Highly respected Dutch coach Guus Hiddink looks poised to take on a leading role in China’s aggressive push to finally become a force in international football.
The 71-year-old was pictured this week — glasses perched on his nose and taking notes — watching China’s under-21 side beat Myanmar 1-0 at home, amid reports that he is set to be formally appointed coach to lead the team into the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
When confirmed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA), the former Dutch national team manager will join another well-known veteran, the Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, in China’s coaching set-up.
The 70-year-old Lippi has been in charge of the senior side since 2016 and overseen a steady improvement, although China still failed to reach the World Cup in Russia and languish at 75th in the FIFA rankings.
“Although the Chinese Football Association has not officially announced it, the famous coach Hiddink has begun to enter the role of head coach,” the state Xinhua news agency said, noting that he remained in the stands during the under-21s’ win over Myanmar on Tuesday.
Soccer News said that Hiddink — whose last job was a caretaker spell at Chelsea in 2015-2016 — met the players before the game.
The Dutchman will be paid just less than four million euros ($4.7 million) a year after tax, Chinese media have said.
He is being brought in as the Tokyo 2020 Games loom into view and as the Chinese government pushes an ambitious agenda to ramp up football from grassroots all the way to the senior team.
Like Lippi, Hiddink comes with a wealth of experience at club and international level.
In addition to his two emergency stints at Chelsea, he also coached Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven and Valencia, among others.
Hiddink is perhaps best known for inspiring co-hosts South Korea to a shock semi-final spot at the 2002 World Cup.
British hockey star Helen Richardson-Walsh — who battled back from depression to win an Olympic gold medal in Rio — says young athletes need help to manage the pressures that come with top-level sport.
Richardson-Walsh, 36, said young, ambitious elite sportsmen and women may be unaware of the incessant and challenging demands they will face. “Transition into sport is equally if not more important than making transition out,” she told a panel in London discussing athletes and their mental health.
“Young people coming now into professional sports is difficult. You go from being someone enjoying sport and doing it because you love it to suddenly being in this environment with the pressure and expectations.”
Richardson-Walsh, who became the youngest woman to represent Britain in hockey at an Olympics at the age of 18, says it is almost impossible to switch off.
“When I woke up in the morning I had to put a heart monitor on my finger before I had breakfast,” she said.
“It told me how many hours I had slept. For breakfast the question was ‘what am I going to eat?’ not ‘what do I want to eat?’.
“The young may want so much to think about being an athlete but it is 24/7, you don’t go to get home at five, job done. You have to think about everything you have to do. Transitioning into that is a big thing.”
Richardson-Walsh, who has competed at four Olympics, has struggled with bouts of depression and wrote a blog documenting her struggles in 2014.
The hockey player, who was helped by her wife Kate, also a team-mate, says she has even questioned part of the legacy of the Olympic success.
“After Rio and London I visited schools and lots of young girls who suddenly wanted to be a hockey player,” she said.
“Initially I thought for them that is great as it is a pathway to a potential career opportunity but then on the other side I thought ‘ah, actually is that a good thing?’. How early do you decide you want to do that?”
Shameema Yousuf, who works as a psychologist for young players at Premier League side Brighton, says it is important to reach aspiring elite athletes as early as possible.
“I think that is key if we give youth the tools and build their awareness up at that age,” said Yousuf, referring to the 10-16 age group at the club.
“Then they are better able to identify and manage themselves at an older age in an environment where stresses will be different at competition level.
“However, they will have that self-awareness of ‘I am actually going through something and need to go and speak to someone’.”
Richard Bryan, rugby director for the Rugby Players’ Association, with responsibility for welfare services and programmes, says he has observed an interesting change in players coming forward to admit they are battling with mental health issues.
“There is a possible start of a trend among the players who are accessing our confidential hotline,” he said.
“The largest age group last year was 18-25 whereas a couple of years previously it was the over-30s.
“It will be interesting to see if that continues for it suggests those that are coming into the professional system, perhaps work is being done through schools or it is a generational difference and people are more open to talking about issues they are facing.”
US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka will come face-to-face with a top North Korean general at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in the South this weekend, it emerged Thursday.
The Pyeongchang Games have become a venue for geopolitics as much as sports as the nuclear-armed North mounts a charm offensive analysts say is intended to loosen the sanctions regime against it and weaken the alliance between Seoul and Washington.
Leader Kim Jong Un dispatched his sister Kim Yo Jong to the opening ceremony — which US Vice President Mike Pence also attended — and during her visit she extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang.
The family connections will be reversed at Sunday’s closing ceremony.
The White House said Donald Trump had asked his eldest daughter — who is also one of his top advisers — to travel to Pyeongchang to lead up a “high level delegation”.
The 36-year-old businesswoman and former model will be joined by press secretary Sarah Sanders and is going in part because “she is something of a winter sports enthusiast”, an official said.
The North will send an eight-member delegation Sunday headed by Kim Yong Chol, a top general who oversees inter-Korean relations for the ruling Workers’ Party, Seoul’s unification ministry said in a statement.
Kim Yong Chol’s presence is a demonstration of how Pyongyang is testing the limits of the multiple different sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
The general is blacklisted under Seoul’s unilateral sanctions against the North — meaning he is subject to an assets freeze — although he is not named in the UN Security Council’s measures.
He is believed to have once led the North’s spying agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and to have ordered a deadly torpedo attack on the South’s corvette Cheonan in 2010 that left 46 sailors dead.
Seoul blamed the North for the attack but Pyongyang denied involvement.
South Korea’s defence ministry has also linked him to the shelling of its Yeonpyeong island the same year, which killed four people.
The Games have seen a flurry of cross-border visits and diplomacy on the habitually tense peninsula, where strains were racked up last year as the North conducted a battery of weapons tests and its leader Kim Jong Un exchanged personal insults and threats of war with Trump.
Moon — who did not immediately accept the invitation to go to the North — has been trying to use what Seoul promotes as a “peace Olympics” to defuse tensions and open a door for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
But at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, Kim Yo Jong sat just a few seats away from US Vice President Mike Pence, who did not exchange a word with her at any point.
Pence had earlier denounced the North’s “murderous regime”, and according to US officials the North Koreans later cancelled a meeting that had been scheduled for the day after the Games’ opening.
Ivanka Trump is scheduled to have dinner with Moon on Friday, and Yonhap news agency cited the presidential Blue House as saying he was also likely to meet Pyongyang’s delegation during its three-day trip.
But a senior administration official ruled out any possible meeting between Ivanka and officials from North Korea, and a Seoul government source also said such an encounter was unlikely.
Pyongyang has used the Games to try to soften its image in the international community and push for talks with Seoul — which would lessen the possibility of a US military strike, touted as an option by Trump administration officials.
But North-South discussions would have a limited impact on wider tensions, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul.
“The major problem is between North Korea and the United States,” he told AFP. “Therefore, no amount of talks between North and the South… is going to change anything significantly.”
Washington has sought to project resolve in the face of a growing threat from the North — which has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and last year carried out its most powerful nuclear blast to date.
The US insists it will persist with its campaign of “maximum pressure and engagement”, and has repeatedly sought to underscore the importance of a troubled alliance with Seoul.
Nigeria’s women’s bobsleigh team finished with the wooden spoon Wednesday but left with their heads held high after an emotional Olympic debut in the crackpot winter pursuit.
The plucky West Africans finished 20th in Pyeongchang, more than seven seconds behind gold medallists Germany in a sport where success and failure is measured in hundredths of a second.
But try telling that to Nigerian driver Seun Adigun and partner Ngozi Onwumere after a landmark appearance, cheered on by their families and a vocal pocket of Nigerian fans.
“It’s quite amazing, I’m overwhelmed with joy and overwhelmed with the idea of knowing that history was made and we gave everything we had to do it,” said Adigun, after bumping off several walls in a ragged final run.
“This was just one of those days that you can’t really describe,” she added. “Full of all kinds of emotions — full of relief, full of history.”
No African nation has won a winter medal but the Nigeria women plan to try again at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
“By God’s grace you will see Nigeria in Beijing,” said the Texas-based Adigun, after failing to improve on Tuesday’s personal best.
“We did everything we could. People are super-stoked back in Nigeria. We just pray all of our resilience does foster into some future athletes.”
Onwumere, who was a late replacement after Akuoma Omeoga fell ill overnight, added: “I can only express myself with tears, just because it’s been a long road and finally we’ve completed it. I can only imagine how it is back home in Nigeria.”
Snowboard legend Shaun White pulled off a spectacular final run of the day to grab his third Olympic halfpipe gold medal on Wednesday, claiming America’s 100th Winter Games title in the process.
The 31-year-old held his nerve at the last to score a brilliant 97.75 points and snatch the title from Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who was leading on 95.25, with Australia’s Scotty James third on 92.00.
It was particularly satisfying for White, known as “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair, who won gold in 2006 and 2010 and helped put the hipster sport on the map, but flopped in Sochi four years ago.
White said it had been an agonising wait for his score from the judges to come through, as he pipped Hirano to the title to make US history.
“Oh man, that was awful and amazing at the same time. I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me,” he said.
“I was so overwhelmed with happiness, I’ve been through so much to get here. I had this crazy injury in New Zealand (in October) where I busted my face open.
“I actually did the same trick that injured me here in the halfpipe today. So there were a lot of obstacles to overcome and now it’s all worth it.”
– ‘I’m still shaking’ –
Japan’s Hirano had to settle for a second silver in a row and James, a two-time world champion, saw his victory hopes dashed as he fell on his final effort.
Team USA are threatening to clean up in snowboarding in South Korea, winning all four competitions so far.
The 17-year-olds Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, and fellow American Jamie Anderson, have all won in Pyeongchang, where competitors have struggled with blustery winds.
White, a comparative veteran and snowboarding’s biggest star, was in ominous form in qualifying on Tuesday as he topped the standings with 98.50.
He has been determined to show snowboarding’s next generation that he is no spent force after scoring a controversial perfect 100 in Colorado last month that sparked accusations of favouritism.
White called his winning run in the tricky conditions in South Korea “one of the most challenging I’ve ever done” because of the combinations he pulled off.
His watching family were “beside themselves”, he said.
“I’m still shaking, I don’t know what’s happening.
“Man, three gold medals. My fourth Olympics. Thank you, I’m feeling blessed.”
Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the US Olympic Committee, paid tribute to the America’s Winter Games champions over the years, starting with speed skater Charles Jewtraw at the inaugural edition in 1924.
“Each and every one of the 100 times we have heard our national anthem play in Olympic Winter Games competition has been a truly unique and special moment,” Blackmun said in a statement.
“These medals have spanned nearly 100 years and showcase the dedication to excellence that is central to Team USA and the entire US Olympic family.”
Tokyo organisers have shown they will complete all their 2020 Olympic venues on schedule, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday at the conclusion of a three-day visit.
Coordination commission chairman John Coates insisted he had “no concerns” over Tokyo’s preparations after local organisers recently unveiled their first new permanent venue.
“We received reports on the progress of venue construction and it’s just not an area that we have any concerns — I have any concerns — about,” he told reporters.
“You’re meeting all your deadlines of construction and I see no reason why, in a country so sophisticated, that this won’t continue to be the case.”
After bungling the rollout of the showpiece Olympic stadium two years ago, Japanese organisers have faced criticism but the successful opening last month of the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, set to host badminton and modern pentathlon fencing, brought a welcome public relations score.
The original plans for the new national stadium were ripped up by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two years ago because of public anger over its eye-watering $2 billion price tag.
IOC officials have since called on Tokyo to make efforts to further reduce the current $12 billion Games budget.
“We will continue to explore cost reduction opportunities,” promised Coates.
“The next version of the budget is being completed by the end of this year and we’ll see that when we get to Pyeongchang (for the Winter Olympics) in February.”
But Coates also added: “We are confident significant savings can be achieved. But we have to be aware that history shows us sometimes things can get out of hand, so we’ve got to be very careful.”
Meanwhile, the Australian denied any impropriety in his vice chair, Alex Gilady, travelling to Tokyo following recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment dating back to the 1990s during his time as a television executive in Israel.
“I’m aware of the allegations,” said Coates.
“I’m also aware that he strongly disputes those allegations and that his lawyers are disputing those allegations in the Israeli press.
“The IOC has been kept fully informed of all of the legalities that he’s pursuing at the moment. He’s entitled to due process … There’s no basis for him not to be here, that’s our position.”
Local organising president Yoshiro Mori stressed the importance of close cooperation between Tokyo and outlying municipalities, particularly areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami in north-eastern Japan and resulting nuclear crisis.
The 80-year-old former prime minister waxed lyrical about fine cheeses produced in the disaster-hit regions that he and the IOC members had sampled with Japanese rice wine the previous evening, before catching himself.
“Olympic preparations are moving along very smoothly,” he concluded. “Further cost reduction remains a priority but from next year the focus will be firmly on Tokyo so we have to solve any pending issues in the timeline agreed.”
Russia was banned Tuesday from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee over its state-orchestrated doping programme, but clean Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag.
The sanction was the toughest ever levelled by the IOC for drug cheating and came just 65 days ahead of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In announcing the decision, IOC president Thomas Bach accused Russia of “perpetrating an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport”.
An explosive report by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and two subsequent IOC investigations have confirmed that Russian athletes took part in an elaborate drug cheating programme which peaked during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Mounting evidence has indicated that the scheme involved senior government officials, including from the sports ministry, with help from secret state agents.
The IOC also banned Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko — who was sports minister during the Sochi Games — for life.
Mutko is currently the head of the organising committee for the 2018 World Cup, which Russia is hosting.
Attention will quickly turn to see if football’s world governing body FIFA allows the scandal-tainted ally of President Vladimir Putin to retain his senior World Cup role.
In a statement, FIFA said it had “taken note” of the IOC decision but it had “no impact on the preparations” for Russia 2018.
– Russia ‘apologised’ –
The IOC also suspended the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and its chief Alexander Zhukov.
Zhukov said he “apologised” to the IOC on Tuesday for the “anti-doping violations” committed in his country in recent years.
The Winter Olympics’ South Korean organisers said Wednesday they would prefer if Russians competed under their own flag, but accepted as “second-best” the IOC ruling.
Lee Hee-Bum, chief of the Pyeongchang organising committee for February’s Winter Olympics, added the decision caught the Games organisers off guard.
“We did not know that it (the punishment) would be this much,” Lee said, adding there was a “heated debate” among the IOC members before reaching the decision.
The move raises the prospect of Moscow boycotting the Games, something that organisers will be desperate to avoid as they battle low ticket sales and concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.
– ‘Principled decision’ –
The IOC had the option of hitting Russia with a blanket ban, the so-called nuclear option that was applied to apartheid-era South Africa from 1964 to 1988.
The IOC’s decision to choose a more moderate path offers some Russian athletes a route to competing in the Games — although that will be by invitation only and dependent on a stringent testing programme.
“The IOC, at its absolute discretion, will ultimately determine the athletes to be invited from the list,” the IOC said in a statement.
No Russian athlete with a previous doping violation will be allowed to compete and no official who had a leadership role at Sochi 2014 will be invited to Pyeongchang.
Those athletes who do go to the Games will participate under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” and the country’s flag will not fly at any 2018 ceremony, the IOC also said.
The US Olympic Committee praised the IOC’s “strong and principled decision.
“There were no perfect options, but this decision will clearly make it less likely that this ever happens again,” it said.
For Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Russian laboratory chief and whistleblower who lifted the lid on the cheating scheme, the IOC’s action was a needed step to clean up the Olympic movement.
“It was the most elaborate and sophisticated doping system in the history of sports. If it did not carry the most significant sanction it would simply have emboldened Russia and other countries who don’t respect the rules”, Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim Walden, told reporters on a conference call.
– Boycott? –
Russian officials have previously met doping accusations with defiance.
Mutko has said the allegations were an attempt “to create an image of an axis of evil” against his country while Putin has warned that a Russia ban would cause “serious harm to the Olympic movement”.
He said forcing Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag would amount to a national “humiliation”.
That has fuelled speculation that Moscow would instruct its athletes to boycott the compromise solution decided by the IOC.
“An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything,” Bach said, insisting that given the window left open for clean athletes to compete, a boycott was unwarranted.
But the IOC expulsion sparked immediate outrage in Russia.
Deputy speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, Pyotr Tolstoy has already called for a boycott.
“They are humiliating the whole of Russia through the absence of its flag and anthem,” he said in televised remarks.
The president of Russia’s Bobsleigh Federation, Alexander Zubkov told Russian TV that the IOC decision was a “humiliation.”
Doping-tainted Russia’s 2018 Winter Olympics participation will be decided when the International Olympic Committee meets from Tuesday, in one of the weightiest decisions ever faced by the Olympic movement.
The build-up to the high-stakes summit in Lausanne just 66 days before the start of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, has been dominated by an almost daily drip of negative news — mostly related to doping — for the winter sports heavyweights.
On November 26, athletics’ ruling body the International Association of Athletics Federations maintained its two-year-long suspension of Russia imposed over claims of state-sponsored doping.
That ban prevented its athletes from competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the World Championships in London earlier this year.
The IAAF felt they were left with little choice after the World Anti-Doping Agency had announced on November 16 that Russia was still not compliant with international rules on drug testing.
WADA’s refusal to lift the suspension of Moscow’s national anti-doping body raised the stakes in Russia’s possible exclusion from Pyeongchang.
Russia’s chances of going to Pyeongchang have been further damaged by a raft of bans handed out to its medallists at the Sochi 2014 Games in the past week.
In total Russia was stripped of 11 of its 33 medals for cheating, meaning it has lost its position at the top of the Sochi medals table to Norway, slipping to fourth place.
The explosive, WADA-commissioned 2016 McLaren report alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia and led to the country being shut out of the agency.
The investigation said the cheating peaked at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russian secret agents are said to have engineered an elaborate system of state-backed doping.
– ‘Axis of evil’ –
Among those named and shamed for drug-taking last month was Russia’s flag carrier at the Games, Alexander Zubkov, who was stripped of his four and two-man bobsleigh titles.
The prospect of exclusion from Pyeongchang is causing consternation in Moscow.
Ahead of last week’s draw for the 2018 football World Cup that will be hosted by Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said the doping allegations were an attempt “to create an image of an axis of evil” against his country.
“But this is all because we are such a great sport superpower,” added Mutko, who was barred from attending the 2016 Rio Olympics over the drug-cheating scandal.
In an appeal to the IOC he added: “We are relying on common sense, on the IOC Charter, on the assumption that no one abolished the presumption of innocence.”
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of putting indirect pressure on the IOC to block Russia from the Games in South Korea.
He warned if the IOC left Russia out in the cold, it would cause “serious harm to the Olympic movement”.
“There are two options,” Putin said. “Either forcing Russia to compete under a neutral flag or not letting it go to the Olympics at all.”
“Either one is humiliation for the country,” he insisted.
A ban on Russia would have a major impact on competition in Pyeongchang, notably in disciplines like figure skating, cross-country skiing, speed skating and bobsleigh.
Russia’s ice hockey team has won gold eight times if you include the titles as the Soviet Union and as a united post-Soviet team.
While its situation appears bleak, Russia can take heart from recent history, as WADA’s refusal to re-admit Russia may not be fatal to the country’s chances of competing in Pyeongchang.
In 2016, the IOC ignored the doping agency’s calls to ban Russia from Rio, instead leaving the decision to individual sports bodies.
And historically the IOC has proven reluctant to issue a blanket ban on a single country, one notable exception being South Africa, which under apartheid was barred from the Games between 1964 and 1988.
Brazilian police arrested on Thursday the head of the national Olympics committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, who is accused of conspiring to bribe members of the International Olympic Committee to pick Rio de Janeiro as host of the 2016 games.
Brazilian investigators claim Nuzman helped arrange a $2 million bribe to get the games for Rio de Janeiro.
Leonardo Gryner, a former director of the national Olympics committee, was also arrested in a new phase of the so-called Unfair Play investigation, the police said.
In September, police raided Nuzman’s home, accusing him of conspiring with politicians to buy the right to host the 2016 games. Nuzman’s lawyer, Sergio Mazzillo, said then his client was innocent.
Rio de Janeiro police confirmed on Tuesday that raids were underway against “an international corruption scheme” suspected of having bribed the IOC to vote for the city’s bid to host last year’s Olympic Games.
Brazilian law enforcement officials, supported by French and US officials, were conducting searches to probe “the buying of votes for the election of (Rio) by the International Olympic Committee as the venue for the 2016 Olympics,” police said in a statement.
Police in Rio de Janeiro raided the house of Brazil’s Olympic Committee chief on Tuesday in a probe into alleged bribes paid to get the city chosen as host of the 2016 Olympic Games, Globo television reported.
Police began searching Carlos Nuzman’s house early in the morning and Nuzman, who headed Rio’s successful bid to become the first South American host of the Olympics, was due to be questioned later, Globo reported.
There was no immediate confirmation from police.
According to the report from Brazil’s biggest news organization, Nuzman is suspected of taking direct part in bribery of the International Olympic Committee and of acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and takers.
French officials were reported to have joined the search of Nuzman’s residence in Rio’s posh Leblon neighborhood.
Arrest warrants were issued against two other people, Globo reported.
The Rio games were generally credited with being a sporting and organizational success but revelations of massive corruption during the preparations have badly tarnished the legacy.
In June, former Rio governor Sergio Cabral was sentenced to 14 years prison. He was convicted of bribery and money laundering, including participation in the embezzlement of 220 million reais ($64 million) from public works projects such as Rio’s iconic Maracana football stadium.