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Kelly: How Can Fans Feel Safe at Euro 2016? Willful Ignorance



At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, all the usual promises were made about heightened security and meeting the challenges of global terrorism.

At the tournament opener, the private company hired to work the media entrance had created an odd system. All people were put through metal detectors. Their bags, however, were slid across tables, neither opened nor X-rayed.

That was corrected by the second game, but you could circumvent a thoroughgoing search by telling staff you had nothing worth checking.

In one instance, a guard asked everyone in line, “Do you have any guns or bombs?”

Stunned looks. “Um. No.”

“Then go on.”

It was the friendliest security I’ve ever encountered, but perhaps not the most effective. Nobody seemed to care. Rather the opposite. Everyone was delighted at the easy access and the lack of screaming about laptops going in their own bins.

The expected standard has increased, along with the threats. The results remain similar. In a security warm-up ahead of Euro 2016, supporters were able to smuggle flares and smoke bombs into Paris’s Stade de France for a local game two weeks ago. This is the same stadium militants unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate during November attacks.

The usual route taken to reassure people is uniforms in the streets and numbers on the page. Paris is far from an armed camp, though one does occasionally run into a military patrol gambolling on the Left Bank amidst the tourists. Once the games begin, that presence will increase.

The French have been buffeted with reassuring pretournament statistics: 70,000 police officers and 10,000 soldiers deployed; dozens of mock attacks used as training exercises, including a chemical exposure via drone at the stadium in Saint-Étienne, southwest of Lyon. At the least, they are effective photo-ops.

The head of the organizing committee, Jacques Lambert, described a security system that is “much more complex, much more complete and much tougher” than the one deployed at the last major tournament held here, the 1998 World Cup.

Of course, no one ever says exactly what that means.

The French claim not to be worried. A poll taken in March suggested more than four-fifths of the populace wanted neither the Euro nor the Tour de France to be interrupted by security worries.

With that in mind, a few days before we start is the ideal time to feed the nervous minority some heartening success stories.

On Monday, Ukraine’s Security Service announced it had arrested a French national in May who was attempting to bring a large arms cache into the European Union by crossing from Ukraine into Poland. Authorities said he was an unaffiliated, far-right zealot intent on causing trouble.

There are also multiple stories of hooligan firms from Eastern Europe sussed out and already denied entry. It’s a reminder of a simpler time when yobs on holiday looking for a prematch rumble in the town square were the worst of it.

What can never be said aloud is that most of us take it on faith that nothing will happen, and many of us don’t really believe the worst is possible. After all, if it were, wouldn’t it have happened already?

That’s faulty logic, but it’s the sort that allows people in Paris and other cities affected by violent calamity to sit out on a terrasse late on a Saturday night. It’s the magical thinking of the modern age.

In all, the Western approach to terrorism at sporting events remains, “Why worry about something you can’t control?”

Most of the real security work for this tournament was done months ago during the threat-assessment stage. The trick isn’t stopping a suicide attacker at the gates. It’s identifying him before he builds the bomb.

Anyone attending this tournament (or an Olympics or any other obvious sporting target) believes that work is being done. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t come. And Euro 2016 should be entirely sold out when France and Romania kick off on Friday.

It is the “Not us, and not this time” rationale that makes these events possible.

Upon consideration, it’s not so much faith as willful ignorance.

This occurred to me at another Euro, in Switzerland in 2008. Again, it was the opening match. A shifty gentleman in front of us spent the lead-up to the match hopping from seat to seat, which was remarkable.

When the game began, he’d disappeared. However, he’d left behind not one but two knapsacks. For most of a half-hour, we ignored them.

Eventually, my seatmate got up to fetch a steward. The irritable Swiss came down and poked at the bags incuriously for a moment. He asked the people sitting alongside the bags if they were theirs. They weren’t. Then he left without doing anything. Neither he nor the owner of the bags ever returned.

If this had happened at a Super Bowl, say, they’d have had cops on the scene immediately. But this was Europe. Or rather Switzerland, which is Europe on uppers. It probably didn’t occur to them that someone would break the rules.

The sensible thing to do would have been to move. But they were great seats, and what are the odds? Another smart thing to do would have been to look in the bags. But they weren’t ours and we aren’t savages.

As we left a couple of hours later, the bags were still sitting there on the empty seat. My friend said, “Either that guy died in the bathroom or the detonator malfunctioned.”

It was an especially good line because a very small part of both of us believed it might actually be true. We checked the Swiss police blotter the next morning just in case something had been discovered postgame. There was nothing.

Most of us continue on in this blithe spirit. If this is meant to be fun, approaching it any other way would render the whole exercise pointless.

Some day, we may no longer have that luxury. Something terrible will happen because, on a long enough timeline, everything that is possible happens.

Until that day, we remain in a collective and – I would suggest – salutary denial.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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