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Russia, sidelined from world events, plans pre-Olympics games with South Africa, Brazil and others

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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at Pulkovo International Airport to attend the 2nd Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia July 26, 2023 Jairus Mmutle/GCIS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY./File Photo

Russia, sidelined from many international sports events over the war in Ukraine, said on Thursday it would organise a competition next year for members of the BRICS alliance – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking at the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said athletes from BRICS countries would be invited to take part in the event in the southwestern Russian city of Kazan next June.

“We are developing new types of competitions,” RIA news agency quoted him as saying. “I stress again: we are not creating an alternative to the Olympic Games and so on. We are a self-sufficient country.”

The BRICS Games, which Matytsin said would feature 25 disciplines, will take place just a month before the start of the Olympics in Paris.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in March issued a set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return as neutrals after they were banned in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year

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The IOC has yet to take a final decision on those athletes’ participation at the Paris Games, but IOC President Thomas Bach has said that they should not be punished for their governments’ actions.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been allowed to compete as neutrals at the Hangzhou Asian Games in China to help them earn points to qualify for the Paris Olympics, angering some countries that think they should not be granted a pathway to the Games.

Russian authorities argue that it is discriminatory to ban the country’s athletes from the Games and deprive them of their national symbols such as their flag or anthem.

Matytsin had previously announced Russia’s plans to relaunch the multi-sport World Friendship Games next autumn.

Those competitions were first organised in 1984 in the Soviet Union and eight other socialist states that boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

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-Reuters

 

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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What you need to know about the Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremony

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Paris 2024 Olympics - Paris, France - June 23, 2024 The Eiffel Tower is seen from the water of the Seine River as the Olympics opening ceremony rehearsal is postponed amid rainy weather. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski/File Photo

Paris will begin its Olympics extravaganza with an unprecedented opening ceremony on the river Seine on July 26th.

Here is what you need to know about the ceremony:

WHAT WILL WE SEE?

Organisers have promised a show like no other.

Unlike for previous Olympics, the Paris 2024 opening ceremony will not take place in a stadium.

Instead, dozens of boats will carry thousands of athletes and performers on a 6km route along the Seine.

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Departing from the Austerlitz bridge, the parade will sail by Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and arrive near the Eiffel Tower, after passing under bridges and gateways, including the Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf, and near many of the French capital’s landmarks.

Organisers have said they will take advantage of the historic monuments, the riverbanks, the sky and water “and there won’t be a single riverbank or bridge that won’t be filled with music, dance, or performance.” The show will have twelve parts, some of which will play on clichés about France.

Athletes and artists will take part in the parade together.

“Everything will be woven together, including the protocol (the speeches, the opening by the head of state, the anthems, etc.),” organisers Thomas Jolly et Damien Gabriac told Le Monde newspaper.

The ceremony is due to start at 7.30 p.m. (1730 GMT) and last about four hours. Organisers said it would reach a climax at around 9.35 pm when the sun sets.

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WHO WILL BE THERE?

The show will be attended by over 100 heads of state and government and over 300,000 spectators will watch from the river’s banks, organisers said, adding that there will be some 80 giant screens along the way.

The Paris 2024 committee said there would be about 10,500 athletes and some 222,000 people will get free invites, while 104,000 will have to buy a ticket.

Boats carrying the athletes will be equipped with cameras to allow those watching on TV or their phone to get a close-up view, the committee said.

There have been training sessions, and boats will be stored in a warehouse for a week before the opening ceremony for security reasons.

WHAT ABOUT SECURITY?

Organising the ceremony in the heart of an iconic city like Paris may make for great pictures, but it’s also a major security challenge.

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Some 45,000 police will be dispatched to ensure the ceremony’s security, including special intervention forces. Snipers will be deployed on the top of buildings along the route. An anti-drone system will be in place.

Spectators and local residents alike will need to carry permits on a QR code to get anywhere near the riverbanks from July 18th. Cars won’t be allowed into the area, with few exceptions. Nearby metro stations will be closed, as will many of the bridges. No planes will be allowed to fly over Paris – unless they are part of the ceremony.

With wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and security concerns at home, France already has its security alert at its highest level.

Officials have said there were no specific terror threats to the July 26 ceremony.

But should specific concerns arise, there are backup plans, that would either see the ceremony limited to the Trocadero square near the Eiffel tower, or the Stade de France stadium.

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The main potential risk would be from a lone attacker, officials have said over the past months, while also flagging potential petty crime and possible protests, from environmental activists, the far right and far left, the pro-Palestinian movement or others.

A man was arrested in May in Saint-Etienne, suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State at the city’s soccer stadium during the Olympics. A right-wing sympathiser was arrested in eastern France in July on suspicion of plotting attacks to take place during the Olympics.

PAST SUMMER OLYMPICS’ OPENING CEREMONIES

Tokyo 2020: The opening ceremony was overshadowed by the Covid pandemic. Postponed by a year due to the coronavirus, the Games were held largely without spectators.

Rio 2016: A financially constrained Brazil had little choice but to put on a more low-key show, with minimal technology and a heavy dependence on the vast talent of Brazil and its Carnival party traditions.

London 2012: The 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth put aside royal reserve in a video where she stepped onto a helicopter with James Bond actor Daniel Craig to be carried aloft from Buckingham Palace as part of a dizzying ceremony designed to highlight the grandeur and eccentricities of the nation.

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Beijing 2008: About one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, watched the opening ceremony, which involved 10,000 performers, 2008 drummers and a dramatic sky-walking finale.

-Reuters

 

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Nigeria’s Opeyori out to end Africa’s Olympic badminton jinx

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Anuoluwapo Opeyori won his fourth continental singles titles at the 2024 African badminton championships in Cairo

BY ISAIAH AKINREMI, BBC SPORT AFRICA

As African badminton champion Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori prepares to make Olympic history for the continent in Paris, the Nigerian can take heart from knowing that he has regularly defied the odds.

For despite being born in an informal settlement in Nigeria’s biggest city Lagos, the 27-year-old has risen up to win four continental singles titles, more than any African man before.

What makes the feat all the more impressive is that he lives in a country without one badminton-designated facility, but nonetheless he is now hoping to become the first African to progress in the Olympic men’s singles competition.

“My target is to get to the quarter-final because once I’m able to win one game, I believe that will be a big upset for everyone and I should be able to achieve more than that,” Opeyori told BBC Sport Africa.

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Not once since badminton became an Olympic sport in 1992 has an African man ever reached the next round, even if South Africa’s Jacob Maliekal did manage to win a game in the group stages of the 2016 Games when he beat a Ukrainian opponent only to fail to make the next phase.

Meanwhile, the continent’s record is marginally better in the women’s game where Hadia Hosny of Egupt knocked out a Mexican opponent in 2008 to actually reach the second round – the one and only time an African has achieved this in Olympic badminton singles history.

Despite the weight of history, Opeyori – who has won Africa’s last three singles titles as well as the African Games title earlier this year – is approaching the 2024 Games in confident mood.

“Technically-speaking, I’m not under pressure because I’ll be facing people that are very good. So they should be the ones under pressure because I’m coming for them. So it is a battle that I am taking to them.”

‘Breaking African jinx’

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Opeyori’s journey to the top of African badminton started in unexpected fashion – since he was actually playing Nigeria’s favourite sport at the time.

Anuoluwapo Opeyori (left) alongside Godwin Olofua played in the men’s doubles of the 2020 Tokyo games

“I was playing football with my friends when the coach saw us,” he explained as he walked around the Rowe Park sport complex, where his journey began, in Lagos.

“I think he had very good insight because we were just normal kids playing football. But he introduced the game to us and immediately that he gave me the racket, I bonded with it.”

Despite having neither a racket nor shoes, with Opeyori borrowing both, a love had been born yet any hopes of rapid progress were further stymied by the limited badminton facilities in Africa’s most populous nation.

“It will amaze you to know that in Nigeria, we don’t have a single badminton facility – not one,” Francis Orbih, the president of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria, told BBC Sport Africa.

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“In most public places, what you have is a multi-purpose hall – so that’s table tennis, badminton, gymnastics, boxing, basketball, handball etc. in just one hall. So when basketball has a two-week programme, badminton can’t train and that is a huge drawback.”

It was a trip to Asia in 2018 that changed Opeyori’s career, says Orbih.

For the year after attending a two-month training camp in Indonesia, a country that boasts eight Olympic badminton golds (and 21 overall), Opeyori won the first of his record four African men’s singles titles.

Having won the last three on offer, the African champion is now tipped to make his continent proud at the Olympics.

“If anyone is going to be able to break the jinx, it’s him – he has the capacity to do it,” says Orbih.

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“He is disciplined, hardworking and passionate about the game, and that is what has brought him to where he is and kept him there.”

Before he stepped onto the badminton court in a moment that changed his life, Opeyori had been conducting menial jobs near his Lagos home, such as bricklaying, just to get by.

He was also supported by the money raised from selling provisions by his mother Funke, who was delighted by his proposed career change.

“When he told me he wanted to play badminton, he was not aware that I used to play the sport,” Funke, a former amateur player, told BBC Sport Africa.

“Anytime he travels for competition, I am always happy and support him by fasting and praying because I am excited my son is so fortunate.”

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“It means badminton run in the blood,” said Opeyori.

In fact, his career has become a family affair after his elder brother Funsho set aside his own badminton abilities nearly a decade ago to both train and fund his sibling.

“I gave up my dream because I saw good potential in him,” said Funsho.

“I’m excited because he is African number one and I’m very confident that he is going to break the jinx at the Olympics.”

Opeyori played at the last Olympics in the doubles, suffering a first-round exit, and will be one of just two African men in the badminton singles, along with Georges Julien Paul of Mauritius.

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Meanwhile, fellow Mauritian Kate Foo Kune, who has also previously won a round-robin game at the Olympics but no more, will contest the women’s singles as will South Africa’s Johanita Scholtz.

Nonetheless, the traditional Asian dominance of the sport – combined with the challenges faced by Africa’s best players – means that achieving net gains in Paris is going to be an uphill task, one which Opeyori is relishing.

“I’m coming with good confidence and making the nation proud is my aspiration – and the whole of Africa also.”

Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyori will begin his quest to make history at the Paris 2024 Olympics in Group N against Li Shi Feng (China) and Tobias Kunezi (Switzerland) in the group stage.

-BBC

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Trump attack triggers big police presence at Paris 2024 opening ceremony

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Paris 2024 Olympics - Paris 2024 Olympics Preview - Paris, France - July 17, 2024 General view of the cauldron outside of the Tuileries Garden REUTERS/Abdul Saboo

Some 45,000 police will secure the Paris Olympics’ July 26 opening ceremony, with over 100 heads of state and government set to attend, a senior official said on Wednesday, adding no changes were planned after the weekend attack on Donald Trump.

The ceremony, staged for the first time outside a stadium, will involve around 80 boats ferrying international athletes on a six km (3.7 mile) route along the river Seine towards the Eiffel Tower, said the official, Lambis Konstantinidis.

Athletes and performers will sail past some of the French capital’s most stunning landmarks. But, with more than 300,000 spectators expected to watch, it is also a major security headache, especially at a time of war in Gaza and Ukraine.

“It’s a six km route, so it’s a huge perimeter to monitor. That’s why we need that many (security) people,” Konstantinidis, the Games’ head of planning and coordination, told reporters.

“Our security plans are very dynamic. They always take into consideration the latest events and try to adapt,” he said during a tour of the Games’ security headquarters, adding that they were in close contact with counterparts abroad.

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Last Saturday’s assassination attempt against former U.S. president Trump at an election rally in Pennsylvania has not changed the security plans for the Games, Konstantinidis said.

“We have very close collaboration with the U.S. security services and its secret service. So we are sharing also any information we have,” Konstantinidis said. “We’re very confident that we’re on the same page but we have not had to change any of our plans as a result of that very unfortunate incident.”

More than 100 people will be working around the clock at the Games’ security headquarters in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, he said.

Conflict abroad and security concerns at home led the French government earlier this year to raise its security alert to its highest level.

A man was arrested in May in the French town of Saint-Etienne, suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State at the city’s soccer stadium during the Olympics.

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-Reuters

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