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Tearful Messi confirms he is leaving Barcelona, in talks with PSG

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: August 9, 2021)

Lionel Messi wept on Sunday as he bade farewell to his boyhood team FC Barcelona and confirmed he was talking with French club Paris St Germain over a possible move.

The 34-year-old Argentine’s emotional news conference followed Barca’s announcement last week that it could no longer afford him after a glittering two decades.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported on Sunday that he will travel to Paris either Sunday or Monday to undertake a medical and finalise a deal with the Qatar Sports Investment-owned club.

Spanish newspaper Marca reported PSG formally sent their offer to Messi on Sunday morning, just as the Argentine held the news conference.

While Messi did not confirm he would definitely join the Parisians, he said his plans were to carry on playing as long as possible, adding he still harbours ambitions to win another Champions League trophy.

“As long as I go on being competitive and as long as my body responds (I’ll carry on playing),” he told a news conference.

“As long as I can, I will carry on competing.”

PSG declined to comment on the report that Messi would be arriving in Paris later on Sunday. “We are not in a position to confirm anything,” a club spokesman said.

“I tried to behave with humility and respect and I hope that is what remains of me when I leave the club,” said an emotional Messi as hundreds of fans, many wearing his No. 10 jersey, massed outside Barca’s Camp Nou stadium to bid farewell to the player they called Messiah.

Messi broke down as he walked onto the stage before conducting his news conference and was handed a tissue by his wife Antonella Roccuzzo as he fought back the tears.

“This is the toughest moment of my career. When the club told me, I just froze. This is all like a bucket of cold water has been poured over me and we are still coming to terms with it,” he sobbed.

“When I get home, I’m sure it’ll be even worse. But I’ll be surrounded by my loved ones and I’ll carry on playing football, and when I do so, I’m sure it’ll become a bit easier.”

FINANCIAL ISSUES

It had been widely reported by local media that Messi was set to stay at Camp Nou, with the player admitting he had agreed to a five-year deal involving a 50% pay-cut.

Barca, whose debts total way over 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion), were unable to make the deal work within the frameworks of La Liga’s financial fair play regulations – prompting their surprise u-turn announcement last Thursday.

“Honestly, when the elections happened (in March), I spoke with (Barca president Joan) Laporta, we had dinner and after that I was convinced I would be staying,” Messi said.

“My contract was never the issue … What I know is that I did everything I could. The club say it could not happen because of La Liga. I can guarantee you that I did everything I could to stay. Last year I didn’t want to and I said that, but this year it was different.”

La Liga announced last Wednesday that it had secured a private equity injection of 2.7 billion euros from firm CVC, with the funds to be shared amongst the clubs in return for a 10% of the league’s revenue.

It had been believed this would allow Barcelona to get the Messi deal over the line, however after Real Madrid rejected the proposal and said they would take legal action against La Liga, Barca also came out against it.

Laporta told a news conference on Friday that Barca’s finances were in worse shape than he had thought after conducting an audit.

He added the league informed him that accepting this injection was the only way they would approve a new contract for Messi, but rejected that saying he had to put the long-term interests of the club above any player.

Marca also reported on Sunday that Barca fans had hired a French lawyer, who had lodged a case with the Paris Appeals Court to try and block Messi’s move to PSG.

RECORD BREAKER

Messi, Barca’s all-time record goalscorer with 682 in 21 years, received a lengthy standing ovation from the media, current and former team mates and coaches in attendance.

It was noticeable that he was not accompanied by Laporta or any of the other Barcelona directors.

All 35 trophies he won during his time at the club were laid out for what the club described would be a private photo session after the news conference.

Barcelona face Juventus in a pre-season friendly on Sunday, with nobody given Messi’s No.10 shirt for the game.

The club have not confirmed if they plan on leaving it vacant for the new season.

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Beijing marks 100 days to Winter Olympics amid COVID, rights concerns

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(Last Updated On: October 27, 2021)

With 100 days until the start of the Winter Olympics, Beijing is promising a “simple and safe” 2022 Games – although preparations are anything but simple as China readies to host thousands of athletes and personnel as it battles COVID-19 flare-ups, Reuters reported.

Beijing will be the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games, but the 2022 event is shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and calls from human rights groups for a boycott over China’s treatment of Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong.

The Games will run Feb. 4 to 20, with all participants subject to daily COVID-19 tests and no international spectators. Unlike this year’s Tokyo Summer Games local spectators will be allowed at events in and around the Chinese capital.

According to the report athletes and other Games-related personnel will be enveloped in a “closed loop” including three clusters of venues – one in downtown Beijing, one in the outskirts near the Great Wall, and one to the northwest of the city, in Hebei province.

Also unlike the Tokyo Games, which were delayed by a year and faced speculation they would be cancelled, there has been little doubt the Beijing Winter Olympics will take place – no matter what – as an increasingly assertive China seizes the opportunity to demonstrate soft power.

Still, the countdown comes as China, with some of the world’s most stringent COVID-19 controls, battles small Delta variant outbreaks. The Beijing and Wuhan marathons were postponed this week, and curbs on travel into the capital were announced due to dozens of daily new cases, read the report.

Restrictions on gatherings and travel have contributed to a lack of the anticipatory buzz that marked Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics – an extravaganza widely seen as China’s global coming-out party.

Since then, China has risen to superpower status, locked in antagonistic competition with the United States and under the increasingly authoritarian leadership of President Xi Jinping, with tightened censorship and suppression of dissent.

During the torch-lighting ceremony in Athens earlier this month, rights activists unfurled a banner reading “No Genocide Games” and waved a Tibetan flag, although the ceremony itself was not interrupted, as had been the case for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

Rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Winter Games and relocate the event unless China ends what the United States deems ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Activists and U.N. rights experts have said that at least 1 million Muslims were detained in camps in Xinjiang since 2017. Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism, Reuters reported.

After Boston Celtics centre Enes Kanter posted videos denouncing China’s human rights record last week, his name appeared to be blocked on China’s social media platform Weibo, and his team’s highlights were dropped from a domestic sports platform.

While no country has said its athletes will boycott the Games, European, British and American lawmakers have all voted for their diplomats to do so.

According to the report some facilities built for 2008, including the Bird’s Nest Stadium, will be re-used for 2022. Others have been newly built near the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, connected to Beijing by high speed rail, with the region’s cold but dry winters requiring the help of artificial snow to cover slopes.

The Games are also set to feature players from North America’s National Hockey League after they skipped the 2018 edition in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with superstars like Canada’s Sidney Crosby and Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin poised to add star power.

And while Xi has positioned the Games as an opportunity to accelerate development of winter sports, China is not expected to be among the biggest medals winners.

China topped the gold medals table at the 2008 Summer Games and came second at Tokyo, but won just one in the Winter Games in Pyeongchang and finished 14th overall.

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Afghans eagerly gear up to watch their team face off against Scotland in T20 World Cup match

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2021)

Amid all their concerns and economic woes, Afghans have something to look forward to on Monday night when their national team take on Scotland in the ICC World Cup T20 tournament in the UAE.

The national cricket team is scheduled to face Scotland in their first official match at about 6.30pm Kabul time.

For Afghans in the country, the match can be viewed live on Ariana TV, which has the rights to broadcast the tournament. For online viewers click here to watch the match.

Cricket fans across the country have high hopes that their team will do well – especially as Afghanistan is ranked number eight in T20 cricket – and many said Monday that a win would bring some much needed joy to the nation amid trying times.

“In these difficult and anxious days, our only joy is this sport and we support the Afghan national cricket team and we hope that our players can achieve a good result for Afghanistan in these competitions,” said Zabiullah Zadran, a resident of Paktia.

“It is sports and athletes who bring happiness to the people, and we are very happy that our national cricket team qualified for the World Cup.” said Khaibar Sharifi, a resident of Kabul.

“I urge all cricket fans to pray for the victory of the Afghan national cricket team in the World Cup. It is a great honor for Afghanistan and a very happy time, we are a very upset people,” said Hayatullah Durani, another Kabul resident.

Meanwhile, national cricket team players say they will put every effort into the match in order to secure a win for their countrymen.

Mohammad Nabi, captain of the Afghan team, says currently, cricket is collectively the only source of happiness for Afghans. Nabi added that the team is in good spirits and that Afghans back home are hoping for a win.

“Afghans all talk a lot about the team squad on social media, and Inshallah (God willing), the players will try to shine well, also the team’s morale is very good,” Nabi added.

“In this round of the World Cup, we promise our compatriots to play [well and] display best performances,” said Najibullah Zadran, a national cricket team player.

Afghanistan, which was an automatic qualifier, is in the second group with Scotland, Pakistan, Namibia, India and New Zealand.

Ariana Television Network has broadcasting rights of the T20 Cricket World Cup, which is being co-hosted by Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

This is the Afghan team’s third appearance at the T20 World Cup but won only two matches at the 2016 event. This year, the team is looking to win more matches and progress further in the competition.

Already last week, Afghanistan beat reigning World Cup holders West Indies in a warm up match.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE MATCH LIVE AT 6.30PM KABUL TIME

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Pakistanis euphoric after beating India in first World Cup win

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2021)

Firecrackers, blaring car horns and bursts of gunfire rang out across Pakistani cities on Sunday as cricket fans celebrated their first World Cup victory over arch rivals India, Reuters reported.

Shortly after captain Babar Azam and his partner Mohammad Rizwan sealed a crushing 10-wicket win in their Twenty20 World Cup group match in Dubai, cheers echoed from houses and apartment buildings.

“Congratulations to the Pakistan Team & esp(ecially) to Babar Azam who led from the front, as well as to the brilliant performances of Rizwan & Shaheen Afridi,” said Prime Minister Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to triumph in the one-day World Cup in 1992.

“The nation is proud of you all,” he tweeted.

His congratulations were echoed by the chief of the army staff, underlining the political symbolism of the win, Reuters reported.

According to the report the two neighbours have clashed repeatedly over the years, most recently in 2019 when Indian jets launched a raid into Pakistan over a militant attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 police.

On the field, however, players from both sides embraced and chatted warmly after the match.

In Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, fans poured onto the streets immediately after the final ball was bowled, waving Pakistani flags from motorcycles and car windows.

Pakistani media also reported loud celebrations in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir, a Muslim majority region that has been at the heart of much of the tension between the two countries.

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