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CFL, U.S.-based XFL in discussions about potential partnership – CBC.ca

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Twenty-six years after being released by the Calgary Stampers, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is looking at re-establishing his CFL ties.

Both the CFL and XFL revealed Wednesday they’re poised to begin serious discussions about a potential partnership. Neither side would say who initiated talks first, only that they’ve agreed to collaborating on ways to grow football.

Johnson, an actor and former pro wrestler, is a co-owner of the American-based XFL.

“It’s an exciting moment for us to really start talking about how do we collaborate,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said. “That’s a great word and it’s at the heart of this.

“Where that leads we don’t know, but it’s going to be exciting. Sometimes we over-use the phrase world class but they are world-class people.”

Bigger challenge ahead

In a statement Wednesday, the XFL put its plans to return in the spring of 2022 on hold, “pending the outcome of our conversations with the CFL.”

The timing of the talks is curious, given the CFL has a bigger, more immediate challenge before it — resuming play in 2021 after being forced to cancel the ’20 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Look, we’re full speed ahead on our return-to-play plan for the 2021 CFL season,” Ambrosie said. “All of this is about what will happen in the future.

“So 2021 is our absolute focus and then you use this conversation we’re kicking off to talk about the future beyond 2021.”

It’s a fact not lost upon Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young, whose city is scheduled to host this years Grey Cup.

“While there was some interesting news [Wednesday] from the Canadian Football League office, rest assured that our singular focus now is getting back on the field in 2021 and putting on the best Grey Cup in CFL history,” he said in a statement. “Our commitment to our fans is that we will accomplish both.”

Bringing the two together

Johnson purchased the XFL last year with business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital for $15 million US. The expectation was it would resume play in the spring of 2022.

Johnson played football collegiately at Miami. The former defensive lineman aspired to play in the NFL but upon graduation in 1995 joined the Calgary Stampeders before being released from the practice roster.

Afterward, Johnson followed in the footsteps of his late Canadian-born father, Rocky and entered professional wrestling. He joined WWE in 1996, becoming The Rock, before embarking on a successful acting career.

Johnson was unavailable for comment Wednesday. But Garcia, Johnson’s ex-wife, said the CFL and XFL share similar values on and off the field.

“The wonderful thing [is] Dwayne’s personal experience is symptomatic of what lives in the CFL and we already seek those things out,” said Garcia, the XFL’s chairwoman. “I’d say everything aligned beautifully.

“If you’re looking at Dwayne and myself and the career we’ve built, it always has a global reach, community reach, an expansive entertainment media reach. This collaboration, this dialogue, fits right into that approach.”

On her Instagram account Wednesday, Garcia posted a picture of herself holding a cup of coffee beside a bookshelf that featured a CFL book and XFL football. Below, it said: “The perfect cup of coffee when you’re about to shake things up.”

Ambrosie, Garcia and XFL president/CEO Jeffrey Pollack were emphatic that nothing has been decided and all options will be examined. They also agreed that any talk of a merger involving the two leagues was very premature.

Like Ambrosie, Pollack said these talks are aimed at the future.

“This is about possibility and potential in a wonderful form,’ Pollack said. “That’s a nice place to start a conversation from.

“There’s still a lot to discuss and explore and learn about each other but we’re excited to be in these conversations and excited to see where it goes.”

Ambrosie said he planned to bring the CFL Players’ Association up to speed on the talks Wednesday.

“We want to make sure they know we’re just at the beginning of the beginning,” Ambrosie said. “But we do want the players to know that this discussion is happening and that it’s about growth.

“It’s about opportunity and it’s about entertainment and those things can benefit everybody.”

If the CFL and XFL look at how to play games together or against each other, there’ll be no shortage of challenges to overcome, given the many differences between the Canadian and American games. And there’d also be the question of if or how the CFL ratio (at least 21 Canadians on a roster, including a minimum of seven starters) would apply.

The CFL expanded into the U.S. between 1993-95, adding franchises in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Calif., Shreveport, La., Birmingham, Ala. and Memphis, Tenn. But the experiment — which included American clubs not requiring to have Canadians on their rosters — ended after the ’95 season with the Grey Cup-champion Baltimore Stallions relocating to Montreal.

Creating intrigue

Aligning with a huge star like Johnson would undoubtedly interest the CFL and its quest to appeal to a younger demographic. The last time it had such star power was in 1991 when Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, actor John Candy and hockey great Wayne Gretzky purchased the Toronto Argonauts, then signed Raghib (Rocket) Ismail en route to winning the Grey Cup that year.

But three years later, McNall, Gretzky and Candy’s estate sold the Argos to TSN and Labatt Breweries for $4.7 million.

“It’s less about why is this the time and more about where we both were at as we’re looking to grow and expand our league,” Garcia said. “Take advantage of entertainment properties, which communities, create an advantages for athletes and players in the game of gridiron football.

“It was a like-minded process of two leagues coming together to discuss.”

Not all CFL supporters shared that sentiment Wednesday. Many took to social media to voice their displeasure.

“I’m going to bet on optimism, I’m going to bet on all of those fans who we love that want to see us grow our game,” Ambrosie said. “They know that in our biggest markets we need to re-energize.

“I’m going to bet on the idea they’re going to see the passion Dany, Jeffrey and Dwayne and their partners at RedBird have for the CFL and what we represent. I’m just going to bet that the best of our fans is going to surface here and they’re going to say, ‘Great. The CFL is talking to these world-class operators who can help us realize the full potential of football in Canada.”‘

XFL history

The XFL has enjoyed a brief, troubled history.

It was first introduced in February 2000 by wrestling executive Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol, then the chairman of NBC Sports, as a fun alternative to the NFL. But the league lasted only one year (2001).

McMahon resurrected the XFL in 2020 with eight teams. But it ceased operations after just five weeks of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic and filed for bankruptcy April 13.

The league has always had a CFL flavour to it. In 2001, longtime CFL head coach/GM Jim Barker was the offensive co-ordinator of the champion L.A. Xtreme, its roster featuring quarterback Scott Milanovich — who would become a head coach in the CFL with Toronto and Edmonton — and longtime punter Noel Prefontaine.

And in 2020, it had two former CFL head coaches with Tampa Bay’s Marc Trestman (Grey Cup champion head coach with Montreal and Toronto) and Houston’s June Jones (Hamilton).

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Olympics-U.S. women to face Australia in women’s football at Tokyo Games

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(Reuters) – The U.S. women’s national team will face Australia, Sweden and New Zealand at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, while in the men’s competition 2016 winners Brazil will take on Germany following the group stage draw on Wednesday.

The American women’s team are the reigning world champions and four-time winners of the Olympic tournament and will start as favourites in Tokyo, with Rio 2016 winners Germany failing to qualify.

Team GB women have drawn 2016 bronze medallists Canada, Chile and hosts Japan. Making only their second Olympic tournament appearance, Team GB will be led by England’s interim coach Hege Riise.

On the men’s side, Brazil will take on Germany, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia.

Mexico, the 2012 gold medallists, were pitted against hosts Japan, South Africa and France.

The men’s team are usually restricted to selecting players under the age of 23, with just three overage players allowed.

However, the age bracket has been raised for the Tokyo Games in line with the one-year postponement of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Rafael Nadal rallies from set down to advance in Barcelona

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Top seed Rafael Nadal rallied from a set back to beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the second round at the Barcelona Open in Spain.

Nadal lost serve in the opening game of the match and wasn’t able to break Ivashka’s serve throughout the first set. He won just 70.6 percent of points on his first serve, was broken twice and had two double faults in an uncharacteristically poor showing on service in the opening set.

By the second set, he had righted his serve, winning 86.7 percent of points on his first serve in the second set and 83.3 percent in the third. He didn’t face a break point in either set.

In other action, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 3 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 4 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 6 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada were among those advancing.

No. 9 Fabio Fognini of Italy defaulted for verbal abuse. He was losing 6-0, 4-4 to Zapata Miralles of Spain when the line judge reported him for swearing after a foot fault. He had been warned earlier in the match

Serbia Open

Top seed and home-country favorite Novak Djokovic needed just 68 minutes to top South Korean Soon-woo Kwon 6-1, 6-3 and advance to the quarterfinals in Belgrade, Serbia.

Djokovic capitalized on five of his eight service break opportunities in the win. In the next round, he’ll meet fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, the eighth seed, who needed three sets to oust Arthur Rinderknech of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Also advancing was the No. 2 seed, Matteo Berrettini, who defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-3. Fifth seed Filip Krajinovic beat Nikola Milojevic 6-1, 6-1 in an all-Serb match.

 

(Field Level Media)

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Ice hockey-Women’s world championships cancelled due to COVID-19

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(Reuters) -The women’s ice hockey world championships set to be played in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia have been cancelled because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Canada, Hockey Canada said on Wednesday.

The announcement came one day before the 10 teams were to arrive to begin their quarantine ahead of the May 6-16 tournament.

“This is very disappointing news to receive with just a few weeks until the tournament was to begin,” said International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel in a statement.

“We strongly believe that we had the adequate safety measures in place. In the end, we must accept the decision of the government.”

The IIHF and Hockey Canada were informed by the Nova Scotia provincial government on Wednesday that the 10-country tournament could not go ahead due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19.

Still the news came as a shock after Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer had 24 hours earlier given the event the thumbs- up.

“At five o’clock this morning we were full go and at 7:30 am we were not,” explained Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney. “That is the way the world is right now and there is only so much we can control.

“At the end of the day there is a bigger game than the one we play here and quite honestly it is about the safety of the general public.”

The cancellation was another blow for the women’s game that has endured a number of recent setbacks, including the folding of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

It was also the second consecutive year the Nova Scotia world championships have been stopped by COVID-19.

“Definitely, a little bit of disbelief, a little shock, a lot of emotion,” said Canadian coach Gina Kingsbury, who pulled some players off the ice to deliver the bad news. “This is a group that has been through a lot this past year and two years so they are definitely familiar with disappointing news.”

Both the IIHF and Hockey Canada indicated they plan to play the world championships this year, possibly this summer, in Canada.

“Our intention, and that of the IIHF, is to reconnect with this event as a world championship in 2021 in Canada,” said Renney. “That’s our number one objective. We have every desire to hold this event in Canada.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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