The Beijing Winter Olympics are officially over, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced at the closing ceremony on Sunday.
“Now I have to mark the end of this unforgettable Olympic experience: I declare the 24th Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 closed,” he said in the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing.
A crowd of socially distanced spectators, separated by red lanterns, watched as the Olympic flag was lowered and passed over to the mayors of the next host cities, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.
The event was masterminded by acclaimed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who was also responsible for the 2008 Summer Games’ ceremonies.
As it began, children dressed in sparkling coats danced around the Olympic flame, holding up snowflake-shaped lamps, a continuation of the opening ceremony’s main motif.
China earned an unprecedented nine gold medals during the Games, coming ahead of the United States.
“With the truly exceptional Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 we welcome China as a winter sport country,” said Bach. “Congratulations, China.”
It’s been a week of drama at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria’s shocking loss to Tunisia, and the red cards that marred the competition, were major talking points in the last seven days. Heartbroken fans trolled Maduka Okoye and Alex Iwobi following the defeat which sent out one of the tournament favourites.
These stories, FIFA’s linking of plans for a biennial World Cup to migration tragedies in the Mediterranean and others, headline First Eleven which gives a recap of the biggest sports gist for the week.
Tunisia Clip Eagles’ Wings
The week began on a sad note for football fans in Nigeria after the Super Eagles’ early exit from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Nigeria, three-time continental champions, were stunned 0-1 by Tunisia in a Round of 16 game in Cameroon.
Austine Eguavoen’s men went into the game as favourites having won all three group stage matches, the only team to do so. But a 47th-minute strike was enough for the North Africans to break the hearts of millions of fans in Nigeria. Although Nigeria battled to get the equaliser, a red card for former Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, compounded the Super Eagles’ woes.
Fans Troll Okoye, Iwobi
Iwobi’s sending off triggered a barrage of cyberattacks, not just on the midfielder but goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye. The Sparta Rotterdam man was faulted for not doing enough to stop the 2004 champions from scoring the lone goal in the match. Both were subjects of hate messages from fans who blamed the duo for the Super Eagles’ exit. Their names trended for days on social media, prompting them to disable comments on their Instagram accounts. Okoye, some of the fans claimed, was distracted by praises from female admirers.
Following the defeat, President Muhammadu Buhari had told Nigerians not to write off the team. In a short message on Monday, he asked fans to encourage the side, believing that they can do better in subsequent games.
“They gave everyone the confidence that they were up to it, and I am sure it was something they could have achieved,” a statement from a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, read. “Nonetheless, we should not write them off”.
Red Cards Mar AFCON
Nigeria’s loss wasn’t the only thing that made headlines from the AFCON. In the first round of knockout fixtures, seven red cards were issued in eight games. The development drew condemnation from several quarters. Fans on social media even dubbed the competition “AFCON of Red Cards”, throwing up further debates about the quality of officiating at Africa’s premier championship.
Coach Eguavoen was critical of centre referee, Maguette Ndiaye’s dismissal of the Everton star, describing the officiating as unfair. Aside from the former defender, Ghanaian ex-international, Mikel Essien, also questioned the number of red cards in the tournament. The former Chelsea player while lamenting the situation said it was “shocking” and wondered if the game had become soft.
Tragedy Rocks Tournament
The red car controversy came amid a stampede that killed eight persons and wounded dozens of others before a match between the host nation, Cameroon, and Comoros. The incident took place at the gates where final tickets checks are made. This prompted an investigation by Cameroonian authorities. The health ministry said the victims were immediately transported in ambulances but traffic slowed down their movement.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life,” African football supremo, Patrice Motsepe, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?”
A Case For Biennial World Cup
The stampede happened days before FIFA tried to link migration tragedies in the Mediterranean to plans for a World Cup every two years. Head of the football governing body, Gianni Infantino, said the move can give hope to migrants.
“I understand in Europe the World Cup takes place twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe,” he told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.
“But if we think about the rest of the world… which doesn’t see the best players, which doesn’t participate in the top competitions, then we have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport.”
Nadal Chases Record In Australia
Just as FIFA continues to make a case for a biennial World Cup, tennis stars are in Australia battling for one of the game’s biggest prizes. In a tempestuous match on Friday, Daniil Medvedev powered to a win over Stefanos Tsitsipas to book a date with Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open. The world number two beat Tsitsipas 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, the same day Nadal defeated Matteo Berrettini to reach his sixth Australian Open final in Melbourne. The Spaniard, pushing to become the all-all time men’s Grand Slam leader – 21 titles – claimed a 3-6 2-6 6-3 3-6 win.
The women’s category saw a ruthless Ashleigh Barty book a spot in the final. She won in straight-sets, demolishing Madison Keys, and will now face hard-hitting Danielle Collins in Sunday’s game.
Djokovic Still In The Court
Although he is not in Australia, a leaked entry list, which made its way to social media, has indicated that Novak Djokovic would be playing at next month’s ATP Dubai tennis tournament. The Serb was in the news weeks ago after a COVID-19 vaccination row. But the list shared by tennis journalists showed that Djokovic was named as the top seed for the event.
This is coming weeks after he was deported by Australian authorities following a legal tussle. The unvaccinated player’s next move had become a subject of speculation since he landed at home in Belgrade, via Dubai. He was initially given an exemption to play at the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated but the Australian government later revoked his visa, a move upheld by the Federal Court.
Earlier in the week, the English Premier League “sack race” continued. This time, Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, was the latest casualty following his dismissal by Watford. He was sacked just after 14 games in charge as the Hornets’ boss, the club said in a statement earlier in the week. Ranieri was dismissed, just about three months after he got the job.
“The Hornets’ Board recognises Claudio as a man of great integrity and honour, who will always be respected here at Vicarage Road for his efforts in leading the team with dignity,” Watford said about the Italian.
The 70-year-old was brought on to stabilise the team which is battling relegation. But a string of poor results have left them in the murky waters of England’s elite league. The Hornets have only managed seven points since he arrived at the Vicarage Road. Ranieri’s last game in charge was a 3-0 loss to relegation rivals, Norwich, just last week. They are second bottom on the league log, following a loss of seven out of their last eight domestic matches.
Joshua Denies Pay Off Claims
In boxing, Anthony Joshua has refuted reports claiming he agreed to a ($20 million deal to step aside from his heavyweight title re-match with Oleksandr Usyk. The reports had suggested that the Nigerian was ready to let the Ukrainian fight Tyson Fury in the unification title bout. But Joshua insisted the stories were false.
“I’m hearing people saying: ‘AJ accepts £15million to step aside’. I ain’t signed no contract; I ain’t seen no contract,” he was quoted as saying in a Talksport online video posted on Twitter. “So, as it stands, stop listening to the bullshit until it comes from me. I’m the man in control of my own destiny; I’m the man that handles my business.”
Usyk had defeated Joshua in September to deprive the 32-year-old of his World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Organization (WBO) belts.
Buhari’s Message To Olympians
And as the Winter Olympics inches closer, President Buhari has urged Nigerian athletes to make the country proud in the games. A statement from the presidency on Tuesday quoted Buhari as telling the nation’s representatives of his trust in their ability to deliver.
“The President trusts that Nigerian athletes participating in different events will excel at the competition, surpassing the previous record in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018, when the nation competed for the first time,” the Nigerian leader told the athletes, according to a statement from Femi Adesina.
Buhari said the Olympic Games is an avenue to foster friendship among countries. This is as he hoped that athletes will put the core values of the event – excellence, friendship, and respect – on display.
China warned Western nations on Thursday that they would “pay the price” for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as a French minister said they would not be joining the US-backed effort.
Washington unveiled its decision not to send a diplomatic delegation earlier in the week, saying it was prompted by widespread rights abuses by China and what it sees as a “genocide” against the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
Australia, Britain and Canada followed suit in a flurry of diplomatic bonhomie on Wednesday.
The boycott stopped short of not sending athletes to the February Games but nonetheless infuriated Beijing, which hinted at retaliation on Thursday.
“The US, Australia, Britain and Canada’s use of the Olympic platform for political manipulation is unpopular and self-isolating, and they will inevitably pay the price for their wrongdoing,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.
Soon afterwards Beijing received welcome news from Paris, as Education and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said France will not join the boycott.
“We need to be careful about the link between sports and politics,” Blanquer said during an interview with RMC radio and BFM television, adding France would carry on condemning human rights violations in China.
“Sports is a world apart that needs to be protected from political interference. If not, things can get out of control and it could end up killing all of the competitions,” he said.
Blanquer will not travel to the Chinese capital, he said, but junior sports minister Roxana Maracineanu will represent the French government.
– ‘A crucial step’ – Advocacy groups have backed the US-led boycott effort, with Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson calling it a “crucial step toward challenging the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities”.
Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.
Beijing has defended the camps as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Wednesday that he was staying politically neutral on the matter, while insisting the important point was “the participation of the athletes in the Olympic Games”.
– Relations in freefall – All four of the boycotting Western countries have seen relations with Beijing cool dramatically in recent years.
Britain has also criticised China for its crackdown in Hong Kong.
It angered Beijing last year by blocking Chinese tech giant Huawei’s involvement in its 5G broadband rollout, after Washington raised spying concerns.
Canada’s relations with China meanwhile hit a low over the December 2018 arrest in Vancouver on a US warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and Beijing’s detention of two Canadian nationals in response.
All three were released and repatriated in September.
Canberra’s ties with Beijing have been in freefall in recent years, with China introducing a raft of punitive sanctions on Australian goods.
China has been angered at Australia’s willingness to legislate against overseas influence operations, its barring of Huawei from 5G contracts, and its call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s recent move to equip its navy with nuclear-powered submarines under a new defence pact with Britain and the United States — widely seen as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific region — further enraged Beijing.
– ‘Extremely concerned’ – Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain’s boycott in parliament on Wednesday but joined the other three nations in saying athletes should still attend.
“I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible — that remains the policy of the government,” he added.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canadian officials too would skip the Games, saying his government is “extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government”.
Australia’s leader Scott Morrison made a similar announcement earlier in the day.
Other countries are weighing their own moves.
The Kremlin, however, criticised the US move, saying the 2022 games should be “free of politics”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already accepted an invitation by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to attend.