TORONTO – The discourse is too easily hijacked in these disquieting culture-war days, distilling complicated issues into a rhetorical jingoism that prevents rational conversation and nuanced arguments.
Predictably, Major League Baseball landed in the woke-versus-MAGA fray with its decision Friday to pull the all-star game from Atlanta, in protest of Georgia’s new election bill that places several restrictions around the state’s voting process. Media proxies spent Saturday dutifully howling into the echo chambers of their respective audiences, the usual bluster replacing anything that might resemble productive debate.
Rather than falling down the rabbit hole, let’s emphasize that any election reform that wins approval on a strict party-line vote, rather than bi-partisan support, is designed to give someone the shaft. In the wake of Stacey Abrams’ loss to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018 by less than 55,000 seats, after Democrats flipped a pair of senate seats in last year’s election, with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims of widescale voting fraud debunked, the Georgia law is a blatant attack on the voters – often Black – who fuelled those gains.
None of this is comfortable territory for Major League Baseball, which despite cloaking itself in the legacy of Jackie Robinson, was the last of the major North American sports leagues to respond to the killing of George Floyd last year. That commissioner Rob Manfred reacted so quickly this time, consulting only with his executive council rather than all 30 team owners, is a clear indication he felt the sport couldn’t duck this and wait for things to blow over.
Tony Clark, head of the players union, may have helped set events in motion when he told Michael Silverman of the Boston Globe on March 26 that players “would look forward to having that conversation” about whether the all-star game should remain in Atlanta. U.S. President Joe Biden said he’d support pulling the game from Atlanta while several companies, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines among them, criticized the law.
The possibility of at least some players boycotting and tarnishing the event carried risk, and some corporate sponsors were surely wary of the association. But Manfred also met with The Players Alliance’s leadership in recent days, and MLB needed to prove its statements on social justice over the past year weren’t just lip-service.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s all-star game and MLB draft,” Manfred said in the release announcing the decision. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. … Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
Even if pragmatism factored into Manfred’s calculus as much as altruism, Major League Baseball in effect calling out the Republican sponsors and supporters of the Georgia bill represented a break from its carefully cultivated political protections.
Clearly rattled, Republican lawmakers threatened retaliation, with South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan going after baseball’s prized federal anti-trust exemption.
How Manfred reacts if Texas and Florida pass legislation currently under consideration that is similar to Georgia’s bears watching, but it’s going to be hard for the sport to walk things back after picking a side, and pulling millions of dollars in economic activity from the state.
“I support the decision,” said Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien, a member of both The Players Alliance and the union’s influential executive subcommittee. “It’s kind of a tough situation there where I personally, and I’m sure I speak for the Alliance, we want to support Georgia and the people who are affected by this bill by encouraging people to vote, doing everything you can to vote on Election Day.
“I know as a kid growing up, my mom went to work and it was hard just to get off work and go and go vote that day. Hopefully other states can make things easier for working class people, especially in Georgia, in those communities. I’m sure The Players Alliance will help that community and support them.”
Semien credited the Alliance leadership of Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia and Edwin Jackson for leading discussions with Manfred, but added that the issue had been a topic of discussion in the Blue Jays clubhouse over the past week “just to make sure everybody knew what’s going on.”
“We were just waiting to see what happened,” said Semien. “I got the notification on my phone that they made that decision and I thought it was pretty quick, so that’s good. I support it and we’ll move on from there.”
Added Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk: “Any time there’s voter suppression, it needs to be called out and obviously MLB stepped up and made the decision to move it. I definitely support MLB with their call.”
Such drastic action isn’t unprecedented for North American sports, as the NFL stripped Phoenix of the 1993 Super Bowl when Arizona voters declined to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday, and the NBA stripped Charlotte of the 2017 all-star game in response to a law scaling back anti-discrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ community.
Major League Baseball responded eight days after the bill was signed into law.
“It’s not the first time sports is trying to make a difference with situations like this,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who added later: “I don’t know all the specifics of those new laws in Georgia – I have an idea – but I supported the MLB decision to move the all-star game. I think every citizen should have the right to vote with ease.”
Unfathomable as it may be that saying this is necessary, let’s be clear that advocating for the right to vote isn’t politics, it’s a foundational right. All Major League Baseball did was stand up for a basic ideal, no matter how much the diversionary what-aboutism attempts to distract from that.
Olympics-U.S. women to face Australia in women’s football at Tokyo Games
(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)
Rafael Nadal rallies from set down to advance in Barcelona
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
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)
Ice hockey-Women’s world championships cancelled due to COVID-19
(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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