Handicapped HK government handicaps the Old Course

In a resolute stand, golfers have escalated their battle against the Hong Kong government’s forthcoming takeover of a century-old golf course, slated for September 1. The move, poised to mar the city’s global stature, has drawn the ire of golfing enthusiasts.

Leader John Lee’s commitment to the previous administration’s redevelopment plan remains steadfast, despite mounting opposition. Hong Kong Golf Club’s recent legal maneuver, seeking a judicial review to challenge the underpinning environmental assessment, underscores the authorities’ unyielding resolve.

Supported by powerful people in pro-government and business circles, the fight rages on to safeguard the prestigious golf club against the backdrop of a housing crisis. The government’s intent to seize a fifth of the 172-hectare Fanling golf course for 12,000 public homes amid the world’s most exorbitant housing market kindles this fervent debate.

Golf, to a greater extent than any other sport, is intricately intertwined with its surroundings – the land, the natural terrain, the climate, the heritage and the history. These elements contribute to the inherent value of a golf course, making each one unique and cherished.

One reason they still call it the Old Course is that it’s now quite old. Here players are shown in 1911. Photo: Gwulo

There are three courses at Fanling and the land officials are about to grab belongs to what is called, simply, the Old Course – in homage to the hallowed Old Course at St Andrew’s Links, Scotland, which stands as the epitome of prestige and tradition, revered as the “Home of Golf.”

The Fanling Old Course stands as Hong Kong’s premier 18-hole testament from the illustrious Golden Age of golf – an era defined as the sport’s zenith. It’s joined with the New and Eden Courses to make a trifecta that has been the steadfast venue for the Hong Kong Open since 1959, imprinting an indelible mark on the local and Asian golf scene.

The trio of graded historic structures – Clubhouse, Halfway House, and Fanling Lodge – is an integral part of this historical and cultural tapestry, further enriching the legacy of the landscape.

It was a perplexing move when Carrie Lam’s government decided in 2019 to reclaim 32 hectares of the 172-hectare golf club. This act effectively cripples the Old Course, rendering it unable to host any full-scale competitions. Such a decision is a disservice to Hong Kong’s vibrant golfing community and a clear indication of the government’s flawed housing policy.

It’s true that Hong Kong has long been struggling with exorbitant housing prices. Over two decades, housing costs surged by 350%, fostering extreme wealth inequality. Many citizens endure cramped living conditions, such as subdivided flats and “cage” homes. Beijing called for local leaders to address the pressing accommodation crisis, blaming unaffordable housing for catalyzing social discontent, notably witnessed during the 2019 anti-government protests. Lee vowed to shorten public housing wait times from six to 4.5 years.

St Andrews, looking at Edinburgh, Dundee and the area in between, obviously doesn’t have the population pressure faced by Hong Kong. But Hong Kong certainly has better alternatives to the de-facto destruction of the value of Fanling.

Crowded Hong Kong plans to build an artificial island for housing. Photo: Dazeen

Consider, for a moment, the Lantau Tomorrow project. This ambitious endeavor involves the reclamation of land near Lantau Island, with the first phase covering 1,000 hectares and costing about HK$624 billion. Based on a conservative estimate of a 2 times floor area ratio, the cost per foot amounts to approximately HK$3,000, a relatively affordable figure. The government touts its potential to provide up to 260,000 residential units, with 70% allocated for public housing. The Fanling site pales in comparison, offering space for a mere 5% of the housing units that the Lantau project could accommodate.

Yet, despite the clear advantages and potential benefits of the Lantau Tomorrow project, progress has been frustratingly slow. According to government estimates, the entire process from land reclamation to the occupation of residential units spans a period of seven years. Carrie Lam first proposed the plan in 2018, and now, five years later, we find ourselves mired in a quagmire of bureaucracy, endless studies, reviews, and discussions.

Moreover, the government’s handling of the situation risks exacerbating social divisions, fueling a dangerous “wealth-shaming” narrative. Instead of addressing the underlying causes of the housing problem and implementing effective policies, they choose to provoke controversy and shift blame onto the affluent. Such tactics do nothing to solve the crisis at hand but only serve to deepen societal rifts.

Hong Kong’s success today has been built up by many generations of hard working, visionary heroes. We should continue to build and not destroy, especially not to break up, such an iconic symbol of our commercial and international status. It is paramount not to turn this into a rich vs. poor struggle: There are far more professionals, owners of small and medium-sized businesses and young people playing than millionaires.

One good solution is to open the whole Old Course to the public, keeping Fanling intact, so the world does not find us ridiculous, and no one is held to account by future generations for such stupidity.

A notable contrast lies in the approach to heritage preservation between Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore exhibits a centralized method, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority overseeing urban planning and heritage conservation. This enables comprehensive development considerations and integrated heritage preservation. In contrast, Hong Kong’s approach disperses heritage conservation duties across various government bodies, prone to incoherence and tunnel vision.

In light of President Xi Jinping’s recently reiterated emphasis on “solidly promoting One Country Two Systems” and maintaining the “prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong, it is essential that we recognize our role in fulfilling a broader agenda that aligns with the interests of our nation.

This recognition should guide our decision-making and policy implementation, ensuring that we uphold the principles of our capitalist system and continue to enjoy the freedoms promised by Deng Xiaoping’s “keep on racing horses, keep on dancing”.

To achieve this, Hong Kong needs visionary leadership that goes beyond short-termism and populism. We require leaders who possess a deep understanding of the city’s social fabric and the harmonious spectrum of values it embodies. Our leaders must strike a delicate balance between the interests of different stakeholders, including minorities whose voices are often disregarded.

This calls for a caliber of leadership befitting an international financial center. Only then can we ensure a prosperous future for Hong Kong, one that respects our traditions while embracing the progress necessary for the city’s continued growth. In 20 years, if it survived unscathed, Fanling might be viewed as a joint great asset for the people of the Greater Bay Area that they can be proud of.

Louis Ho has spent many a happy day on the links at Fanling.

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In SEA Games debut, Cambodian chess gets a spotlight

Chheav Bora’s calm demeanour gives little away, even over the chess board.

If it weren’t for the intermittent congratulations from his teammates, there’d be no way to tell the former King of Cambodian Chess had just won another high-stakes match of ouk chaktrang, the variant of the game most popular in Cambodia.

As crowned by subsequent victories in national chess competitions of 2014 and 2015, Bora was humble and soft-spoken as he waited for his teammates to finish their matches. They were all playing for the home team in this year’s, Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), hosted in Phnom Penh.

Bora was happy to be there – it was his first time representing Cambodia on the national team. In fact, it was the first time ouk was played in the regional sporting event across its 32 iterations. 

As the host country, Cambodia added the chess game to the roster of 37 different sports for the games, which drew to a close on Wednesday night.

“Whenever I play chess, I feel super calm,” Bora said after his SEA Games match, held on a balmy afternoon at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “It makes me think consciously – whenever I want to do something, the way that I think, [the way] my mind processes, the order is not messy.”

Ouk is distinct from international chess in several ways, and though the variant is played throughout the Mekong region, many SEA Games athletes had to quickly learn the rules ahead of time to participate in this year’s contest. As ouk undergoes a resurgence in the Kingdom, the regional sporting event provided a showcase for the game on a wider stage, elevating the style to a new level of play and a never-before-seen visibility at home and around the world.

Still, despite what some might consider an inherent advantage, it wasn’t all easy for team Cambodia. Players from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Malaysia were stiff competition for a team that might seem like it would have a home-field edge. 

“The Philippines and Malaysia, we had no idea that they would play very well like this,” said Pen Khemararasmey, another member of the Cambodian team.

The exclusion of international chess from the games met with some grumbles from the Philippines, where the ouk variant was unknown. But that isn’t such a bad thing, according to Kuch Kimlong, the president of the Cambodian Ouk Chaktrang Federation.

“Through the 32nd SEA Games event, [ouk] is becoming popular for people of ASEAN countries,” he said, pointing to the variant’s presence in Thailand and Vietnam. “They like to play this game very much.”

They also turned out to be pretty good at it. 

The rival Thais walked away with four gold medals, the most of any team through the seven ouk events, and Vietnam bagged two. 

Overall, Cambodia’s chess team closed out the SEA Games with one gold medal, four silvers, and one bronze. Bora, the former King of Chess, ended up placing second in the men’s triple 60-minute final event, netting a silver medal.

A modern tradition with ancient roots

Though ouk is typically described as Cambodian chess, the game is also popular in Thailand, where it’s known as makruk, and in Myanmar as sittuyin

Believed to have possibly split more than 1,000 years ago from chaturanga, an Indian ancestor of the internationally known version of chess, the exact historical roots of the game are lost to history. The progenitor of ouk may have come to Southeast Asia with travelling merchants by about 800 AD.

In the Angkorian period, at least two kings built temples and shrines with bas reliefs depicting what could be a version of the game. Today, ouk is commonly played in cafes and parks by tuk-tuk drivers, nine-to-fivers and anyone else who knows the rules and is up for a challenge. 

Ouk chaktrang is a part of Cambodian national identity,” said Bora, “there is a sculpture [of it] on the wall of Angkor Wat.” 

The pieces used in the game are the same as those used in international chess. But their names and rules of play are very different.

Where international chess calls pieces pawns, rook, knight, bishop, queen and king, a player of ouk would refer to them respectively as the fish, boat, horse, pillar, maiden and king. 

Both games share the aim of capturing an opponent’s king but vary in the ways of getting there. For international chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, able to move as far as it likes in any direction. In ouk, the maiden can only move a single square at a time, and strictly on a diagonal line.

To find potential champions of this tiny battlefield, the Cambodian team drafted players through rounds of qualifications. This included recruiting competitors, such as Bora, who have already dominated the sport in the country, but also finding new faces with players who learned on the streets and in cafes.

The sound of clattering pieces and calls of “ouk”, which is said in the same way an international player would say “check” when attacking the king, are common in such settings.

While the game has always been held as a national pastime within Cambodia, Bora thinks recent years have seen an increase in its popularity.

“In the past, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, most of the Cambodian chess players passed away,” he said. “Now, gradually, Cambodia is getting back a lot of ouk chaktrang players.” 

As the game’s visibility expands, its base of players might stand to change with the times. 

Ouk has traditionally been seen in Cambodia as a male pastime – while women are often expected to go home from work to care for their households, men are free to retire to cafes or other drinking spots where they can play with friends. 

National team member Khemararasmey, one of the women who represented Cambodian chess in the SEA Games, said she only learned how to play because her father owned a cafe where men gathered over ouk

She grew up around the game and said she doesn’t remember exactly when she learned to play. But when she heard ouk was to be featured in the SEA Games, she was quick to enter the qualifiers and win a spot on the national team. 

She hopes the future will see more women included at ouk boards around the country. 

“The society has changed, the next generation is more open,” she said. “After the SEA Games, this game will attract more women in Cambodia to play, because this game is very nice, it trains us to think, to be patient, to work hard.”

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SEA Games end with a bang in Phnom Penh

Adrenalin was high amid flashes of lightning in the humid air of Phnom Penh as spectators crowded into the new 60,000 capacity, Chinese-built Morodok Techo National Stadium. 

Amid performers intermingling national flags and fireworks echoing like a starting pistol, a flame was extinguished and the Southeast Asian Games were declared closed. 

The 17 May ceremony signalled the close  of the 32nd iteration of the bi-annual regional sports event. The Kingdom’s first time as host saw participants from 11 Southeast Asian countries vie for victory in 37 different sports, the highest number of any SEA Games so far. 

Now, at the finish line of more than two weeks of intense competition, the games have strengthened national identities, resurfaced old rivalries and laid the terrain for new sports and generations of future athletic champions from the region. 

There were 581 medals at stake in this year’s games, with last year’s host Vietnam yet again emerging in pole position with 355 medals in total, including 136 gold. 

The country set a winning pace when they beat Cambodia and gained an early victory over Laos in the “Group of Death” qualifying football tournament, which took place before the games’ official opening during the week of 24 April. 

The Vietnamese team racked up further victories in track and field, three-cushion carom billiards and Kun Khmer kickboxing, putting their final tally a commanding 42 ahead of Thailand, which came in second place with 313 medals. Indonesia placed third, with Cambodia taking fourth. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Timor-Leste trailed in 11th place, with eight bronze medals spread across taekwondo, boxing and karate. 

But behind the medal tallies are individual stories of personal motivation and achievement, particularly for host-country Cambodia. 

Runner Bou Samnang, 20, went viral after fighting to complete the women’s 5,000m race in a heavy downpour. Though she came in last, Samnang inspired viewers with her determination to reach the finish-line on behalf of the Kingdom.

Fellow Cambodian Chhun Bunthorn made history when he won the country’s first gold medal for athletics after clinching first place in the 800m race. The games also saw the entry of Cambodia’s women’s football team qualifying for the semi-finals. 

The team had spent six months training in China as part of an official arrangement, according to Sareth Keo, general secretary of the Cambodia Football Association.

“Beforehand, we never used to focus so much on women’s football,” Sareth said. “Now, the women’s team is doing better than the men’s.” 

Inspirational narratives aside, the games weren’t without their share of drama that ran contrary to the otherwise carefully constructed messages of regional collaboration and friendship. 

Thailand boycotted the Kun Khmer event after unsuccessfully demanding Cambodia refer to the sport as Muay Thai. The fighting disciplines are very similar, enough to where the countries regularly host cross-border bouts, and both sides claim to be originators of the style.

Fighting also broke out on the football field during the men’s football final on 16 May, which erupted into a brawl between the Indonesian and Thai teams. 

Coaches and players tore into each other following Indonesia’s mistaken early exit from the pitch, allowing Thailand to equalise 2-2 on a penalty. Five red cards were handed out to each team, and Indonesia eventually gained a 5-2 victory, winning their first gold medal in the sport.  

But despite the fierce rivalries, regional alliances and building relations lies at the roots of the SEA Games. 

“[It] is always an excellent opportunity to unite countries to rally and support their country’s best athletes … [and] also an opportunity for cultural exchange,” said Emily Ortega, head of psychology programme and sports psychology specialist at Singapore’s University of Social Sciences. 

The region’s largest sporting event has its origins in the first Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in 1958, following a delegates’ meeting that same year at the Asian Games in Tokyo. 

The brainchild of Luang Sukhum Nayapradit, then-vice president of the Thailand Olympic Committee, the first SEAP Games took place in Bangkok eight years before the founding of the ASEAN bloc. 

Hosted under the late King Bhumibol, the event welcomed more than 527 regional athletes from the six founding countries – Thailand, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, South Vietnam and Laos – who competed across 12 sports. In an early hint of the political considerations that attend the games, host Thailand made the inaugural event exclusive to neighbours which shared its anti-communist interests.

The SEAP Games Federation was founded the next year with a symbol of six interlinked gold rings, each representing a founding nation. 

The recent games also served as an opportunity for regional leaders to meet and discuss bilateral collaboration. The visiting Laos President Thoungloun Sisoulith reportedly had discussions with Hun Sen about enhanced disaster relief collaboration. And as Timor-Leste progresses towards its goal of ASEAN membership, former Timorese President Xanana Gusmão’s attendance at the opening ceremonies could be seen as a public sign of strengthened ties between the two countries. 

But hosting countries can also capitalise on the opportunity to boost their own soft power and national interests, not just through the selection of sports.

For this year’s SEA Games, the $160 million stadium that hosted the opening ceremony, neighbouring 3,000-capacity aquatic centre and 6,100 bed athlete village are a signal of Cambodia’s status to the wider region. Accommodation and food for the 5,300 athletes is estimated to have cost the Kingdom approximately $550,000, an investment in regional status.

Geopolitics aside, for many athletes, the games represent a cherished opportunity to compete on the world stage. 

For some, it was a long time coming. Cambodian football organiser Keo is a former professional footballer who used to play on the national team. He says he would have loved to represent his country, but his peak fitness and playing years coincided with the era when the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule from 1975-79. 

Now, as the closing ceremony draws near, he feels a sense of victory for Cambodia that is not related to the medal tally or the evolving diplomatic relations, but a sense of history overcome.

“We have been waiting for 64 years,” he said. “This is about more than sport, more than football.”

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UFC president Dana White does not expect punishment for domestic violence incident | CNN

CNN  — 

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White said he does not expect punishment after a video emerged of him in a physical altercation with his wife earlier this month. White made the comments Wednesday at a media day for UFC Fight Night 217.

Asked whether he expects there to be repercussions from the company, White said: “What should the repercussions be? You tell me. I take 30 days off? How does that hurt me?

“Me leaving hurts the company, hurts my employees, hurts the fighters. It doesn’t hurt me.

“What is my punishment? Here’s my punishment: I have to walk around for however long I live … and this is how I’m labeled now.

“The punishment is that I did it, and now I have to deal with it.”

In the video, obtained by TMZ, White and his wife, Anne, are seen arguing before exchanging slaps in a nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on New Year’s Eve. Neither White nor his wife are facing legal charges over the incident.

White claims that conversations had been held between himself, Endeavor chief executive and UFC owner, Ari Emanuel, and broadcaster ESPN over what action was appropriate.

“We’ve had plenty of discussions internally – with Ari, with ESPN – nobody’s happy,” the 53-year-old said. “Nobody’s happy about this. Neither am I. But it happened.”

White waits to place the UFC lightweight championship belt on Charles Oliveira after the Brazilian's victory against Michael Chandler in 2021.

White also said he was not looking to make excuses for his behavior and reiterated his stance on domestic violence.

“There’s never an excuse … There’s no defense for this and people should not be defending me over this thing, no matter what.”

On Monday, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus wrote an open letter to Emanuel and Endeavor calling for White to be replaced as UFC president.

“Given Mr White’s previous remarks against domestic partner violence, we believed that Endeavor and the UFC shared this commitment to safety, respect and accountability,” the letter reads.

“And yet, we have seen the video of UFC president Dana White, where he strikes his wife at a New Year’s Eve celebration … We were appalled. It was alarming to say the least. In the days since the video was released, you have remained silent.

“We are calling for the immediate removal of Mr White as president of UFC.”

CNN reached out to Endeavor for comment but did not immediately get a response.

When contacted for comment, ESPN gave only a short statement saying: “We have been covering the story on our platforms since it broke and will continue to do so.”

TBS has delayed the premiere of a reality series from Dana White – Power Slap: Road to the Title – by one week to January 18. TBS and CNN are part of the Warner Bros. Discovery network.

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Zach Johnson isn't discounting Tiger Woods for the Ryder Cup | CNN

CNN  — 

Tiger Woods could form part of the US Ryder Cup team – or at least, Zach Johnson isn’t ruling it out.

Ahead of the Sony Open in Hawaii, US captain Johnson said he wouldn’t discount selecting Woods to compete in the tournament if the 47-year-old didn’t qualify for the team automatically.

“I would only contemplate having him on the team if he felt – if he was putting up some numbers and some scores, No. 1, where he’s showing some sign of being competitive, “Johnson said at a media conference on Wednesday.

“And then No. 2, that discussion would be had with the other guys that are a part of that team, and specifically him. If there is anything I trust in Tiger Woods, is that he’s extremely invested in this team and the future Cups. Extremely invested. I can’t speak that enough,” added Johnson.

“And then I think you would do anything and everything for the betterment of the team. I assume he would say … I don’t like basing on assumptions … but I’m confident that he would say, ‘Yeah, I can play, or no, I can’t.’”

Last year, Johnson confirmed Woods would be part of the US Ryder Cup “in some capacity,” adding that Woods had made it a “priority.”

“Given who he is and what he’s all about, I can’t tell you right now: I don’t know if he will be here next year, but he will be a part of this team in some capacity,” Johnson said.

However, Woods’ health could complicate this, Johnson conceded.

“He’s gone through some things as of late that make it difficult, whether it’s travel or what-have-you,” said the US Ryder Cup captain.

Injury has hampered Woods’ recent career, his playing time decimated since he suffered serious leg injuries in a car accident in February 2021.

The 47-year-old withdrew from the Hero World Challenge in December citing his foot pain, and at various points had looked to be struggling with movement during the seventh edition of The Match that month.

“I think something that is realistic is playing the tour one day, never full time, ever again, but pick and choose, just like Mr. (Ben) Hogan did,” Woods told Golf Digest after his accident in 2021.

“Pick and choose a few events a year and you play around that. You practice around that, and you gear yourself up for that. And you play. I think that’s how I’m going to have to play it from now on.

“It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s my reality. And I understand it, and I accept it.”

A biennial competition which alternates between Europe and the US, the Ryder Cup is being played in Italy for the first time later this year – September 25 to October 1 – at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, which is 10 miles from the center of Rome.

Team US regained the Ryder Cup in 2021 following a historically dominant performance over Europe at Whistling Straits.

CNN’s Jack Bantock contributed reporting.

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Australia pulls out of Afghanistan cricket series over Taliban's restrictions on women | CNN

Sydney CNN  — 

Australia’s men’s cricket team has withdrawn from a series of upcoming matches against Afghanistan in protest over the ruling Taliban’s restrictions on women and girls’ education and employment, Cricket Australia (CA) said in a statement Thursday.

The teams were scheduled to play three One Day International (ODI) games in the United Arab Emirates in March, but CA decided to cancel the series after “extensive consultation” with “several stakeholders including the Australian government,” the statement said.

“CA is committed to supporting [and] growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country,” it added.

In December, the Taliban announced the suspension of university education for all female students. The move followed a decision in March to bar girls from returning to secondary schools, coming after months-long closures that had been in place since the hardline Islamist group took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Later that month, the Taliban ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop their female employees from coming to work, warning that non-compliance would result in the revocation of their licenses.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) responded to CA’s decision on Thursday, describing it as “pathetic” and “an attempt to enter the realm of politics and politicize the sport.”

“By prioritizing political interests over the principles of fair play and sportsmanship, Cricket Australia is undermining the integrity of the game and damaging the relationship between the two nations,” the statement added.

“The decision to withdraw from playing the upcoming ODI series against Afghanistan is unfair and unexpected and will have a negative impact on the development and growth of cricket in Afghanistan, as well as affect[ing] the love and passion of the Afghan nation for the game.”

The ACB said it was considering what action to take on the matter, including the possibility of writing to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and “rethinking the participation of Afghan players” in Australia’s domestic Twenty20 competition, the Big Bash League (BBL).

The ACB statement followed comments from prominent Afghan player Rashid Khan.

Khan, who played for the Adelaide Strikers in this year’s BBL, accompanied a statement on Twitter with the words: “Keep politics out of it.”

“I am really disappointed to hear that Australia have pulled out of the series to play us in March,” Khan wrote.

“I take great pride in representing my country and we have made great progress on the world stage. This decision from CA sets us back in that journey.

“If playing vs Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia then I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. Therefore I will be strongly considering my future in that competition.”

CA had previously backed out of a proposed Test match against Afghanistan due to be hosted in Tasmania in November 2021 over the Taliban’s ban on women participating in sports.

“Driving the growth of women’s cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia. Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for all, and we support the game unequivocally for women at every level,” CA said at the time.

Australia’s sports minister Anika Wells on Thursday said Canberra supports Cricket Australia’s move.

“The Australian government welcomes Cricket Australia’s decision to withdraw from the upcoming men’s One Day International series against Afghanistan, following the Taliban’s increased suppression of women and girls’ rights,” she tweeted.

Although the Taliban repeatedly claimed it would protect the rights of girls and women, the group has done the opposite, stripping away the hard-won freedoms for which women have fought tirelessly over the past two decades.

The United Nations and at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have said they are temporarily suspending their operations in Afghanistan following the ban on female NGO employees.

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Australian Open draw: Rafael Nadal begins title defense with tough test in opening round | CNN

CNN  — 

Defending champion Rafael Nadal will face English youngster Jack Draper in the opening round of the Australian Open in a bid to retain his 2022 crown and extend his grand slam tally.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz may be missing the tournament through injury, but with the return of Novak Djokovic to the competition, Nadal will be hard pushed to defend his title.

Thursday’s draw was not kind to the 22-time major winner: if he defeats the world No. 40 Draper, he potentially faces current Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima.

Potentially awaiting the Spaniard later would be a quarterfinal against Daniil Medvedev, who was Nadal’s opponent in last year’s epic five-set final. Medvedev will be looking to make it a third consecutive finals appearance after losing to Djokovic in 2021 and to Nadal in 2022.

A rematch of the 2021 final is on the cards, with Djokovic in the opposite half from Nadal and Medvedev. The nine-time Australian Open champion faces another Spaniard, Roberto Carballes Baena, in the opening round and is on track to face home favorite Nick Kyrgios in the last eight.

The tournament comes 12 months after Djokovic was deported from Australia on the eve of the 2022 edition after former immigration minister Alex Hawke found the tennis star posed a risk to public health and order because, as a celebrity sportsman who had previously expressed opposition to people being compelled to get the Covid-19 vaccine, he could be seen as an “icon” for anti-vaxxers.

The minister’s decision to deport the former world No. 1 meant he was initially banned from reentry for three years.

Nineteenth-seeded Kyrgios is part of a thrilling section of the draw which includes Holger Rune, Dan Evans and Andrey Rublev.

Russian Rublev comes into the Australian Open as the fifth seed, but on Wednesday suffered a shock defeat to world No. 110 Thanasi Kokkinakis in the Adelaide 2. Rublev faces a blockbuster opening round match against former world No. 3 and 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

Andy Murray features in the other pick of the round as he faces 13th-seeded Matteo Berrettini. The Italian beat the three-time grand slam winner in four sets at the 2022 US Open and has beaten the Scotsman three out of their four ATP meetings.

Świątek is the first person representing Poland to win a major singles title and was voted Polish Sports Personality of the Year in 2022.

All to play for with no Barty

Following reigning champion Ashleigh Barty’s retirement from tennis last year, Iga Światek has dominated the sport and comes into the tournament as the top seed. The Pole opens against German Jule Niemeier but faces a tasty potential quarterfinal clash with American hot prospect Coco Gauff.

The 18-year-old superstar comes into the tournament in fine form, having won the ASB Classic without dropping a set and is looking to build on her excellent 2022 which saw her reach the Roland Garros final where she was beaten by Światek.

Ahead of any quarterfinal clash with the favorite though, Gauff faces a second round match against 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu who is in a race against time to recover from an ankle injury.

In the other half of the draw, second seed Ons Jabeur starts her 2023 trying to go one better than last year and win a grand slam. The Tunisian made both the Wimbledon and US Open finals but fell at the final hurdle in her pursuit to become the first Arab and North African woman to win a grand slam.

After missing the 2022 Open, Jabeur opens her 2023 account against Tamara Zidanšek and could face Aryna Sabalenka who is coming off the back of winning at Adelaide 1, her 11th career title and first in 19 months.

Elsewhere, American Jessica Pegula has been drawn in the same part of the draw as Maria Sakkari. Pegula recently led Team USA to victory in the inaugural United Cup, which featured a brilliant straight-set win over Światek. Having reached back-to-back quarterfinals in Melbourne and at the top of her game, she will be looking to set up a thrilling semifinal with her United Cup opponent.

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The Boston Celtics become the first team to hit 30 wins this season with victory over the New Orleans Pelicans | CNN

CNN  — 

The Boston Celtics became the first team in the NBA this season to reach 30 wins after beating the New Orleans Pelicans 125-114 at TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday night, largely behind a combined 72 points from the team’s stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Brown scored season-high 41 points and had 12 rebounds while Tatum had 31 points and 10 rebounds as the Celtics won their fourth straight game.

Brown specifically attacked the Pelicans from the mid range, crediting extra muscle added in the offseason for allowing him to handle contact with bigger opponents, as he makes a concerted effort to not settle for attempts from deep.

“I think I can get to the rim at a good rate this year,” Brown told reporters afterwards, per the Celtics website. “I definitely want to keep that up.

“I don’t want to let the defense off the hook, but I feel good about a lot of the shots I took from three. Some of them went down, some of them haven’t. But I definitely still think I’m going to look to get to the basket a lot more for sure just for the remainder of the year.”

Celtics forward Al Horford reiterated the point: “When (Brown) drives, I feel like people feel it.

“When he’s hitting you when he’s driving, that’s real. So it’s good to see him play at that level and have his mind made up that he’s going to attack the paint.”

It was Brown’s sixth 40-point game of his career, moving him past Sam Jones and Isaiah Thomas for the sixth-most in Celtics history.

Together with Tatum, the two wing players have become the driving force behind Boston’s recent success.

The team reached the NBA Finals last season, eventually losing to the Golden State Warriors, and is again one of the best in the league this year.

Tatum dunks against the Pelicans.

In both scoring at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game, Brown and Tatum became the first Celtics players to achieve that stat line since Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker in 2001.

Drafted a year after one another – Brown was drafted with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft and Tatum was selected with the No. 3 pick in 2017 – they have built up an understanding together about dissecting defenses.

“They continue to grow in front of our eyes,” Horford said of the star duo after the victory. “They feed off each other, and that’s what really drives our team.”

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Lionel Messi scores for Paris Saint-Germain in first game back since World Cup triumph | CNN

CNN  — 

Lionel Messi celebrated his return to Paris Saint-Germain with a goal in his first game back since lifting the World Cup.

The 35-year-old only returned to training in the new year after taking some time off to celebrate and recuperate after Qatar 2022, where he finally won the trophy that had always eluded him in one of the greatest finals ever.

But the forward didn’t look to be suffering any hangover as he returned to action with a goal from close range in PSG’s 2-0 win against Angers on Wednesday.

Messi also paid tribute to Pelé before the match, joining his teammates in wearing a t-shirt with the Brazilian’s face on it during the warmup.

PSG sits comfortably top of the league despite Christophe Galtier having to switch up his team as he eases players back in after the World Cup.

Kylian Mbappé, a beaten finalist in Qatar, was rested for Wednesday’s match, allowing the likes of youngster Hugo Ekitiké to get some game time.

The 20-year-old forward has impressed when given the chance this season and opened the scoring with a sweeping finish in the first half.

Messi and his teammates wore t-shirts to honor Pelé during the warmup.

Messi, who dovetailed the attack alongside Neymar Jr., then doubled the lead in the 72nd minute after a well timed run and right foot finish.

The linesman had initially flagged for offside, but the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) overruled the call and the goal was given.

The win on Messi’s return is some welcome good news for PSG, who lost in the league for the first time this season last week, 3-1 away to Lens.

‘Little by little, everyone is coming back’

“Yes, it was very important to get back to winning ways. We have rivals who are pushing hard,” Galtier told PSGTV after the game.

“We knew that we were going to have a difficult match because Angers is a team that plays good football and poses big problems on a tactical level.

“I also insist on the fact that the situation – post-World Cup – means that we have had a lot of players absent, that the group was very scattered and that, little by little, everyone is coming back and reconnecting.”

PSG, which is six points clear atop the table, plays Rennes in its next game on Sunday.

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