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China opposes 'politicization of sports' after WTA suspends tournaments over Peng Shuai – The Globe and Mail

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Peng Shuai of China serves at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing in 2017. The head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced Wednesday that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

China declared opposition to “politicization of sports” on Thursday, after the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended tournaments in the country following star player Peng Shuai’s accusations of sexual assault against a former vice premier.

Unconvinced by Peng’s public appearances since the scandal first broke a month ago, the WTA said it wants assurances of Peng’s well-being and has called for an investigation into the accusations levelled by the former world number one doubles player against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

It also cited concerns over the safety of other players.

The stance taken by the WTA comes at a sensitive time for China, as Beijing is preparing to host the Winter Olympics next February, and global rights groups and others have called for a boycott in protest against China’s human rights record.

When asked about the matter at a regular briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly comment on the WTA’s move but said China “opposes the politicisation of sports.”

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Thursday that it had held a second video call with Peng, having held the first late last month.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her,” the IOC said.

Beijing has remained largely silent over the scandal and authorities have blocked discussions of the topic on China’s heavily-censored internet.

Instead, the Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic English-language tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, took aim at the WTA in an editorial on Thursday, accusing it of “bringing politics into women’s tennis” and of being a “lever of Western public opinion”.

The editorial, posted on the newspaper’s account on Twitter account – which is not available in China – called the WTA “betrayers of the Olympic spirit” and said that “some forces in the West are instigating a boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.”

The U.S.-headquartered tour’s decision to walk away from one of its biggest markets was applauded by many leading figures in the tennis world but could cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.

Peng’s whereabouts became a matter of international concern following a nearly three-week public absence after she publically accused Zhang in a social media message posted in early November.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng’s allegation.

Peng did appear in mid-November at a dinner with friends and a children’s tennis tournament in Beijing, photographs and videos published by Chinese state media and by the tournament’s organisers showed.

On Nov. 21, IOC President Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video call with Peng, who competed at three Olympics, during which she told him she was safe.

But WTA chief executive Steve Simon, who said the decision to suspend tournaments in China had the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, said they were not convinced all was well with Peng.

The Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin used his personal Twitter account on Thursday to accuse the WTA of “coercing” Peng to “support the West’s attack” on China.

Serving as de facto messengers to the outside world, Hu and other Global Times reporters were among the first to publish images and videos of Peng’s appearances earlier this month.

The Global Times also cited a statement from the Chinese Tennis Association saying that it would defend its rights, and warning that the WTA should bear the legal consequences. The CTA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Calls to the organisers of the China Open tournament went unanswered.

Searches on the topic of the WTA’s suspension yielded no results on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Thursday, and at least one post seen by Reuters that criticised the WTA’s move was later deleted.

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Sabres' Dell suspended three games for hit on Batherson – TSN

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Buffalo Sabres goaltender Aaron Dell has been suspended three games for interference on Ottawa Senators forward Drake Batherson, NHL Player Safety announced Wednesday.

Batherson is expected to miss significant time after a collision with Dell as he attempted to skate around the net in Tuesday’s 5-0 Senators win. Dell appeared to shove Batherson with his right shoulder, who went feet-first into the boards and needed help to leave the game.

The hit from Dell drew the ire of the Senators, who sounded off on the goaltender post-game.

“I thought that play on Batherson was pretty dirty,” winger Tyler Ennis said, “the goalie looked like he threw his shoulder into Batherson”

“The frustrating part is he’s done it before and he continues to do it.,” head coach DJ Smith said. “It’s interference, (Batherson) wasn’t in the path of the goalie and at the last second he steps in and hits him.”

Senators goaltender Matt Murray also took his counterpart to task for his role in Batherson’s injury.

“I don’t like calling out other goalies. But they’re (players) not expecting to get hit by a goalie,” said Murray.  “That’s a dangerous play that turns out to be an unfortunate result – one of our best players goes down.”

Batherson, who scored his 13th goal of the season, played 5:38 in Tuesday’s game before exiting. The 23-year-old has already tied a career-high with 34 points this season in 31 games.

More to come.

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Soccer-Premier League says minimum four COVID-19 cases needed for fixture postponement

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Premier League sides can apply for a fixture postponement only if they have a minimum of four positive COVID-19 cases in their squads, the league said on Wednesday following a meeting of representatives of all 20 clubs.

A total of 22 games have been called off this season due to COVID-19 outbreaks and the subsequent unavailability of players, with the league being criticised by some clubs for their handling of the crisis.

Earlier, a match could be postponed if one of the teams did not have 13 available outfield players — and one goalkeeper — “either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players”.

“Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold,” the league said in a statement.

“From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.”

The new guidelines will kick in ahead of the game between Burnley and Watford on Feb. 5.

The previous rule came under heavy scrutiny, with some clubs being accused of “manipulating the system” in order to get games postponed during the busy festive period.

Tottenham Hotspsur were most vocal in their criticism following the postponement of the north London derby earlier this month, saying they were “extremely surprised” that the request from Arsenal, who had one COVID-19 case, was accepted.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta had also called for more clarity around postponements related to COVID-19.

The league added: “Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Premier League Board examines a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of COVID-19.”

On Monday, the league said it had reported 16 new infections of COVID-19 in the previous week, continuing a downward trend in the number of positive cases for a fourth week.

 

(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Better late than never: Oilers elevate game in third to beat Canucks – Sportsnet.ca

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There it was, on a silver platter.

A chance for a losing team to build on its first win in eight games, Saturday’s heartening 5-3 victory over Calgary still coursing through the veins. An opportunity to build some momentum against a Vancouver team in the throes of a COVID-19 shortage, ripe for a home loss against what was supposed to be a confident Oilers club.

This should be easy, right?

What? The Canucks are starting Spencer Martin in goal?

Piece of cake, right?

Yeah, right.

Down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play on Tuesday, Ryan McLeod slipped a shot between Martin and the near post. It was Martin’s only mistake on a 50-shot night, but by the time they were done the Oilers had fought back for a 3-2 overtime victory.

In recent losing streaks of six and seven games, it was usually Edmonton’s netminder who would surrender that queasy goal at an important moment. But now, after winning two straight games, if ever you wanted evidence that perhaps Edmonton’s luck has turned, look no further than the smelly goal that opened the floodgates in Vancouver.

“It’s 16 games. It’s tough to blame it all on bounces,” Connor McDavid admitted of their woes of late. “We weren’t playing our best hockey, but bounces do go a long way, and ‘Clouder found a way to sneak one through.”

“(Martin) was playing unbelievable, shutting the door all game,” said McLeod, who has five goals in 27 games this season. “It’s just the little squeaker ones that go in first and open the door for the rest of the guys. Early in the shift, I had a chance to shoot and I made a pass. They’ve been telling me to shoot a little more. I decided to shoot.”

From there the Oilers dominated a Canucks team that has been gutted by COVID cases, showing up to play Tuesday with no Bo Horvat, no Tanner Pearson, no Conor Garland and neither of the goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko nor Jaro Halak.

Cue Martin, the third-stringer who faced an even 50 shots and held Edmonton to two regulation goals. He had preceded McLeod with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and played against Connor McDavid back in their minor hockey days around the GTA. So the Oilers knew of him, if not how to beat him through the opening 45 minutes.

But once McLeod broke the seal, you could see Edmonton gain life. The Oilers outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the third period and 9-1 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl’s 29th tied the game halfway through the third off a lovely pass by the returning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid scored his first since Dec. 31 to capture the second point in overtime.

The Oilers captain has been slumping for a few weeks. The jump has been there, just not the usual production.

“I’ve been a bit snake bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my chances, but haven’t been able to put one away. It was nice to be able to contribute and find a way to score a goal.”

Nice to win two straight, something the Oilers last did in the two games between six- and seven-game losing streaks. They are still right in thick of the Pacific Division race with half a season to go, but only if they can win a goodly share of their games in hand.

“It’s important — we want to get on a little roll here. That’s the main focus,” said McDavid, whose team faces Nashville on Thursday before hitting the road for Montreal, Ottawa and Washington. “It was a big win on Saturday, it’s a big win tonight. We’ve got to keep marching forward.”

It was the second straight game that Edmonton fell behind 2-0 and then battled back to win. “Not exactly a recipe for success,” said McDavid.

They still never score first — this was the 10th straight game and 25th of 28 games they’ve gone down 1-0 — but give the Oilers credit. They dominated this hockey game, outshooting Vancouver 50-27 while garnering 62.5 percent of scoring chances and 81.25 percent of the high danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen was his usual self in goal. And by that we mean you wondered about one goal, an Elias Pettersson snapper from the outside edge of the circle, but he stopped Tyler Motte on a crucial short-handed breakaway that immediately preceded Draisaitl’s game-tying goal.

In the end Koskinen allowed two, and in a 3-2 league his team won by that exact score. Consider it a game well goaltended.

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