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Matthew Fisher: Rio Tightens Security But Concerns Remain that it Would be Soft Target for Terrorism



RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil —The magnificent pageantry of the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Games in the Maracana Stadium was more than matched by what was happening outside — mass protests, a boxer arrested for rape, the first positive doping test, and the country’s suspended leader holed up in the presidential palace.

On the famed Copacabana beachfront, thousands of noisy protestors kept a wary distance from a wall of armed civil and military police before the Olympic torch was due to be carried on one of its last legs before entering the stadium.

But the crowds were so large that organizers sent the torch away from the beach and on a detour to its eventual destination in Macarana Stadium.

Such jostling between security, protestors and tourists is already the norm for these Games.

The Brazilians have deployed more than 85,000 police and soldiers to guard athletes, officials and spectators. Their heavily armed presence almost everywhere the Olympic community gathers may be outwardly reassuring, and may actually curb some petty crime. However, after a string of lethal attacks on soft targets in Europe, the overriding concern is that the Rio Games are particularly vulnerable because this is a country with almost no experience of terrorism or of radical Islam.

In addition to the forces on the ground, Brazil has installed a huge network of security cameras and drones to keep even tighter watch throughout the city and at Olympic venues, and have opened an international police cooperation centre aimed at tracking people of interest to authorities.

Despite such flashy security precautions there have been at least two beachfront swarmings this week by gangs of criminals who have stripped visitors of their belongings. As Brazil struggles through its worst depression since the 1930s, there has been a coincidental surge of violence in some of the perpetually lawless favelas and slums that are far back from the Olympic spotlight.

Such favelas are controlled by legendary drug gangs such as Comando Vermelho (the Red Command) and the breakaway organization, Terceiro Comando Puro (the Pure Third Command). Arrayed against them are equally ruthless paramilitary police and military units such as the Batalhao de Operacoes Policiais Especiais (BOPE) and the Batalhao de Policia de Choque (CHOQUE.) Such forces have been accused by human rights groups of operating death squads; their victims usually described officially as having died resisting arrest.

As nervous as the bloody turf disputes between the gangs and the gunfights between them and security forces make most Olympic visitors, Cariocas — as the people of Rio are known — are used to kidnappings, murder and mayhem. That’s why the threat of terrorism evokes the biggest fears, of citizens and security forces alike.

Whatever the actual threat level, as so often before, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has received lots of attention by creating a Portuguese language web site— its rather transparent aim to recruit operatives in Brazil or others willing to travel here.

The only alleged plot to have been foiled so far has involved what sounded like a Keystone Cops style operation that included a dozen Brazilian citizens who claimed membership in a group called the Defenders of Shariah. Although they were said to have pledged their allegiance to ISIL, they have been widely derided here as inept terrorist wannabees.

A greater fear of terrorism experts is that radicals with ISIL connections from the Middle East or Europe or lone wolves who have been inspired by them may already be in Rio. Getting to Brazil is not difficult: as well as many flights via Europe, four direct jumbo jet flights from the Middle East and Turkey land every day in Rio or Sao Paolo. Terrorists could also take advantage of lax formalities at land border crossing in the weapons smuggling havens that have long existed where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina converge.

Fuelled by these mounting concerns about security and a last-minute $850-million emergency loan, the national government a few days ago called up thousands of military reservists to take over the airport-style weapons screening of everyone who enters Olympic venues from a private company that appeared unable to do the vital checks.

Despite Brazil’s own wretched security situation, the country has until now been spared the trauma of terrorism. Rio and the Olympic movement hope that it can avoid this global scourge for another fortnight.

But other shadows still linger over the Games.

The country is in the midst of a colossal political corruption scandal and suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is missing out on the Olympics.

Rousseff will be watching from the presidential palace in Brasilia, where she’s been holed up since being suspended in May on impeachment charges. She says on Twitter that she’ll still be rooting for Brazil even if she can’t attend in person.

The honour of kicking off the games will instead go to interim President Michel Temer, who said he expects to be loudly booed at Maracana Stadium.

Brazilian police also say they have jailed a Moroccan Olympic boxer on allegations he sexually assaulted two Brazilian women. In a statement, police say they arrested boxer Hassan Saada Friday for possible assaults on two Brazilian women who worked as waitresses in the Olympic Village.

According to the statement, the attacks happened on Wednesday. No other details were given.

And hours before the opening ceremony, the Greek Olympic committee announced the first positive doping test of the Rio Games. The committee said an unnamed member of the Olympic team failed a doping test in July in Athens. The Greeks said the athlete had left the Olympic Village.

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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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