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British Open gives Rory McIlroy one more chance to fulfil media prophecy – The Globe and Mail



Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks on from the green on the tenth hole during a practice round ahead of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 14, 2021 in Sandwich, England.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The British Open begins Thursday. Per recent tradition, that means golf must once more wrestle with its great existential question – does Brooks hate Bryson or, like, secretly love him?

The Koepka vs. DeChambeau rivalry is a bunch of things – an endless source of quotes (Bryson DeChambeau, apropos of nothing: “I really think I’m a great person.”); a safe place for broadcasters to hide when there’s nothing else to talk about; a mildly effective marketing campaign. What it very plainly is not is a real fight.

However it started (according to Brooks Koepka, after an argument over DeChambeau’s slow play), you already know how it’s going to end. With some sort of pay-per-view therapy session, followed by a good, long cry. Maybe they can pass around a bongo drum or a talking stick. Get Dr. Phil to rub their shoulders.

The phoniness of the whole thing reached new levels this week. The pair assumed their usual roles in the lead-in news conferences – Koepka the irritated antagonist, DeChambeau his baffled foil. Both were asked what it’s going to be like to play together on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Koepka: “I can deal with anyone in the world for a week.”

DeChambeau: “I think it would be kinda funny actually.”

If this thing was real, the only correct answer from either guy is bug-eyed silence or “Next question.”

Currently, only one person is getting anything out of this charade: Rory McIlroy.

Because it’s the British Open, it’s time to begin the annual autopsy on McIlroy’s career. For the first time in a while, he isn’t the biggest story in the lead-in.

Every year, the coverage of the most obsessed-over British golfer in his (sort of) home major fits into two categories.

Before a ball is struck, it’s time to reflect on McIlroy’s newfound maturity, how he has finally (finally, finally, finally) learned not to sweat the small stuff, how golf is just a small part of his rich life.

No sporting press corps is more intertwined with the athletes it covers than golf’s. For years, that collective has been trying to lift McIlroy up to Tiger Woods’s status, mainly so they can have another Woods to cover.

McIlroy, 32, has resisted their efforts. He remains one of the world’s great golfers. Just one who never wins anything important such as a major. It’s been seven years since the last of his four major victories, but it feels like 70.

Still, his many media boosters persist. Probably more out of habit than anything else.

The second category of McIlroy coverage at the Open is the sort that happens once he’s lost again.

As he’s hacking his way across the course, looking more like a man searching for the Lost City of Z than an elite athlete, the mournful columns about another unavoidable setback are being prepared.

Even the nastiest tabloids give McIlroy soft treatment. That’s his other natural talent: eliciting sympathy.

Because if McIlroy, formerly the most likely to succeed, can’t win the Open, then, really, what’s the point? To any of it?

The example par excellence of this one-two was presented at the last, pre-COVID Open, in 2019. It was played at Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush, McIlroy’s home course in his home country.

He wasn’t all the talk going into that event. He was the only talk. The story of how he’d shot 61 on the course as a high schooler was told and retold like the parable of loaves and fishes. As though it were proof of divinity.

Being in Portrush that week, you had the feeling of occupying a space where history (a different sort than usual) was about to occur. In just four days, McIlroy would fulfill his promise.

As it turned out, only two days were required. Actually, only about 20 minutes. On Day 1, McIlroy quadruple-bogeyed the first hole and that was that.

By now used to how this is supposed to work – huge lead-up, small failure, measured reaction – McIlroy provided the expected bumpf about enjoying the ride. He even pulled up a tear or two.

“I will look back on this day with nothing but fond memories and fondness, positivity,” McIlroy said at the time.

The media unanimously agreed this sort of bizarre assertion – “My favourite day ever? Probably the time I was fired and then caused a car crash” – is how champions talk. “Carrying water” doesn’t begin to cover it. More like trucking water in from out of province.

This week, McIlroy is behaving like a few days, rather than two years, have passed. Because when it comes to McIlroy’s golf career, there are only two states any more: playing the British Open and everything else.

Did that feeling of disappointment stay with you for long?

“Not really,” McIlroy told reporters. “I ended up winning the FedEx Cup in 2019, so it gave me a few million reasons to feel better.”

Ho ho, the cheek. You get it, right? He suffered a crushing blow to his professional pride in his holiest of holies, but it’s okay because he’s rich.

You can’t blame McIlroy for playing it this transparently false way. Does it bother him that he choked at home? Of course it does. What’s he supposed to do? Tattoo a tear on his face? There’s only so much sackcloth any person can wear.

So McIlroy and the media continue this dance – they pretend golf isn’t the most important thing in a top professional golfer’s life and he obliges them by agreeing.

Meanwhile, his professional focus reduces to a few weekends a year, none more important than this one. This magical date has the power to put him back on top again. To allow him to assert himself as the one true heir to Woods while he’s still young enough to enjoy it.

That process seems especially portentous this year at Royal St. George’s, what with Woods now non-officially retired from the game. Golf is in the midst of figuring who will replace the biggest draw in the sport’s history, or if that is even possible.

This time, the pretournament onus falls on other categories: the big two (Koepka, DeChambeau), the form players (Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson), the best-to-never-win-a-major (Xander Schauffele). McIlroy is just one of a large, leading pack.

He’ll have other Opens and other chances. His cheerleaders will shake their pompoms before all of them because everyone loves a comeback.

But both McIlroy and his press agents must realize he will never again get an opportunity as symbolically potent as this one.

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Thai media restrictions raise freedom of expression concerns – CTV News



Thailand implemented new regulations on Friday that appeared to broaden the government’s ability to restrict media reports and social media posts about the coronavirus pandemic, raising immediate concerns that authorities will seek to stifle criticism.

While Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has long sought to crack down on what he calls fake news and has a government department devoted to it, the new regulations, announced late Thursday, include the ability to prosecute people for distributing “news that may cause public fear.”

It also gives Thai regulators the ability to force internet service providers to turn over the IP address of the person or entity distributing such news, and to “suspend the internet service to that IP address immediately.”

In a joint statement sent by six Thai journalist associations to Prayuth and published by multiple Thai media outlets, the groups urged him to cancel the restrictions, saying they were overly broad and an attack on freedom of expression.

“The clause `news that may cause public fear’ allows authorities to proceed with legal action against the media and the public without clear criteria,” they wrote, threatening to take legal action if necessary.

“Even if the public or media share factual information, state agencies may use this clause as grounds to file a complaint or threaten them.”

The new measures come as Thailand is struggling to cope with a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic fueled by the Delta variant, with rising numbers of cases and deaths. On Friday another 17,345 cases and 117 deaths were reported.

In announcing the restrictions, the prime minister said they were necessary to combat the spread of inaccurate rumors that could impede government efforts to vaccinate the population and implement measures to slow the pandemic.

“We have daily briefings to give the right information to the public,” Prayuth said. “But some try to distort the information and cause confusion.”

The announcement immediately raised fears that the measures could be used by authorities to stifle legitimate criticism and could also have a chilling effect by making it less likely that people would publicly question the government’s actions.

“Even if Thai people share legitimate information, even second hand, the government could still determine that the information, while factual, could cause a panic,” Mark Cogan, a professor at Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University, wrote Friday in an opinion piece in the Thai Enquirer online newspaper. “The government has almost accomplished what it has long set out to achieve. It’s a giant step closer to being sole arbiter of what is true and what is fake.”

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri downplayed the concerns, saying that the order would not be “enforced in such a way to limit the media or people’s freedom of speech.”

“The government is rather trying to manage fake news or any criticism based on false information to prevent misunderstanding and hatred in the public,” he said.

  Asked whether factual reports that have the potential to create fear could be affected, he said that “if the news is reported appropriately, there should not be a problem.”

In a discussion on Facebook, prominent Thai journalist Suthichai Yoon suggested Prayuth was reacting to growing dissatisfaction with his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and was looking for a scapegoat.

“The government is stumbling, and feels that the reports presenting the facts to the public from the media, the mainstream media, are questioning whether the government can handle the COVID crisis, and whether the government should be changed or the prime minister replaced,” he said.

“The media is the easy scapegoat.”

Asked about the new measures at a news conference Friday, the top U.S. diplomat in Thailand, U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Michael Heath, did not comment specifically, but emphasized that “the United States always supports freedom of expression.”

“That expression sometimes will include criticism of the government,” he said. “As you’ve seen in my own country, we tolerate a wide range of criticism of our government — some of it’s justified and some of it’s not — but we will always support the right for people to express their opinions.”

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Media outlets appeal decision to deny info on stay of Port Moody mayor's sex assault charge –



Three media outlets are challenging a decision by the B.C. Supreme Court’s top judge to deny the public details about so-called alternative measures that resulted in the dismissal of a sexual assault charge against the mayor of Port Moody, B.C.

CBC, CTV and Global filed an application in B.C.’s Court of Appeal Thursday seeking to overturn a decision by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson rejecting a bid for specifics about the measures Robert Vagramov was required to complete in order for the Crown to agree to bring criminal proceedings against him to a halt.

In a 30-page document filed with the province’s top court, media lawyer Daniel Burnett argues that Hinkson failed to consider the open court principle, central to the Canadian justice system, which requires anyone seeking a ban on publication to prove it’s necessary to prevent harm.

Vagramov was charged with sexual assault in 2019 in relation to an incident his lawyer later characterized as an “awkward date.”

Some transparency ‘required’

The charge was stayed months later through a process designed to give offenders with no history of violence or sexual offences the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions while avoiding a criminal record and civil liability.

Vagramov leaves a news conference after being charged with sexual assault, at City Hall in Port Moody, B.C., on March 28, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

At the time the charge was stayed, the Crown told the court only that the mayor had “successfully completed” an alternative measures program. The specifics were not disclosed.

CBC, CTV and Global filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court asking Hinkson to OK the release by the Crown and B.C. Corrections of documents that confirmed Vagramov’s eligibility for alternative measures, the specifics of the measures he was asked to complete and confirmation of the fact that he completed them.

In his April ruling, the chief justice said the documents the media were seeking were never introduced in open court, and so the open court principle did not apply.

In the appeal, Burnett argues that while the records themselves may not have come before a judge, they’re “intertwined with the administration of justice.”

“A criminal charge before the court was stayed in court based upon a criteria set out in the Code. An officer of the court, Crown Counsel, entered the stay in court based upon the criteria,” the appeal application reads.

“Some transparency regarding the measures completed is required if the fairness of the alternative measures system is to be understood and considered. The public as well as those charged should not be expected to simply trust that the measures are appropriate, fair, or applied evenly.”

A ‘chilling’ effect

The case shines a light on a program designed to rid the court of minor cases, save money for taxpayers and ensure that Canadians who make a single, serious misstep don’t necessarily have to carry the burden of a life-altering criminal record.

In rejecting the media’s bid for disclosure, Hinkson reached back to a 1994 parliamentary discussion that saw the Bloc Québécois justice critic say that “a private, administrative route” was necessary to ensure that suspects who agreed to co-operate could be sure that they wouldn’t later find themselves publicly shamed.

Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson speaks to reporters Wednesday after the Crown stayed a charge against his client Vagramov. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Hinkson concluded that releasing Vagramov’s alternative measures details could lead to manipulation by accused people looking to game the system.

He also said the disclosure could have a “chilling” effect on accused people who agree to alternative measures in the belief that it will keep their names out of the headlines.

‘An error upon an error’

In the appeal, CBC, CTV and Global claim Hinkson came to those conclusions based on “pure speculation” without reviewing the documents themselves.

“It was an error upon an error,” Burnett writes.

The media claim they weren’t seeking detailed psychological reports, and that Vagramov himself has spoken publicly about sending an apology letter to the woman who accused him.

“It is equally likely that better knowledge of the program will increase the number of individuals who wish to participate in it,” Burnett writes.

“Appreciating that every case has different circumstances, there can be no valid justification for keeping secrecy over what kinds of alternative measures it takes to avoid a prosecution, and what Mr. Vagramov did to earn a stay.”

Vagramov was elected mayor in October 2018 when he was 28. 

He took a leave of absence after the charge was sworn but created a rift at city council when he returned to work in September 2019, ahead of the staying of the charge.

Vagramov later said was “deeply regretful” for the tension his criminal case brought upon council and the community.

The mayor’s lawyer did not return a request for comment Thursday.

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Athletes' Mental Health Puts Focus on Their Social Media Use – BNN



(Bloomberg) — The growing focus on mental health at the Olympic Games is bringing attention to the pitfalls and benefits of social media use by athletes, for whom platforms like Instagram and TikTok help them stay connected with fans amid the isolation of the pandemic while also leaving them vulnerable to abuse.

South Korean archer An San, who won three gold medals at the games, became the target of misogynist attacks online from people who criticized her short hairstyle as being “feminist.” Japanese mixed-doubles table tennis winner Jun Mizutani said in a now-deleted Twitter post after his victory over China that he was getting anonymous death threats online, without naming the origins of the messages.

“There are definitely a lot of mean people out there who just say stuff that don’t need to be said,” said U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee after winning gold in the women’s individual all-around event on Thursday.

The rising interest in athletes’ mental wellbeing and the impact of social media prompted International Olympic Committee member Kirsty Coventry, herself a former swimmer for Zimbabwe, to reveal that she had quit social media in the past year.

“In the last couple of days we’ve heard of a few athletes who have gone off social media,” she told reporters Thursday. “As nice and supportive as some can be, the negative comments — even if they are the fewest comments — can be really hurtful to athletes.”

Many athletes use social media to feel empowered by sharing their voice, expanding their sphere of influence, fostering connections and building personal brands, said Fernando Frias, a sports psychologist at Oregon State University. But the significance of the Olympics, compounded with heightened national pride, also means more people are likely to direct negativity at athletes online.

The situation facing Japanese athletes is further complicated by the polarization in society over the decision to hold the Olympics during the pandemic. As a result, more people are taking their anger out online at athletes, said Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University.

Japanese gymnast Mai Murakami conceded that she had been affected by cyberbullying.

“I know there are people who were against holding the Olympics, and at the same time, I know there are people who are supportive,” she told reporters through tears after the all-around women’s event on Thursday. “And even though I don’t want to see those negative comments and as much as I try to ignore them, the information comes through and I pick it up before I know it. It was very hurtful and sad.”

At the same time, social media has been an important way for athletes to stay in touch with family and fans due to the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, and to draw attention to less popular sports or newer sports.

Rayssa Leal, the 13-year-old Brazilian skateboarder, added 4.5 million Instagram followers over two days after she won a silver medal, according to Facebook Inc.

U.S. rugby player Ilona Maher saw her followers on TikTok triple in number after she started videos from the Olympic Village with comical commentary on attractive athletes and cardboard beds.

“It’s also been a great tool to use for my own personal branding and getting my name out there. And hopefully also for my sport and getting rugby out there,” she said.

And quitting social media may not even be an option for some athletes, particularly those from poorer countries for whom building an online following has been instrumental to their success. For example, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who won the first gold medal ever for the Philippines, got enough money to go to Tokyo after posting an Instagram story in 2019 asking for financial support.

To help ameliorate some of the negative impact from social media, athletes can turn to psychologists who travel with their teams for help. Internet companies are also recognizing their role in minimizing harm experienced by athletes online. Facebook, for example, launched a private Instagram support account for athletes leading up to the games, according to Joyee Biswas, its head of sports partnerships in Asia-Pacific.

Frias, the sports psychologist, even suggested that social media literacy even be built into curricula in early childhood education and in sports training.

“I encourage athletes to engage mindfully and intentionally with social media while setting clear boundaries regarding communication with followers and time spent,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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