Russia apologises to Norwegian journalists held on Olympic trip

Norwegian broadcaster TV2, the country’s official games broadcaster, said its journalists Oeystein Bogen and Aage Aune had been questioned, detained and searched by police who claimed that one of them had been using drugs.

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters that local law enforcement officials abused their posts in the incidents last week, leading to “a series of unwarranted actions towards the citizens of Norway”.

“In this regard we apologise to Mr Bogen and Mr Aune. The current situation will undoubtedly be worked out in detail and those guilty will receive the corresponding punishment.

“We would like to assure you that the executive authorities of the Russian Federation will take all necessary measures to avoid the repetition of similar cases in the future,” it said.

Russia is spending more than $50 billion on preparations for the 2014 Games. President Vladimir Putin wants to use the Winter Olympics to show to the world a modern face of Russia more than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

A statement by Human Rights Watch said the journalists had been detained several times travelling in and out of the Sochi region, which borders the volatile North Caucasus.

One of them was forced to drive to a local drug clinic after officers claimed he might be on narcotics. This incident ended only when another officer arrived at the centre saying there had been a ‘misunderstanding’, HRW said.

Russia said that a technical mistake had provided false information about the journalists to law enforcement officials.

Russia ranks 148th out of 179 countries on the World Press Freedom index compiled by the journalist watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton)


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Rio club has hit with Che Guevara shirt

Madureira, a third division team from Rio de Janeiro’s gritty north side, put Che’s famously bearded face on their seven-a-side shirts to commemorate a tour of the island they made 50 years ago.

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The goalkeeper’s jersey is designed exactly like the Cuban flag.

The new maroon outfield designs, featuring the shadow of the revolutionary’s image, have not yet been used in an official match, but they are already a huge hit with fans.

Sales have rocketed from the usual 10 a month to more than 3000 in the weeks since it was launched.

“The factory can’t keep up with demand,” Madureira’s president Elias Duba told Reuters.

“It’s taken on a whole life of its own.

“I wasn’t going to have the big team use them, but all the attention has convinced me otherwise.”

The club chose to honour Che, the Argentine-born revolutionary who helped Fidel Castro to power in Cuba in 1959, after playing five games there in 1963. Che met the players at their hotel in Havana and was at the last game of their unbeaten tour, Duba said.

Madureira claims to have undertaken the longest overseas tour of all Brazilian clubs. In the 1950s and 1960s, Brazilian sides, including Pele’s Santos and Garrincha’s Botafogo, would regularly spend months abroad playing money-spinning friendlies.

In 1963 Madureira spent 144 days in countries as far flung as Japan and the United States, playing 36 games, and winning 23 of them.

The club is now talking to Cuban authorities in the hope it can return there for a pre-season tour in 2014. With their Che shirts.

“It’s really beautiful, one of the nicest shirts I’ve seen in a long time,” said goalkeeper Robertinho. “Even fans of other teams want to buy it.”


Woods backs Mickelson move to cut heavy schedule

British Open champion Mickelson announced last week that he would be scaling down his appearances next year.

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The five-times major winner did not indicate which events he would miss but his comments suggested the U.S. PGA Tour’s money-spinning FedExCup playoff series might be on the chopping block.

“I don’t blame him (for cutting down), I don’t blame him at all,” world number one Woods told Reuters in an interview ahead of his participation in this week’s inaugural Turkish Airlines Open in the south western city of Antalya.

“I don’t know what he’s going to cut down, we have 15 tournaments as a minimum for voting membership (on the U.S. Tour).

“But I just think it’s important to be fresh, it’s important to be ready for the major championships, the World Golf Championships, the Players Championship,” added Woods.

The 14-times major winner said that even when the four majors are over for the season, players still have the FedExCup to support in August and September.

“With the FedExCup at the end of the year I can see where guys are taking breaks,” said Woods. “Some of the top Europeans are playing right now in this stretch through the Race to Dubai (finale) and then going down to South Africa.

“You need to find blocks of your time for your off season. Everybody has different times when they like to take the off season so you’ve just got to figure out what’s best for you.”

This week’s event in Turkey and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai that follows bring an end to the 2012-13 European Tour campaign.

However, no sooner does the curtain go down on one year than it almost immediately rises again to herald the start of the 2013-14 season with the South African Open in Gauteng on November 21.

STRICKER EXAMPLE

Woods cited U.S. Ryder Cup playing partner and world number seven Steve Stricker as the perfect example of a leading golfer who has derived tangible benefits from reducing his tournament appearances.

“Steve cut back his schedule this year and had his best year just because he felt he was more mentally fresh and I think that’s pretty important,” said the 37-year-old American.

“It’s tougher nowadays especially with our playoff system and with the European Tour and their playoff system (the Final Series) and their minimum number of events have increased.

“A guy has to play a lot more events around the world and it is very hard to stay fresh,” said Woods.

The world number one is pleased to be in Turkey for the penultimate tournament of his season before he bows out by hosting his own World Challenge event in California next month.

Woods said he was always interested to see new emerging golfing markets pop up around the world.

“I think the inclusion of golf in the 2016 Olympics (in Rio de Janeiro) has changed the dynamics of how we think about golf,” he explained.

“There are other countries that are now getting more involved. China for example has been unbelievable in what they have done in the last 12 years.

“The number of kids that have come through their programmes and you see a little kid like Guan (Tianlang) make it to the U.S. Masters at age 14 this year,” said Woods.

“That’s what is coming, that is the next wave of kids. Give them another 10, 20 years and you’re going to see certain countries start to dominate the game of golf.”

Woods begins his title challenge at the $7 million Turkish Open in the company of U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and European money-list leader Henrik Stenson in Thursday’s opening round at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course.

The trio tee-off at 1105 local time (0905 GMT).

(Editing by Ken Ferris)


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Bjorn can restore peace between Tour and players, says Rose

Last week former world number one Ernie Els described as “farcical” the rule that members must play in two of the three events leading up to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in order to be eligible for the last of the four Final Series tournaments.

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Els, who has been a member of the European circuit for almost two decades, said he would register his disapproval by skipping the $8 million (5 million pounds) season-ending event in Dubai.

Former U.S. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Ryder Cup stalwart Sergio Garcia have also said the regulations are asking too much of the players.

“This is the first time there has been this new system so I don’t think anything is set in stone,” world number five Rose told reporters on the eve of the inaugural $7 million Turkish Airlines Open being staged in the city of Antalya.

“Quite clearly the sweet spot has not been found. Thomas is a very good sounding board, I don’t want to call him the middle man but he acts really well between the players and the top executives of the tour.

“I think he has had quite a few conversations with guys in the last couple of weeks just to try and gauge where everybody’s head is at and to try and come up with a great solution.”

The Final Series, which consists of Turkey, Dubai and two big-money tournaments in Shanghai, is Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. PGA Tour’s lucrative FedExCup playoff system.

STRONG TOURNAMENTS

Rose, ever the diplomat, said he could see both sides of the argument between the tour and the players.

“You’ve got to try and play a schedule you feel is going to give you the best opportunity to play well when you want to play well and if that means pacing yourself, you pace yourself,” said the 33-year-old Briton.

“But I also understand the tour’s point of view in trying to incentivise guys and trying to create strong tournaments. They are asking sponsors to put up a lot of money and clearly they want a return on their investment.”

Rose is third in the European money-list with the two events to go, trailing leader Henrik Stenson by 325,000 euros ($436,600) and second-placed Graeme McDowell by 179,000 euros.

Swede Stenson, who picked up $11.4 million for winning the FedExCup and the season-ending U.S. Tour Championship, plays alongside Rose and world number one Tiger Woods in Thursday’s opening round but McDowell is an absentee this week.

First prize at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course in Belek is worth 848,930 euros and Rose said that emulating his 2007 order of merit triumph would represent the icing on the cake of a memorable season in which he won a major for the first time.

“Before I won the U.S. Open I would have said winning the order of merit was my career achievement and something I was very proud of,” said the Englishman.

“To have the opportunity to do it for the second time, in the modern era and in the new format, would be great.”

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)


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Davies happy with Wales preparation

Bradley Davies has no doubt that Wales’ preparations have been spot on for their latest attempt to floor a southern hemisphere heavyweight.

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Cardiff Blues lock Davies will make his first Wales appearance at the Millennium Stadium since last November when Rugby Championship runners-up South Africa provide the opposition on Saturday.

Wales’ coaching team and captain Sam Warburton have this week underlined the crucial importance of beginning to take major foreign scalps, something that has eluded them since 1999 (South Africa), 1953 (New Zealand) and 2008 (Australia).

That Wallabies win has so far proved the solitary success during more than 20 attempts in head coach Warren Gatland’s five-year reign, even though Wales have won three Six Nations titles, two Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final under the New Zealander’s direction.

Wales now have a first tilt at the Springboks since suffering an agonising 17-16 defeat against them in the World Cup pool phase two years ago, and 40 times-capped Davies is relishing the prospect.

“South Africa are going to challenge us front-on with their style of play,” said Davies, who has been recalled as Alun-Wyn Jones’ second-row partner after missing last season’s Six Nations because of an ankle injury.

“We prepared for it in training last week. Training was physical, and hopefully we can transfer it to Saturday’s game.

“I feel I am ready to run through brick walls, which is normally a good sign.”

Davies was on the bench when Wales lost to South Africa in Wellington, yet in many ways it was a performance of sufficient high quality to underpin their push towards the latter knockout stages.

“We were written off before that game, but we were well in it,” he added.

“Because of that match we turned the corner and the snowball effect gave us momentum to reach the semi-finals.

“I thought we played the better rugby, but at the end of the day history says we lost. There’s been a lot of games we have said we should have won over the last couple of years but we haven’t. We need to start turning those narrow losses into wins.”

Wales’ record against the leading southern hemisphere sides is a particularly poor one when compared with England’s during the professional era.

While Wales have consistently struggled to find a winning formula, England can reflect on a number of victories over the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies, including beating Australia five days ago despite not hitting top gear.

“England have shown the way, really,” Davies said.

“They were a bit rusty during the opening 20 minutes last weekend, but they stuck together and their physicality and fitness came through and they got the win.”


Matterson won’t go easy on Scotland

Terry Matterson was once selected to play for Scotland, but he will be doing his best to knock them out of the World Cup on Thursday night.

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The former Castleford coach is in charge of the USA Tomahawks who have already qualified for the quarter-finals after winning both their group matches so far.

Their prize is a last-eight clash with tournament favourites Australia in Wrexham on November 16, but Matterson’s more immediate concern is their final group C fixture with Steve McCormack’s Scotland at Salford.

The Bravehearts, who have lived up their nickname by beating Tonga and holding Italy to a draw so far, need a win at the AJ Bell Stadium to keep alive their hopes of a quarter-final against holders New Zealand.

Matterson insists there will be no room for sentiment, despite having a soft spot for Scotland.

“I got picked to play for Scotland in 1998 when I was with London Broncos,” said the North Queensland assistant coach as he wrapped up the Tomahawks’ training session at Salford on Wednesday.

“But I tore my calf the weekend before. I was gutted. I actually went up there with (manager) George Fairbairn and spent a night in camp and then I left.

“My grandfather fought in the war for Scotland. That’s the reason I got a work visa, through my ancestry heritage.”

The pressure is off the Tomahawks after Cook Islands’ 22-16 defeat by Tonga on Tuesday night ensured they will top the group, but Matterson insists it will not change the mindset of his players.

“Our focus is on the Scotland game, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” he said.

“There is no talk about what’s happening after that.”


Bulgarian FA accused of leniency over Levski fine

A human rights organisation and local media were among those to criticise the governing body for the 3,000 levs (1,306 pounds) fine it gave the club after fans displayed huge banners reading “Death for the refugees” and “Blood will be shed for our land” during Sunday’s 4-1 league win over Pirin Gotse Delchev.

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“I do not think that this fine is a deterrent,” Radoslav Stoyanov, an expert with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Such fines are merely symbolic and do not lead to a change in the situation. The BFU is definitely guilty for its passiveness,” Stoyanov said.

He added that it was a missed opportunity for the sport’s domestic governing body to stamp its authority on the issue and show that the football authorities would not tolerate racism.

Presa, one of the most popular newspapers in the Balkan country, said Levski had “escaped with a paltry fine” while other papers said the punishment was “pitiful” and “a disgrace”.

“The BFU’s disciplinary commission showed absurd criteria in determining the punishment for xenophobia at Bulgarian stadiums,” Presa wrote.

The sports editor of Capital newspaper, Georgi Filipov, told Reuters: “Toleration of such events at the stadiums is unacceptable at a time of growing fears and even acts of xenophobia to Syrian refugees and immigrants of Arab origin in Bulgaria.

“The BFU and some of the leading clubs play a dangerous game with the extremist fans.”

The number of refugees, mainly from Syria, in the European Union’s poorest country has increased drastically, reaching almost 9,000 this year.

Sports website www.topsport.bg asked: “BFU, are you serious?”, adding that the BFU disciplinary commission’s decision was “scandalous”.

HISTORY OF RACISM

Levski, who are 26-times Bulgarian champions and one of the country’s two most popular clubs alongside bitter city rivals CSKA, have a history of racism at their matches.

The BFU fined the club 37,500 levs after their supporters displayed a banner showing a swastika and another one marking what would have been Adolf Hitler’s birthday during their game at Litex Lovech in April.

The governing body also warned Levski racism would not be tolerated and that they faced a much bigger punishment if such behaviour happened again.

The BFU has also previously warned clubs that match officials would be able to abandon league games in the event of racist behaviour by fans.

Levski were fined 30,000 euros ($40,400) by UEFA in September 2012 after fans brandished a racist banner and insulted the visiting team’s players during their Europa League match against Sarajevo.

“I don’t go to Levski matches anymore because of such things,” said Levski fan Yordan Mihaylov.

“Well, the April punishment was a yellow card shown by the BFU but they committed another foul and this sanction is something like an encouragement rather than a red card. It’s a ridiculous decision.”

The BFU, who described the incident as “unacceptable” on its website (www.bfunion.bg), was unavailable for comment when contacted by Reuters.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Sonia Oxley)


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Villas-Boas defends Tottenham medics over Lloris treatment

Lloris, who returned to training on Wednesday, collided with Everton’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in the latter stages of the Premier League stalemate and played on after pitchside medical checks.

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The former Olympique Lyon keeper is expected to play for Tottenham against Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League on Thursday.

“I stand absolutely by the decision I took and I stand by the decision that the medical department took following the checks they made on the player, all according to the book,” Villas-Boas told a news conference on Wednesday.

“I stand by the decision that gave us the green light for the player to continue.”

The former Chelsea boss added that club doctor Shabaaz Mughal and physio Geoff Scott had helped to save the life of Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba when he suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane in March 2012.

“Two people in the medical department that two years ago saved the life of a footballer on the pitch have been completely forgotten, poorly treated, badly respected by lots of opinion makers,” he said.

Villas-Boas, who managed Lukaku when he was in charge at Stamford Bridge, questioned whether the striker could have done more to avoid hurting Lloris.

“I want to believe that Lukaku’s leg was not left to clash into Hugo’s head,” he said.

“I find it remarkable that nobody has dedicated themselves to find out if the player could have avoided the goalkeeper and I’m disappointed that Lukaku hasn’t contacted Hugo.

“I don’t want to question Lukaku. He’s a young player and is wonderfully gifted but I think he could have jumped over Lloris.”

(Reporting by Mark Young; editing by Toby Davis)


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Aussie McLean eyes Italy’s biggest win

Fate has put Luke McLean on a collision course with old Aussie teammates as he aims to celebrate his 50th Test cap with the “biggest victory in Italian history” this weekend.

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McLean will line up against the Wallabies for the sixth time in his Azzurri career in Turin, seven years after playing with Will Genia and Nick Cummins for the Australian Under-19s.

He’s also expected to be bombarded at fullback or on the wing by one-time Brisbane Souths clubmate Quade Cooper, who’ll be launching attacking bombs for Israel Folau.

But if McLean and his Italian teammates can rise to the occasion at Stadio Olympico on Sunday morning (AEDT), he staunchly believes they can continue the Wallabies’ annus horribilis.

Australia have never lost to Italy in 15 meetings but, after a 3-8 record in 2013, they find themselves vulnerable against a team that upset both France and Ireland in this year’s Six Nations.

As big as those home wins were, McLean says the Azzurri’s first “Tri-Nations” scalp would be more meritorious.

“It would probably be the biggest victory in Italian history,” he said.

“To take the scalp of the fourth-best team in the world, and the Wallabies – who have won the World Cup twice – everyone knows the importance and how difficult it will be to come away with the win.”

Under Frenchman Jaques Brunel, Italy have closed the gap against the top nations and Wallabies veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper believes the powerful Azzurri pack will be licking their lips.

Italy almost stole a win against Australia last year before falling 22-19, and finishing off rivals is now their big focus post-Six Nations.

“We obviously have to prove to ourselves, and the Italian public as well, that we are on the right track,” the lanky back said.

“The best way to do it is win those close games.”

But McLean doesn’t view Australia as a wounded beast ready to be picked off easily by smaller animals.

“You have to put it into perspective, (New Zealand and South Africa) are playing top-notch rugby and Australia has definitely improved since the season has gone on,” he said.

“They are a quality team and we have to be on our game because if you give their backs a bit of room they can run riot and we saw that in Argentina (54-16).”

Townsville-born McLean, who qualifies to play for the Azzurri through an Italian grandmother, hasn’t looked back since leaving Perth in late 2007.

He found it strange to hear the Australian national anthem the first time he played the Wallabies, but now he’s unfazed.

“Once you get out on the field it’s 15 vs 15 and you see them as the opposition and you want blood,” he said.

“After being in Italy for so long now (I’m more Italian), even my girlfriend keeps telling me I’m losing my English.”


Administration ‘untruthful’ on Obamacare

US senators have unloaded fresh attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of the rollout of the new health care law, with one Republican accusing officials of being “untruthful” about its impact.

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Five weeks into the rocky launch of the website through which millions of Americans are expected to register for health insurance, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faced criticism that the Affordable Care Act was putting the entire health care system in jeopardy.

Last week Sebelius apologised to the nation for what she acknowledged was a “miserable” start to the HealthCare.gov and on Wednesday she again took the blame, saying “I am focused on fixing it, and I’m accountable.”

She insisted, however, that the law was already working well for millions by no longer allowing insurers to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, imposing coverage caps, or charging women more for health care.

But Senator Orrin Hatch and other Finance Committee Republicans pointed to higher insurance costs, and thousands of consumers getting notices that their existing plans were being dropped, despite Obama’s pledge that consumers who liked their policies could keep them.

“Put simply, there is a long track record of broken promises and untruthful answers to both this committee and the American people with respect to how this law would work and the impact it would have,” Hatch told Sebelius at a committee hearing.

“I hope that will stop today. No more caveats, no more excuses, no more spin. Just give us the truth,” he said.

The White House has been under fire for weeks about the botched website debut, with Republicans accusing the administration of obfuscating potential pitfalls in order to press ahead with Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Republicans demanded that Sebelius explain why she and others insisted the website, HealthCare.gov, go live on October 1 despite insufficient testing and warnings in August by inspectors in her own Health and Human Services Department who said there were critical security and privacy issues that required attention.

But Sebelius said noone suggested that the risks outweighed the importance of moving forward.

Committee chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, joined in the frustration, asking “why keep limping along” instead of temporarily shutting down the troubled website until the kinks are worked out.

“We’ve been advised that that actually doesn’t help,” Sebelius responded, saying “it’s better to do routine upgrades” while the system is running.

Authorities have created a “punch list” of priorities for getting the website up to full speed by the end of November as promised and Sebelius said her teams have identified “a couple of hundred functional fixes” that take priority.

Obama, in a bid to counter the stream of criticism, travels on Wednesday to Texas to highlight the role of volunteers who help consumers enrol through the health care exchanges.


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