively gifted defenceman (Morgan Rielly).

Even after losing multiple do-or-die games to organizations that invested more in goaltending, defence and bottom-six depth.

“The contracts to those players that you’re referencing, I think they’re providing us great value in the way that they’re producing, in the way that they continue to evolve as they go through their contract. So, I don’t regret those at all,” said Dubas, ready to go money-balling for 2023’s David Kämpf and Michael Bunting.

“It’s the reality in the league right now that you’re probably not going to be able to spend as much as you want on those depth pieces. And you’re really going to have to do a great job of finding value, whether that’s someone that’s coming off injury, someone that hasn’t been given great opportunity, [or] someone coming off a bad year that you see something in.”

In a game of goal-line reviews and phantom high-sticks, the Maple Leafs believe they are simply “one shot away,” as captain John Tavares put it.

No need for major surgery.

Just a few more bargain-bin gems, a couple extra hours in the gym. A few less careless penalties, convert on a couple more power-plays.

“We’re slowly understanding the way we need to play,” William Nylander said.

“There’s significant buy-in here, which I don’t think you get everywhere.” Jason Spezza added. “We need more just — that stubbornness of not accepting to lose a game. It’s in the room. It definitely is in the room. These guys, they’re learning how hard it is.”

So are Shanahan and Dubas.

The brass will do their best to sell steady veteran Mark Giordano on the Spezza salary program. They’ll explore a Jack Campbell extension but also alternatives in the goalie market. The fringe forwards will be juggled and a few let loose.

But to hear the decision-makers tell it, mostly what the Maple Leafs need is a seventh playoff shot.

That should do the trick.

And they’ve done a shrewd enough of a sell job to get one.

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