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Eleven South African cabinet members have quit in the wake of President Thabo Mbeki's resignation, prompting fears of instability and the ruling ANC leader to downplay any panic.

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The cabinet members stepped down shortly after parliament voted 299 to 10 to approve Mbeki's exit from office, ending the nine-year administration of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

The African National Congress (ANC) has picked its deputy chief, Kgalema Motlanthe, to replace Mbeki until April elections.

Lawmakers will vote on Motlanthe's nomination on Thursday.

“The (cabinet) resignations do not pose a crisis and there is no need to panic,” said ANC chief Jacob Zuma during a speech in Secunda, in the northeast province of Mpumalanga.

“The situation will be managed carefully to avoid any disruption of services,” added Zuma, considered likely to be voted president in next year's elections.

Finance Minister steps down

The country's widely-respected Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, seen by investors as vital to the country's stable economy and impressive growth, was among the 11 ministers of the 31-member cabinet who handed their resignations.

Manuel's spokesman made it clear that he was ready to serve the new administration, but his announcement led to market jitters with the rand slipping from 7.98 to 8.16 to the US dollar.

The president's office said the ministers' resignations would also take effect on Thursday.

The ministers resigning include Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who spearheaded a turnaround of the country's AIDS policies, and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, a key negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.

Resignation scare

Opposition parties expressed concern about the resignations, with Inkatha Freedom Party Chief Whip Koos van der Merwe telling parliament it was an “unmitigated disaster” and a “watershed moment in history.”

The main opposition Democratic Alliance's Sandra Botha said events showed “the division (in the ANC) is not a crack, it is a canyon.”

Mbeki is believed to have asked cabinet members to stay put in the interests of stability, and analysts have said the country would not face a crisis if the transition was well managed and government ministers did not bail out en masse.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the exodus was not a crisis, as only six of them had indicated they would not serve in a new government.

“The rest of the ministers have confirmed that they (are stepping) down to allow the new president to make his own appointments,” Mantashe told reporters.

Political scores

The resignations came after Mbeki bowed to pressure from the ANC to stand down in what the opposition described as a settling of political scores.

Zuma said the decision to recall Mbeki had been “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” taken in the party's history.

The outgoing president had been increasingly at loggerheads with his party, which split into two camps behind him and Zuma, after deciding to run for a third term as party president at a crunch ANC conference in December last year.

Mbeki, 66, who succeeded Mandela in June 1999, becomes the country's first democratically-elected president to be forced out of office before the end of his term.

Mbeki attempted to salvage his reputation in the Constitutional Court on Monday, as he challenged a court ruling which he says cost him his job as president.

In a September 12 ruling, Judge Chris Nicholson dismissed a corruption case against Zuma, hinting that Mbeki had interfered in the decision to prosecute his foe.

“It is unfair and unjust for me to be judged and condemned on the basis of the findings in the Zuma matter,” said Mbeki in his application.

“The interests of justice, in my respectful submission would demand that the matter be rectified.

“These adverse findings have led to my being recalled by my political party, the ANC — a request I have acceded to as a committed and loyal member of the ANC for the past 52 years,” Mbeki said.Read More →

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On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light sweet crude for December tumbled $US3.

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08 lower to close at $US59.33.

Earlier the New York futures contract hit a low of $US58.32, a level last seen on March 21, 2007.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in December dropped $US3.37 to settle at $US55.71 on the InterContinental Exchange. In intraday trade it had plunged to $US54.92 per barrel – a level last seen on January 30, 2007.

Prices more than halved

Prices have shed about 60 per cent since scaling historic highs above $US147 in July on mounting evidence of slowing global economic growth and energy demand.

The market extended earlier losses in line with Wall Street's dive into negative territory, with investor fearing a collapse of General Motors and digesting more grim corporate news amid the credit crisis.

European stock markets closed sharply lower as corporate problems highlighted concerns about the spreading damage from the global credit crunch to the underlying world economy.

“The short-term focus continues to be on weak demand,” Barclays Capital analysts wrote in a research note to clients on Tuesday.

China slowdown

Crude oil prices closed almost two dollars higher on Monday, with sentiment boosted by hopes that China's huge economic stimulus package would lift demand for energy.

But traders banked profits on Tuesday as poor data from the US – the world's biggest energy consumer — reignited fears about recession.

“It eventually had to dawn on market participants that any Chinese economic stimulus would take time to work through an economy whose maladies are more immediate. Focus on these problems has been restored with the obvious result: prices are lower,” said John Kilduff, analyst at MF Global.

The oil market was also undermined by the strengthening US dollar which tends to dampen demand because dollar-priced crude becomes more expensive for buyers holding weaker currencies.

OPEC president Chakib Khelil indicated over the weekend the cartel may cut production again if oil prices remain below its preferred range of $US70 to $US90.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which pumps more than 40 per cent of the world's crude, announced in October that its daily output would be cut by 1.5 million barrels per day to 27.3 million barrels per day from November.

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The Sky application allows users to view and navigate through 100 million stars in far away galaxies, all depicted in high-resolution images.

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The application labels which stars make up the constellations, shows users what they might be able to see from their own backyards with the naked eye or small telescopes and includes images from the Hubble space telescope.

It also displays the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets for now and up to two months in the future, offers virtual tours through different galaxies and details the different stages of a star's life cycle.

"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, a former astronaut. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."

Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who helped develop the application, said she hoped the new program would encourage more people to learn about space.

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," she said.

"Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens," she added

"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."

The interface and navigation of the new feature are similar to those on the current Google Earth function, which allows users to drag, zoom and search their way around the planet.

To access the new feature, users need to download the latest version of Earth, available on the website from today.

The application was created by Google engineers stitching together images from sources such as the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Google launched its Earth application in 2005, allowing people to zoom in on satellite images of almost any point around the world.

The program has since been downloaded more than 200 million times.

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Speaking on Tuesday’s rest day, Valverde told reporters that with most riders having already raced in one Grand Tour this season, general fatigue was a bigger factor than usual.

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“It’s not the same getting to your hotel in half an hour in a helicopter as taking nearly three hours in a bus like my team did yesterday from the finish to our team hotel,” he said.

“When you need to rest, that’s a big difference.”

Valverde, the runner-up in last year’s race, also said he thought Italian favourite Nibali was beginning to look vulnerable.

Nibali’s lead of 50 seconds was slashed to just 28 on Monday over veteran American Chris Horner with Movistar rider Valverde 76 seconds behind.

“I would now say that Horner’s even stronger than Nibali on the climbs,” Valverde said. “And if he hadn’t had such a poor (stage 11) time trial, he’d be ahead of Nibali overall.”

Victory in the Vuelta would make Nibali, winner of the Giro d’Italia in May, the first rider to win two Grand Tours in a single year since Spaniard Alberto Contador took the Giro and the Tour of Spain in 2008.

Valverde said the 20th stage ascent of the Angliru, reputed to be Spain’s toughest single climb, could be where Nibali loses the lead.

“If you’ve got a minute’s advantage going in there as leader, then you should be okay,” Valverde said. “But with 28 seconds, that’s another story.”

Valverde said all the riders were at the limit of their endurance at this stage of the race which ends in Madrid on Sunday.

“That’s why using my team mates in Movistar, like I did yesterday, to make the race much harder before the final climb is what will make Nibali crack. As we saw after a hard day, that’s when he’s vulnerable,” he said.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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With bid leaders of the three cities preparing for their final pitch in Argentina, backed on site by political leaders and a string of celebrity supporters, senior IOC officials say the race has never been so open.

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“It is not like before when the decision has often been made,” IOC Vice President and presidential hopeful Thomas Bach said days ago. “This time I think the presentation (in Buenos Aires) will be very important, crucial even.”

Each of the three cities have long highlighted their own assets and the advantages they bring to the Olympic movement should they be chosen to succeed 2016 Rio de Janeiro as the next summer Games hosts.

Istanbul is pitching Games on two continents – the European and Asian parts of the metropolis – as Turkey, with its growing economy, hopes to become the first country with a majority Muslim population to get the Olympics.

Japan’s Tokyo, looking to host them for a second time after 1964, is branding its bid as a safe and solid choice amid financially turbulent times as it incorporates some venues from their first Games to its new proposal.

BILLIONS AVAILABLE

Madrid, campaigning for the third straight time, is playing up its high percentage of existing venues, placing sport at the very heart of their bid.

The choice the 100-plus IOC members will make, however, is likely to also depend on non-related Games issues.

Istanbul, making its fifth attempt in the last six votes, was rocked by violent anti-government demonstrations in June that spread to much of the country, shaving off some of the bid’s momentum up to that point.

Protests may have subsided for now but with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan travelling to Argentina to back the bid, questions on discontent in the country will be all but inevitable.

The escalating conflict in neighbouring Syria, and fears it could spill over in the region, are not unfounded as the United States contemplate a military intervention.

Istanbul bid officials as well as the IOC have played down these fears saying Turkey can handle the security situation and that protests have died down.

Turkish bid officials also argue the Syrian border is a long way away from Turkey’s largest city, wedged between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, bridging Europe and Asia.

A string of positive doping cases among Turkish athletes has been a further hit for the bid, even if it does not want to admit it.

“What happened in Turkey with the protests and doping is something that I want to connect in a positive way,” Istanbul bid chief Hasan Arat told Reuters earlier this month.

“The protests are over in Turkey. There is no problem any more, this is not a fundamental problem for Turkey. On the doping side we are cleaning up, there is zero tolerance. It is a very clear message for drug cheats in Turkey.”

SPANISH RECESSION

Spain has been in and out of recession since a decade-long property bubble burst in 2008 and, with unemployment at around 27 percent, is expected to remain in an economic slump for at least another year.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also admitted a corruption scandal, which has undermined the authority of Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP), has hit the country’s image abroad.

Rajoy was testifying about his involvement in the scandal which centres on allegations his party collected millions of euros in cash donations which were then distributed to senior PP figures, including himself.

That is unrelated to the Games in seven years’ time, Madrid officials will argue.

Tokyo, which failed to land the 2016 Olympics and is considered by some as having a slight advantage over its rival bidders, may be advertising its bid as a solid choice for the IOC, but the 2011 deadly earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima is still a top news story.

With highly radioactive water spilling into the ocean and Japan raising the severity level of the latest leaks, it is news that Tokyo does not need days before the vote.

“As far as hosting the Games, the situation in Fukushima will not affect Tokyo,” said Tokyo governor Naoki Inose last month.

But with the current leak being the fifth and worse since the disaster, it is difficult to predict how the situation will develop in the coming years.

An IOC evaluation report released in June offered few clues on potential frontrunners, with all three bids being “of high quality”, putting the decision firmly into the hands of the IOC membership, who will vote after that final – crucial – presentation.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ossian Shine and Pritha Sarkar)

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Whether the stellar line-up of champions, Ferrari’s first such pairing for 50 years, blazes a trail to title glory or derails itself in a shower of sparks along the way remains to be seen.

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The two are fire and ice, and it has been no secret in the Formula One paddock that Alonso would rather have retained Brazilian Felipe Massa as a loyal number two, but equally determined.

Both know what it takes to win titles, both are supremely quick and old and wise enough to see beyond the usual mind games.

“I don’t think Alonso will be too pleased to see Raikkonen there,” said former racer and Sky television commentator Martin Brundle on Wednesday.

“He (Raikkonen) will go about it in his own way. If he heard a radio message ‘Fernando is faster than you’, Kimi Raikkonen is not going to move out of the way.

“He’s going to radio back and say ‘So why is he behind me, then, if he’s faster than me?”. And a few expletives along the way. It will definitely put Alonso on his toes. It will be the strongest pairing in Formula One.”

SUPER TEAM

Raikkonen, the last driver to win a title for Ferrari and first in the post-Michael Schumacher era, did assist Massa in 2008 just as the Brazilian helped him become champion. But generally, the Finn does not do small talk and nor does he seem remotely intimidated by anybody or anything.

When Jenson Button linked up with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010 in Formula One’s most recent ‘super team’ of champions, the older Briton was warned that he was entering the ‘Lion’s Den’ with everything geared around Hamilton.

It did not work out that way, and 2009 champion Button is now the established leader at McLaren while Hamilton has moved on to Mercedes.

Alonso has grown accustomed to being the main man at Maranello but Raikkonen knows his way around the factory corridors well enough and is also being reunited with former colleagues.

The Finn has already won nine races for Ferrari from his previous stint there, only two fewer than Alonso – who won his titles at Renault in 2005 and 2006 – has racked up for the scuderia.

Raikkonen may not care – or talk – enough to be a leader of men, in the mould of Schumacher or Alonso, but speed and success are powerful motivators in themselves and the 2007 champion will play to his strengths.

Pat Fry and James Allison, two key technical figures, worked with him at McLaren and Lotus respectively – as they did with Alonso.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is a known Raikkonen fan, despite the Finn being paid off for the final year of his contract at the end of 2009 to make way for Alonso.

All that means that there should be a much more level playing field next term at a team renowned in recent years for favouring one driver over another.

At a time when Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel is speeding towards his fourth successive title, and the sport is reliving the sort of yawning domination that Schumacher enjoyed at Ferrari, that has to be good news for spectators.

Alonso, however, is likely to be concerned that Ferrari’s dream team could turn into another personal nightmare – unless their car is so dominant that they are battling only themselves.

When the Spaniard was paired with Hamilton, then in his rookie season, at McLaren in 2007 they fought all the way with the team insisting on equal status.

The outcome saw Raikkonen snatch the title against the odds with Hamilton and Alonso level-pegging one point behind the Finn.

Had McLaren imposed the tactics Ferrari employed during the Schumacher era, or during Alonso’s partnership with Massa, the 31-year-old Spaniard might be a triple champion by now.

Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo used to tell reporters, when asked about the chance of Vettel joining Alonso, that there was no space for “two roosters in the same hen house”.

That policy has now been ripped up. How much they have to crow about next season is an open question but one that will be fascinating to watch.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

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Crowds in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square, where the decision was broadcast live on big screens in front of hopeful hundreds, rolled up their flags and prepared to leave as the city was comprehensively beaten by the Japanese capital after Madrid was knocked out after the first round.

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Once the result was announced and Istanbul had failed for the fifth time to land the Games, the inquest began.

Civil unrest, the unstable political situation on the country’s doorstep and a wave of high-profile athletics doping cases are seen as the chief culprits for the IOC’s decision to overlook Turkey again after Istanbul failed to land the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.

While the unrest in neighbouring Syria was seen by some as counting against the bid, others felt a heavy-handed police crackdown during recent anti-government protests were also instrumental in dampening Turkey’s image.

“Consider how police reacted to peaceful protests in Istanbul. What if some crowd problem occurred during the Olympics? Would we pepper spray the international audience? With this image, it’s only natural that we didn’t get it, and now it’s time to look in the mirror,” Nurhan Aslan, 37, sales manager at a textile business said.

The unrest nationwide left four people dead, including a policeman, and injured thousands, denting many Turks’ confidence in their ability to win the Olympic bid.

Another growing worry for Istanbul has been the wave of doping cases which have resulted in the Turkish Athletics Federation banning dozens of athletes for drugs violations, most recently double European 100m hurdles champion Nevin Yanit.

Whatever the reasons, the IOC’s decision was a huge blow to sports fans and proud Turks desperate to showcase their country.

“I cannot believe the committee missed an opportunity to start the marathon at one continent and end it in another,” said civil engineer Kadir Gulmez, 32.

“Or say the triathlon athletes swimming across two continents. It would be epic. A perfect chance to make it historic. Turkey should have got this one.”

(Additional reporting by Murad Sezer, Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Mitch Phillips)

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Two goals in two minutes settled the game with Vasili Berezutskiy making the breakthrough in the 50th minute after converting a cross from the right, and Alexander Kokorin doubling the lead in the 52nd minute with a rising shot from the edge of the penalty area.

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Denis Glushakov made it 3-0 16 minutes from time when he reacted first to a penalty from Roman Shirokov that rebounded back off a post.

Eran Zehavi, guilty of the handball that led to the spotkick, headed a consolation for Israel in stoppage time.

Russia coach Fabio Capello told reporters: “We started the second half very aggressively, we pressed them well, we immediately covered them, managed to steal the ball on their side of the field.

Capello, famously hard to please, was not entirely happy though.

He continued: “I don’t like it when my team lets in goals though and I don’t like it when it happens in the last minute of a game.

“Probably it speaks of letting yourself off your guard. But in general, besides this mistake, I liked how our defenders played.”

Defeat in St Petersburg effectively ended Israel’s hopes of finishing in the top two and claiming a playoff place and their long wait for a second World Cup finals appearance since their only one in 1970 will go on.

Russia top the group with 18 points from eight matches, one point more than Portugal. Israel are now a distant third with 12 points from their seven matches.

If Russia win their last two qualifiers in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan next month they will reach the finals, although Portugal, with home matches to come against Israel and Luxembourg, are ready to pounce if they make any mistakes.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove in Moscow, editing by Mike Collett)

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Flush from bowling in four successive tests for the first time in his career during the Ashes series, the 33-year-old had been bullish about his chances of playing on despite the injury when he returned from England on Thursday.

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A Cricket Australia statement released later in the day, however, showed that his optimism had been misplaced, although he should be back in action when the return series against England starts in late November.

“Ryan Harris injured his right hamstring during the latter part of the second innings of the fifth Ashes test,” it read.

“He had to leave the field and did not return to the game as he was unable to bowl. He was assessed after arriving back in Australia today and is expected to be unavailable to play for the next 6-8 weeks.”

The pick of Australia’s bowlers in the 3-0 defeat in the Ashes series, Harris is no stranger to injury and has been restricted to just 16 tests since he made his debut in 2010.

A chronic knee problem, left ankle fracture, shoulder problem, back strain, hip pain and a tender Achilles have all contributed to limiting his international career.

Harris had hoped to play with Brisbane Heat in the Champions League Twenty20 competition later this month but the diagnosis means he will not now make the trip to India.

That might be a relief for some Australian cricket fans with the second Ashes series looming.

With 24 wickets at an average of 19.58 in England, Harris amply illustrated his importance to a pace attack that is expected to play a key role in the attempt to win back the famous urn on home soil.

The Achilles injury cut short his participation in the Indian Premier League earlier this year which, he said, had allowed him to get fully fit for the Ashes trip.

After his superb displays in England, Harris has now taken 71 wickets in his 16 tests but his personal satisfaction was not about to make up for his disappointment at the series defeat.

“To get through four tests and perform was good but at the end of the day, the results were bad,” he said.

“The good thing is they come back here in November and we can try and get the urn back then.”

Harris warned against asking groundsmen at the five Ashes test venues in Australia to prepare extra quick wickets to suit the Australian pacemen, saying it might turn out to be a double-edged sword.

“The problem there is that their bowling attack is pretty good,” he added.

“If we make our wickets like we normally do there will be enough grass on them and enough in them.

“Bowling at our best the batters are going to find it hard to score.”

(Editing by John O’Brien/Patrick Johnston)

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The planned 60,000-seater stadium is to be the centrepiece of Brussels’ bid to host matches during the 2020 European soccer championships, replacing the current 45,000 capacity King Baudouin stadium.

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The venues are little more than a kilometre (1 mile) apart, but while the present stadium is in officially bilingual but largely French-speaking Brussels, its planned successor is in the exclusively Dutch-speaking region of Flanders.

Flemish politicians are bristling at the thought of Brussels extending its francophone culture beyond its borders, leading Flemish Sports Minister Philippe Muyters to say language rules must be respected.

“One of the underlying elements should be an agreement on the use of Dutch there,” Muyters, a member of the Flemish separatist N-VA party, told the television programme Terzake on Wednesday, hours after the agreement was reached.

Rudi Vervoort, premier of the Brussels region, responded in an interview on La Premiere radio station on Thursday, saying ‘Dutch only’ could not be the rule at a national stadium.

“Dutch will be secondary, as French will be secondary. We will mainly talk English,” he said. “The stadium will not be brought down by the use of languages.”

Language is a frequent flashpoint in Belgium, where the wealthier Flemish majority fiercely protects its Dutch language and culture and is constantly on the look-out for encroachments by French speakers, particularly in areas surrounding Brussels.

The country went for 19 months without a new government after 2010 elections due to differences between French-speaking and Flemish parties.

The issue has flared again as politicians seek vie for votes at next year’s regional, European and federal elections.

Earlier this month, the council of the Flemish district of Menen, which borders France, decided that it would no longer tolerate the use of French in its town hall, saying anyone who did not speak Dutch must rely on hand gestures instead.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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The All Whites, who made the 2010 finals after a 1-0 aggregate victory over fifth-placed Asian side Bahrain, have sealed a November playoff against the fourth placed team in the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) conference after wrapping up the Oceania qualifying spot in March.

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As part of their preparations, Herbert’s side will take part in a four-nation tournament in Saudi Arabia next month, where they will play the hosts and then either UAE or Trinidad and Tobago before friendlies in October complete their buildup.

New Zealand have not played since they sealed qualification with their 2-0 victory over the Solomon Islands in Honiara, having failed to make the Confederations Cup after being upset in last year’s Oceania Nations Cup.

Herbert said lack of match practice made the games in Riyadh on September 5 and September 9 more important, especially because of the limited time he gets to work with a squad drawn from leagues in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the U.S. and China.

“It’s still tough while they’re dispersed around various countries,” Herbert told Reuters.

“It’s more to do with the time we get to spend with them.

“We might only get 48 hours with them and if a plane is late we might only get one training session.

“We just don’t get that fundamental extra time where we can work with the players productively. They arrive and bang the game is around the corner.

“If we need to make adjustments before November we really only have four chances to nail it down and for the team to gel.

“That’s the hardest thing but sometimes that’s the resilience of the Kiwi guy, just being adaptable.”

TRAINING CAMP

After the Saudi Arabia tournament, Herbert is hoping to organise friendlies in October against CONCACAF opponents and replicate the environment he expects to face in the away leg of the playoff as closely as possible.

Herbert expects Honduras or Panama to be the playoff opponents and, given the passion of Latin American fans and their notoriety for gathering outside rivals’ hotel to keep them awake, was investigating staying in Miami and flying into the venue the day before the match.

“No doubt we will probably get the full extent of that,” he said with a laugh when asked about attempts at disruption.

“We understand that, it’s a passionate part of the world. We just want to give ourselves the best chance.”

The first match of the playoff will be hosted by the CONCACAF nation on November 13 before both teams travel to New Zealand for the return fixture in Wellington on November 20.

Herbert said he had seen suggestions world governing body FIFA was considering chartering a plane to bring both teams to New Zealand but nothing had been confirmed and he hoped to have the upper hand in the tie before the Wellington match.

“The away fixture will strongly determine the outcome of the World Cup,” he said. “The lead in work, the preparation has got to be bullet proof.

“The stronger, more resilient team – whether it’s travel, tiredness, whatever – that backs up a couple of days later will win the tie.

“I would back us to do that, so that’s why the away fixture is so important.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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With less than three years to go before the first Olympic Games in South America, most of the facilities in Rio have yet to be completed because of construction delays and soaring costs.

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Earlier this year, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against the billions of dollars being invested into staging the 2014 football World Cup then the Olympics instead of health, education, public transportation, and security.

Carlos Nuzman, the president of the Rio 2016 Olympics Committee, addressed the International Olympic Committee on Sunday to allay fears that things were off track.

He conceded things had fallen behind but said he was confident everything would be ready for 2016 and on budget.

“We have made significant progress,” Nuzman said. “I can assure you Rio will be ready.

“There is a lot of work ahead but we fully understand the complexity of our task.”

Nuzman’s admission came just a week after an IOC co-ordination commission visited Rio before heading to Argentina for the IOC Congress.

The commission was led by Nawal El Moutawakel, who won a gold medal for Morocco in the women’s 400 metres hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

El Moutawakel told the IOC Congress on Sunday that Rio had made “reassuring” progress in the last year but there was still a lot of work to do.

“Over recent months, the social and political environment and operations has significantly changed,” she said.

“There is a need, more than ever before, that all stakeholders need to work together.

“Key decisions need to be made collectively and communicated with one voice.”

‘REMAIN CONFIDENT’

She urged the Rio organising team to focus on getting the venues and infrastructure right as well as taking the “matrix of responsibility” and would return to Brazil next year to see how things were progressing.

“We remain confident Rio and Brazil have the resources and the energy and ambition to deliver a memorable Olympic Games in 2016.”

Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper, who also serves as chairman of the IOC press commission, told Nuzman that Rio needed to get their media operations in order, including better communication with the Brazilian public to reassure them about the Games and end the protests.

“I’m still concerned with the delay related to your press operations. It took you three and a half years to appoint a media chief,” Gosper said.

“You simply have to keep your public aware about what’s happening.

“If the community doesn’t get it, you’ll have a repeat of what you’ve had (protests).”

Nuzman, a lawyer who represented Brazil in volleyball at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said the Rio organisers were aware of the growing discontent and he vowed they would do a better job getting their messages across.

“We have a free country, we have a democracy in every sense and everybody can express their opinion,” he said.

“It’s important to take in consideration any protest concerning the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

“The population loves sport… but we need to be much more transparent and open to communicate to everybody what’s happening.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Alison Wildey)

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The South Korean mountain resort, which was awarded the Games in 2011, will become the first Asian city outside Japan to host the winter Games.

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“Asia is a huge continent with a huge population. It has a great potential in many areas,” Pyeongchang Games president Kim Jin-sun told Reuters in an interview.

“What the Olympics pursue is the worldwide expansion of sports so in this sense Tokyo 2020 and Pyeongchang 2018, only two years apart in Asia, provides us a great opportunity to awaken Asia’s great potential.”

He said this would bring with it “further development of related industries.”

After decades where sport’s biggest events were mostly split between Europe and North America, international sports bodies are increasingly turning to Asia.

With more than half of the world’s population and a sharply burgeoning middle class, the continent boasts the fastest growing regional economy in the world.

In addition to staging the 2020 Olympics, Japan has also been picked to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup after unsuccessfully bidding for the 2011 tournament.

South Korea in turn will hold the world swimming championships for the first time in 2019 and the Presidents Cup golf tournament in 2015.

Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, is the site for the next world athletics championships in 2015 while Nanjing, the capital of China’s Jiangsu province, will stage next year’s Youth Olympics.

ASIAN TREND

Singapore, one of a handful of Asian countries on the Formula One motor racing calendar, has been selected as the host for the end-of-season Women’s Tennis Association championships for the next five years.

Kim, however, denied, the traditional power base of sport was shifting to the east for good, saying it was merely becoming a more balanced distribution with more East Asian bids for major events being submitted.

“The trend has been that many important mega events are planned and hosted in East Asia but I do not think the power base is shifting,” said Kim, who saw Pyeongchang fail twice before being awarded the Games.

“We believe East Asia offers… the opportunity to host mega events. The IOC is eager to give even opportunities to each region in the world,” Kim said, speaking through a translator.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are the first to be staged in South America.

With the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics under pressure due to the fallout over a Russian anti-gay law and the Rio preparations marred by delays and potential protests that also hit this summer’s soccer Confederation Cup, Kim said Pyeongchang was prepared.

“It is not only the organising committee but the city, the city government and regional government and the whole country that should be prepared to host the Games,” he said.

“The whole nation should overcome outside problems. In this sense our national government has established a support committee.”

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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