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Real Madrid president Florentino Perez insists Super League isn’t canceled, only on ‘standby’

By Matias Grez, CNN

Despite a ferocious backlash and widespread condemnation, Real Madrid President Florentino Perez says the so-called Super League isn’t canceled, only on “standby.”

Speaking to Spanish radio station El Larguero on Wednesday night, the 74-year-old insisted the other clubs “haven’t left” the project and they would continue working to make the breakaway competition viable.

The Super League all-but collapsed on Tuesday, just 48 hours after it was announced, following the withdrawal of the six Premier League clubs involved. Italian teams Inter Milan, Juventus and AC Milan followed suit, as did Atletico Madrid, with just Real Madrid and Barcelona still remaining.

“The project is on standby,” Perez said. “I’d say the body exists, but if half the group goes because they’re tired after what they heard over the last 24 hours, I don’t want to stick around. No, Juventus has not left. Why do [you] say they’ve left? Milan hasn’t left either. Why do you [you] say that? These things you’re saying, that people say.”

When asked if the 10 clubs that have announced their withdrawal from the Super League were still part of the project, Perez answered: “They are, we’re all there together and Barcelona is thinking to see what we can do. For example, someone today said: ‘Let’s see if of the 20 [teams], it includes the top four from England, the top four from Italy, Spain. That could be a way to do it.

“Look, nobody has paid [a fine] yet because this all just happened and additionally pretty much all [of the clubs] remain. They’re pretty much all still there [in the Super League]. Everyone. Right now, everyone. Right now, all 12. They haven’t left yet.”

READ: How the European Super League united football against the game’s wealthy owners

READ: European Super League crumbles after majority of teams announce withdrawal

Soon after the Super League was announced, UEFA and the respective leagues suggested the teams involved would be banned from competing in their tournaments, including the World Cup and European Championships.

Similarly, fans were furious that the exclusive competition’s 12 founding members — who have been dubbed the “Dirty Dozen” — hadn’t even thought to consult them about the proposed plans and UK politicians quickly stepped in and announced measures could be brought in to prevent the Super League’s formation.

“I’ve never seen such aggressiveness, by the president of UEFA [Aleksander Ceferin] and from some presidents within the Spanish leagues,” he said. “It was like something orchestrated. We were all surprised by it. Because after we revealed the format, we told the UEFA president and the UEFA president hadn’t even responded.

“And from then on, this aggressiveness started like I’ve never seen before and I’ve been in football for 20 years. I’ve never seen this in my life. Never. There were threats, insults as if we had killed someone. As if we had killed football.”

Perez, who was set to be the chairman of the Super League, admitted the hesitation of one Premier League club to join the project ended up being “contagious,” with the other five concerned about the backlash in the UK.

The breakaway tournament was planned as a 20-team competition, with 15 founding members given a permanent place in the league — no matter how bad their results were — and another five spaces available for other teams to qualify for each season.

The new structure would all but end competition at the highest level and would make it almost impossible for smaller teams to break into Europe’s elite, shattering the sport’s long-standing ethos.

“I’m a bit sad and disappointed because we’ve been working, I think, three years on this project,” Perez said. “The project simply consists of saying: ‘What can we do to fight against the economic situation we’re seeing right now in Spanish soccer?’

“And it’s really easy to understand. You can’t touch La Liga, it’s part of all of our history. So, the place where you could make some money is in mid-week matches. So, the format we have now, which is the Champions League, is an obsolete format that is old and which only generates interest starting with the quarterfinals.

“The issue is, if we’ve respected the leagues up until now, the only way to have revenue is for the Champions, which does not generate revenue, makes some kind of competition that generates a lot of revenue. And that’s what we’re working on.”

Contrary to Perez’s stance, Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, believed to be another key driver behind the Super League, said on Wednesday that the new competition was no longer viable without the six Premier League teams.

“Look, I think, to be frank and honest: no,” he said, as reported by Reuters.

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Seán McCabe: World football’s first Climate Justice Officer

By Aleks Klosok, CNN

Seán McCabe is concerned.

Not about Bohemian FC’s next opponents, nor those who lie in wait in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s of a greater, invisible opponent — one that is discernibly shaping the present and threatens to leave an indelible mark on the future.

The opponent: the climate emergency.

“It’s already occurring […] You can’t trick the laws of thermodynamics […] There is no vaccine for the climate crisis,” McCabe told CNN Sport.

The issue is a very real and personal one for the Irishman.

He’s a resident of Phibsborough, a neighborhood in the north of Dublin, and a member of local club, Bohemian FC.

In January this year the top-flight Irish football team unveiled McCabe as their new signing.

Not the marauding midfielder or sharpshooter striker that some supporters might have desired. Instead, the club’s Climate Justice Officer — a newly created voluntary role and the first position of its kind in world football.

Community led sustainable practice

The inconvenient truth is that the global game is not immune to changing climactic conditions.

A study published last year by the Rapid Transition Alliance forecasts that in time extreme weather events and sea level rises caused by climate change will flood stadiums and playing fields.

Heatwaves and heat stroke will threaten the health of both players and fans alike.

The warnings are stark but simple yet powerful notion lies at the heart of McCabe’s ethos and role.

It’s a belief that local communities can play a key and participatory role in owning climate action and as a consequence bridge the inequality gap.

He speaks of how working in a hospice in Kolkata with some of the city’s poorest inhabitants left “an indelible mark,” while spending time in Sierra Leone shortly before Ebola hit exposed “the thirst for resources.”

“It [the climate crisis] can’t become about the future of children in developed countries when the present of people in developing countries is at risk.

“The world didn’t end up with rich areas and poor areas by accident — it’s man made,” he explains.

Such life-changing experiences were pivotal to McCabe pushing for the inclusion of human rights language when working on The Paris Agreement as a policy adviser for The Mary Robinson Foundation, the former President of Ireland.

It too formed the basis of his setting up of the TASC Climate Justice Center in Dublin of which he is now the Executive Manager.

But it was his recently published report titled, “The People’s Transition: Community-led development for Climate Justice,” which calls for community led sustainable practice, that prompted McCabe to see football as an untapped vehicle to drive such change.

“There’s not that many things left in the world that people are lifetime members of. There were unions and churches at one point but now I think football clubs are one of the only things that someone feels a part of them belongs to.”

A unique, progressive club

Bohemians isn’t not your average football club.

Member-owned since 1890, Dublin’s oldest team has gained a reputation for championing progressive social causes.

There’ve been unconventional, eye-catching announcements — the appointment of a poet in residence and the production of its own gin.

The message, however, throughout has been about the wider collective.

Last year, the club partnered with Amnesty International on the design of a new away shirt featuring an image of a family fleeing war and the message “Refugees Welcome.”

The collar featured the slogan “Love Football, Hate Racism.”

The shirt proved a viral sensation.

Orders poured in from more than 40 countries worldwide and an option to play in the jersey was made possible in EA Sports’ FIFA 21 video game.

And in March this year the club unveiled an away jersey featuring the Grammy-nominated band, Fontaines D.C., and the charity Focus Ireland, aimed at raising awareness of homelessness in Ireland.

Bohemians’ commitment to tackling climate change is no different.

Just this month it became the first Irish club to join the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework.

READ: Targeted by far right group, Türkgücü Munich looks to connect cultures

Bohemians’ Greta Thunberg?

Whilst, according to McCabe, the debate around the climate emergency has over the last decade, “stopped being about polar bears and started being about children,” doubters still remain.

Replies on social media to his appointment were largely unfavourable.

One showed a mock-up photo of climate activist Greta Thunberg in a Bohemians jersey, another criticism of the club pandering to woke-ology and peak hipsterism; Others, though, praised the forward-thinking role.

“You want people to challenge you. You want to try to move into the spheres where these conversations aren’t happening and that was a sure sign that we were doing that,” he explains.

“I am very humbled. It’s a very unique opportunity […] It’s in no way daunting to me. What’s much more daunting is the crisis itself.”

McCabe is under no illusions that whilst the scope for change is limitless, actions will speak louder than words.

“People are tired of just being advertised at […] We can differentiate between what’s real, what matters and something shiny.

“It’s genuinely about getting into the community and making change that people respond to.”

For now, exploratory discussions are underway as to how Bohemians can become an effective zero-waste club.

McCabe sees opportunities in mining the supply chains that flow into the game, pressing leaders to up their commitment to climate change and pushing sponsors to work with clubs to advance community-led sustainable initiatives.

“Imagine if you had a scenario where you had solar panels like Werder Bremen have on their stadium, but instead of selling it to fans, you used it to fight energy poverty in the immediate surrounds of the stadium,” he explains.

He also cites Scottish top-flight cub Hibernian — dubbed the Greenest Club in Scotland — as an example of a blueprint for success, with 100% of Hibs’ energy is from renewable resources. All single use plastics across catering have been removed; and environmental considerations are now at the heart of all commercial conversations.

And with over 100 European clubs signed up to the European Football for Development Network (EFDN), whose principle is based on clubs being “committed to their communities and social responsibilities,” the green shoots of engagement are slowly but surely emerging.

“The EFDN member clubs have well over half a billion followers on social media.

“We need football clubs to start mobilizing their social media to help their fans, because at the end of the day, clubs draw their legitimacy from their fans.

“It’s not about politicizing clubs. It’s about helping your fans move through this very serious transition that we have to move through and creating platforms for them to explain to decision makers the realities of their lives.”

READ: The sporting opponent that could beat every single athlete

“For the younger generation, sincerity matters”

Whilst McCabe is acutely aware of the current challenges that climate change presents, he believes it’s imperative that the considerations of future generations are at the forefront of climate justice thinking.

“For the younger generation now, sincerity matters a lot more to them than maybe it mattered to our generation.

“It’s really important that we at least have the same courage as the children.

He hopes clubs will mobilize behind the UN Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative and countries will sign the Declaration for Children, Youth and Climate Action to raise the voices of those on the front line of the global emergency.

Ultimately, though, it could be role models within the game who evolve to become the real vocal proponents of change.

Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford, who twice forced the UK government into a U-turn on policies to help feed children from low-income families, being one of those who has already skilfully appealed to and engaged a broad base of support.

“Young people are going to look up to those sports stars who really do put their head over the parapet,” says McCabe.

“He (Marcus Rashford) put his reputation on the line to try to do what was right by his community.

“There’s a real opportunity, particularly for footballers coming from countries where droughts and floods and severe storms are occurring most often to do what Marcus Rashford has done and highlight those dimensions of climate.”

READ: Manchester United star Marcus Rashford launches children’s book club

Vanguard of world football

McCabe, though, is under no illusions that if football is to be a “global leader” in climate justice, a collective effort will be needed across the board — one which he hopes can be led by the Dublin outfit.

“I think if we’re to really supercharge this going forward the sharing of knowledge, the sharing of information, the sharing of toolkits and resources to help clubs move forward will be so important.”

In the short-term, though, McCabe’s attention will focus on the planned redevelopment of Bohemians’ current ground, Dalymount Park.

It’s a project which he says provides a huge transformative opportunity for the club to apply its climate justice credentials both on and off the pitch.

“I’d love to be in a new stadium where you have a roof bedecked with solar panels and fans who are on board with climate action and have actually forgotten that it’s even happening.

“We want them to know that they are part of the battle for a fair and safe future for our children and grandchildren.

“But that they’re still watching a team lift the Premier Division title … potentially in a jersey made out of bamboo fabric!”

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How the European Super League united football against the game’s wealthy owners

By George Ramsay, CNN

As crowds gathered outside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium, there was a moment — almost like the flick of a switch — when angry jeers turned to whooping cheers.

Fans, currently unable to watch Premier League games amid Covid-19 restrictions, had come together on Tuesday to protest Chelsea’s participation in the European Super League ahead of the side’s goalless draw against Brighton.

While the protests were ongoing, the news was announced that the club would withdraw from the breakaway league, which has been met with fierce condemnation across football and beyond.

Soon, all six of the Super League’s English participants had followed suit and bowed out of the competition. Barely 48 hours since it had been announced, the project was unraveling.

Arsenal went the furthest in acknowledging the crucial role that fans had played in pressuring the club to withdraw.

“The last few days have shown us yet again the depth of feeling our supporters around the world have for this great club and the game we love,” began an open letter from the Arsenal board. “We needed no reminding of this but the response from supporters in recent days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought.”

In seeking to make European football more lucrative at the expense of competitive drama — 15 clubs would be immune from relegation in the Super League — the concept took football to a place the sport’s broader community didn’t want it to go.

From fans, players, pundits and politicians — not to mention rival clubs and the game’s governing bodies — the response to the Super League was emphatic.

As supporters took to the streets outside stadiums with banners, inside the ground players staged their own protests through T-shirts and post-match interviews.

On Tuesday, players for Liverpool, one of the 12 clubs to initially sign up for the exclusive competition, took to social media: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” was the collective message, even if they didn’t explicitly mention the Super League.

Their manager, Jurgen Klopp, had shared his own reservations the day before, while Pep Guardiola, Klopp’s counterpart at Manchester City, railed against the way “everyone thinks for themselves” at the top of the game.

Broadcasters, including Amazon and BT, distanced themselves from the Super League, as did some of the game’s leading TV figures: “If it actually happens, I will never work on this European Super League,” tweeted BBC and BT presenter Gary Lineker.

With the footballing community practically unanimous in its disapproval, politicians weighed in.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the sport’s authorities would have the “full backing” from his government to take action against the Super League plans, while opposition leader Keir Starmer called clubs’ withdrawal a “watershed moment” for the game.

The Super League fiasco has not only demonstrated how much power is wielded by the wealthy owners of Europe’s top clubs, but also how football’s fans and stakeholders can wrestle back some of that power.

There has also been resistance from some club owners. Paris Saint-Germain’s chairman and CEO, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, urged football not to forget its fans as he pledged allegiance to UEFA’s European competitions, and Bayern Munich, which defeated PSG in last year’s Champions League final, also rejected the Super League.

Bayern and other German clubs operate under a 50+1 ownership rule, meaning members and fans hold the majority of the ownership stakes, rather than commercial partners.

But what has been brought into sharper focus is how the game balances the intentions of club owners against the desires of the fans — an ongoing and existential question for football.

On Monday, the UK government announced a fan-led review of the sport in the wake of the Super League launch, which it calls a “root-and-branch examination of football in this country.”

“Football needs to take its fans incredibly seriously and move against them at their peril. I think that’s probably a lesson learnt that will actually help with the situation moving forward,” UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston told CNN Sport’s Christina Macfarlane.

Huddleston added that the review will “come up with a whole host of recommendations on football governance and also the flow of money in football. We’ll see what those recommendations are and hopefully that will also help put us on a firmer footing.”

Among the possible outcomes of the review could be the introduction of an independent regulator of professional football in the UK.

“It’s been talked about for a few years, we’re not discounting it,” added Huddleston.

“There’s definitely issues with it in terms of scope of responsibilities. I suspect the idea of a regulator wouldn’t go down well with some of the football authorities who believe that they should probably be doing them themselves.

“But we’ve seen too many failures and too many problems with English football over the last few years.”

The Super League and the question of ownership at the top of the game has united and mobilized football’s community-at-large in a unique way, unlike other issues afflicting the game.

Asked for his views on the Super League earlier this week, Leeds forward Patrick Bamford questioned why the game’s decision-makers are prepared to take drastic action when football’s finances are at stake, but not against racism.

West Ham, one of the clubs that could have missed out on a chance to face Europe’s top sides with the introduction of the Super League, tweeted on Tuesday that it’s time to “get back to focusing on what’s important and stand together to show that there is No Room For Racism.”

The announcement of the Super League has also led to racial abuse towards club owners on social media, according to Campaign Against Antisemitism, which has identified tweets “appealing to classic tropes of Jewish greed, parasitism and control, as well as references to the Holocaust.”

“No controversy, however great the passions it may stir, can justify the horrendous antisemitic abuse meted out by some Twitter users towards football clubs and their owners,” said a spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism.

When contacted by CNN about the antisemitic posts, a Twitter spokesperson said: “Keeping people safe on Twitter is a priority for us. We have clear policies in place — that apply to everyone, everywhere — that address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct and we take action when we identify accounts that violate these rules.”

Twitter also said that action has been taken against tweets referenced in the report for violating the company’s hateful conduct policy.

The balance of power between Europe’s “big clubs” and the sport’s governing bodies is an issue that isn’t going away any time soon, but it’s far from the only issue bedeviling the sport.

There are myriad others which have persisted for years, not least the level of investment in the women’s game and the way decisions are made to host leading tournaments such as the World Cup.

Last month, for example, international teams took the opportunity to highlight the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar during qualification games for the 2022 World Cup.

In late 2019, Nasser Al-Khater, chief executive of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizing committee, told CNN that the nation had been “judged by the court of perception very early on.”

“Was Qatar treated unfairly? Yes, in my opinion, very much so,” said Al Khater.

But with the tournament now just over a year away, last month’s qualifying games are unlikely to be the last time that Qatar’s human rights record comes under the microscope — and if the events surrounding the Super League have taught us anything, it’s that the greatest catalysts for change in football can be found within the game itself.

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European Super League crumbles after majority of teams announce withdrawal

By Matias Grez, CNN

One by one, they began to fall.

First it was Manchester City and then, like dominoes, the other five Premier League clubs soon followed, before none were left in the so-called European Super League.

The dramatic collapse of the multibillion-dollar league came less than 48 hours after it was first launched.

In a video posted on Liverpool’s social media channels on Wednesday morning, club owner John W. Henry, thought to be one of the principal drivers behind the Super League, cut a contrite figure.

“I want to apologize to all the fans, supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” he said. “It goes without saying, but should be said, that the project put forward was never going to stand without the fans. No one ever thought differently in England.

“Over these last 48 hours, you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you. And I want to apologize to Jurgen [Klopp, manager], Billy [Hogan, CEO], to the players and to everyone who works so hard at LFC to make our fans proud. They have absolutely no responsibility for this disruption.

“They were the most disrupted, and unfairly so. This is what hurts most. They love their club and work to make you proud every single day. I know the entire LFC team has the expertise, leadership and passion necessary to rebuild trust and help us move forward.”

For most fans, however, an apology just won’t cut it. The widespread feeling of betrayal — that supporters, the lifeblood of the sport, were not consulted before this decision and treated with contempt — will linger for a long time to come.

Whether it actually amounts to any change — such as pivoting to Germany’s model of “50+1” fan ownership, for example — remains to be seen, but the UK government has confirmed it will issue a fan-led review of the sport if football authorities fail to prevent the Super League.

Manchester United was another of the clubs to withdraw from the new format after fierce criticism, and its co-owner — Joel Glazer — published an open letter to fans on Wednesday, apologizing for the proposed breakaway.

“We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right,” it read in part.

“Although the wounds are raw and I understand that it will take time for the scars to heal, I am personally committed to rebuilding trust with our fans and learning from the message you delivered with such conviction.

“We continue to believe that European football needs to become more sustainable throughout the pyramid for the long-term. However, we fully accept that the Super League was not the right way to go about it.”

‘Sporting merits must prevail’

On first appearance, Tuesday’s night of chaos appeared to be the death of the European Super League.

However, in a statement released later that night, the ESL said it will amend its controversial plans and “reshape the project.” The Athletic and ESPN reported the Super League statement is defiant that the “status quo of European football needs to change.”

But Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, believed to be another key driver behind the Super League, said on Wednesday that the new competition was no longer viable without the six Premier League teams.

“Look, I think, to be frank and honest: no,” he said, as reported by Reuters.

“I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world, but evidently no.

“I mean, I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”

Soon after Agnelli’s statement on Wednesday, Spanish club Atlético Madrid and Italian club Inter Milan announced they were the first non-English sides to abandon the Super League.

Atlético said in a statement that it had told the Super League it had decided “not to finally formalize its adherence to the project.”

“For the club, harmony is essential between all the groups that make up the ‘rojiblanca’ family, especially our fans,” it said. “The first team squad and the coach have shown their satisfaction with the club’s decision, understanding that sporting merits must prevail over any other criteria.”

Meanwhile, Inter Milan said it was “no longer part of the Super League project.”

“We are always committed to giving the fans the best football experience; innovation and inclusion have been part of our DNA since our foundation,” it said in a statement. “Our commitment with all stakeholders to improve the football industry will never change.

“Inter believe that football, like any sector of activity, should have an interest in constantly improving its competitions, in order to continue to excite fans of all ages all over the world, within a framework of financial sustainability.”

Fellow Serie A side AC Milan soon followed suit, saying in a statement that “the voices and the concerns of fans around the world have clearly been expressed about the Super League, and AC Milan must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport.”

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who was also set to be the Super League president, appeared to dig his heels in on Monday night during an interview with Spanish sports show El Chiringuito, suggesting there could be legal repercussions for those who decide to pull out.

“The contract of the Super League is binding,” he said. “Nobody can leave, we will work all together. All the clubs signed the contracts last Saturday, there’s no problem.”

If the clubs do indeed manage to pull out, it remains to be seen whether Perez and the league do indeed have grounds for a legal challenge.

With Perez defiantly leading the charge, the presence of Spanish teams was crucial for the project to remain viable. However, fans of all three clubs understandably remain indignant at the decision.

While Atlético and its supporters pride themselves on being a club of the people, Real and Barcelona ‘socios’ — fans that sign up to be members — always vote on major club decisions. They were, of course, completely bypassed.

For many Barcelona fans, the club’s famous motto ‘Mes que un club’ — ‘More than a club’ — is certainly ringing hollow.

As for the clubs that have decided to abandon ship — and the remaining three that may still follow suit in the near future — the pertinent question is how UEFA and their respective leagues will deal with the apparent insubordination.

While there will no doubt be relief among the divisions that they retained some of their most valuable assets, it remains to be seen whether they will be treated as Prodigal Sons on their return to the league or hit with penalties, such as points deductions or bans from UEFA competitions.

Fans, even those of the clubs involved it would seem, would certainly prefer the latter.

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Super League to amend plans for elite tournament after English teams say they won’t participate

By David Close

The architects of the European Super League appeared to strike a defiant tone Tuesday, promising to “reshape the project” following the withdrawal of all six English clubs from the controversial breakaway competition.

The dramatic collapse of the multibillion-dollar league comes less than 48 hours after it was first launched, sparking a furious continent-wide backlash among football fans, players, sporting officials and senior government leaders.

According to a Super League statement, obtained by The Athletic and ESPN, organizers of the competition remain committed to the formation of a new league, though they appeared to acknowledge their initial proposal was no longer tenable. “(The) status quo of European football needs to change,” read the Super League statement, but that “given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project.”

CNN has reached out the Super League for comment and the full statement but has not heard back.

By Tuesday evening, all six English Premier League clubs had declared their intention to withdraw from the competition. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur confirmed in public statements that they will no longer participate, some citing feedback from fans and other stakeholders.

Initial plans for the closed league, which was to be financed by American investment bank JP Morgan, would have included the six English clubs alongside three teams from Italy — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — and three from Spain — Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“I think this project has died today … and it is on the way to becoming a complete botch,” former Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon told CNN.

“I think it deserves it because it was a project destined to kill football. I think mainly at this time that we are living where many clubs are struggling to survive due to the economic problems from the pandemic, what football needs is unity, solidarity.”

The announcement of the league’s formation Sunday sent shock waves through the soccer world, prompting outrage and a rare show of political unity, with both the British government and its main opposition party vowing to support legislative action if necessary to protect the domestic game.

England’s Football Association, as well as European and world governing bodies UEFA and FIFA also threatened punitive measures and potential sanctions for the breakaway clubs.

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Multiple clubs announce plans to withdraw from breakaway Super League

By David Close and John Sinnott, CNN

Less than 48 hours after the formation of a new European Super League, several English clubs have already withdrawn from the controversial competition.

Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Manchester City have confirmed in public statements that they will no longer participate, some citing feedback from fans and other stakeholders.

The withdrawal announcements came amid multiple reports on Tuesday that the 12 members of the breakaway Super League were meeting to discuss the future of the competition, first reported by TalkSPORT. CNN has reached out to the Super League for comment but has not heard back.

Initial plans to form the breakaway Super League laid out on Sunday would have included six English clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — alongside three teams from Italy — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — and three from Spain — Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

READ: Super League has got Boris Johnson all fired up, but path to victory looks risky

“I think this project has died today … and it is on the way to becoming a complete botch,” former Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon told CNN’s Richard Quest.

“I think it deserves it because it was a project destined to kill football. I think mainly at this time that we are living where many clubs are struggling to survive due to the economic problems from the pandemic, what football needs is unity, solidarity.”

English Premier League Manchester City was one of the first to announce its defection, saying earlier on Tuesday that it had begun the process of withdrawing from the exclusive competition. “Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League,” said the 2019 Premier League champion.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin welcomed Manchester City’s return to “the European football family.”

“They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices — most notably their fans — that have spelled out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football; from the world beating Champions League final right down to a young player’s first coaching session at a grassroots club,” said Ceferin in a statement.

Among a later wave of defections Tuesday, Arsenal apologized for its initial Super League decision.

“As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake, and we apologise for it,” the club said in a statement.

A Manchester United spokesperson echoed the sentiment, citing reactions from fans and the UK government as part of its decision to withdraw.

“Manchester United will not be participating in the European Super League. We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders,” the spokesperson said. “We remain committed to working with others across the football community to come up with sustainable solutions to the long-term challenges facing the game.”

READ: ‘Hostage to fortune’ — Blowback to ‘Dirty Dozen’ gathers momentum

Meanwhile, Manchester United Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward is to leave the club at the end of 2021, according to the Premier League team. He joined United in 2005 and became executive vice-chairman in 2012.

A Liverpool statement said it could “confirm that our involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League has been discontinued.”

“In recent days, the club has received representations from various key stakeholders, both internally and externally, and we would like to thank them for their valuable contributions,” Liverpool said.

Tottenham Hotspur also said it had “formally commenced procedures to withdraw from the group developing proposals for a European Super League (ESL).”

Meanwhile, a source close to Chelsea — another of the 12 founding members of the Super League — told CNN Sport that the club is preparing to ask for its own withdrawal from the European Super League.

The source said Chelsea leadership spent the last two days discussing the situation with its stakeholders, community and fans and decided they can’t break away and join the Super League if the fans aren’t invested in the project.

“It has never been about the money,” the source told CNN Sport, who added that Chelsea’s intention in joining the Super League was based on a desire to improve the game, a priority for club owner Roman Abramovich.

CNN’s Amanda Davies and Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.

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NBA great Michael Jordan will present Kobe Bryant for basketball Hall of Fame induction

By David Williams, CNN

When Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant is posthumously enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame next month he’ll be welcomed in by arguably the sport’s greatest player — Michael Jordan.

Bryant’s family selected Jordan to present him at the May 15 ceremony at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, according to a statement from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The five-time NBA champion and the fourth all-time leading scorer in NBA history was elected into the Hall last April in his first year of eligibility — just months after Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed in a January 26 helicopter crash in Southern California.

Jordan described Bryant as a little brother in an emotional speech at his memorial service at the Staples Center, where Bryant made so many highlights during his 20-year career.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died, and as I look at this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died,” he said last February. “I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother.”

The enshrinement ceremony for Bryant and the Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which includes players Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and 10-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings, was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jordan also will present Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who led her team to three NCAA national championships and is the only person to ever win championships as a player, assistant coach and a head coach.

The ceremony will also honor coaches Rudy Tomjanovich, Barbara Stevens and Eddie Sutton, who died in May, and Swiss basketball executive Patrick Baumann, who died in 2018.

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino warns breakaway clubs that they must ‘live with the consequences’

By Ben Church, CNN

Twelve elite football clubs intent on forming a new European Super League are facing a concerted backlash from the sport’s governing bodies over their plan.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino strongly condemned the ESL on Tuesday, telling clubs — dubbed football’s “Dirty Dozen” — involved in the proposed breakaway that they must “live with the consequences.”

Speaking at the UEFA Congress, Infantino says world football’s governing body “strongly disapproves” of the new league and urged clubs to think carefully about their next move.

“There is a lot to throw away for maybe a short-term financial gain of sorts,” said Infantino.

“They need to reflect and need to assume responsibility. They need to think not only of their shareholders, which are important of course, but they need to think of all the people.

“All the fans, of all those which have contributed to create what European football is today. What European football clubs are today.”

The Swiss stopped short of confirming whether players taking part in the proposed competition would be banned from FIFA’s World Cup competition but hinted there would be repercussions.

“If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice,” added Infantino, who was UEFA General Secretary between 2009 and 2016.

“They are responsible for their choice, Concretely, this means, either you are in or you are out. You cannot be half in, half out.”

READ: What is the new European Super League and how will it work?

‘Respect’

The ESL’s announcement on Sunday has resulted in widespread criticism, with fans, players and even politicians concerned the new competition would rip the heart out of football as we currently know it.

The league will ultimately consist of 20 teams and be governed by the founding clubs themselves. There would be no promotion or relegation from the league, with only five qualification places available each year.

The new structure would all but end competition at the highest level and would make it almost impossible for smaller teams to break into Europe’s elite, shattering the sport’s long-standing ethos.

Infantino urged the 12 breakaway clubs to have “respect” for European football and its long history.

“This is the magic of football, this bond from the bottom to the top and look at the success of the top,” he said.

“I’ve been working very hard and investing a big part of my life to defend the principles and the values which have given this success to the European football.

“We hope, of course, that everything will go back to normal, that everything will be settled but always, always with respect.

“Always acting responsibly and always with solidarity and always in the interest of national, European and global football.”

READ: Football fan groups condemn ‘ultimate betrayal’ of European Super League

Premier League rejects new proposal

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin thanked Infantino for his support at the European organization’s Congress.

On Monday, Ceferin told CNN Sport that the “shameless” new plans were akin to taking “football hostage.”

UEFA had voted to approve an expanded and restructured Champions League tournament which it had hoped would stop the breakaway clubs from forming a new competition.

Ceferin said he has been reassured last week that UEFA’s new plans would be enough and was surprised to hear of the announcement on Sunday.

“I was a criminal lawyer for years and I’ve met many tricky people that I’ve represented but I’ve never seen something like that. Ethics doesn’t exist in the group,” Ceferin added.

“It’s hard for me to call it Super League because it’s all but super.”

UEFA is currently taking legal advice in relation to potentially banning the 12 clubs from domestic and European competitions.

Meanwhile, the English Premier League held a meeting with clubs on Tuesday, without the six teams who have signed up for the ESL.

It subsequently released a statement rejecting the new proposals and called on those breakaway clubs to reconsider their decision immediately.

“The 14 clubs at the meeting unanimously and vigorously rejected the plans for the competition,” it read.

“The Premier League is considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing, as well as holding those Shareholders involved to account under its rules.”

It added: “The Premier League would like to thank supporters and all stakeholders for the support they have shown this week on this significant issue. The reaction proves just how much our open pyramid and football community means to people.”

Ahead of the meeting, Everton released a blistering statement which criticized Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester Untied, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham for signing up to the new format.

“Everton is saddened and disappointed to see proposals of a breakaway league pushed forward by six clubs,” read a statement from the club’s board.

“Six clubs acting entirely in their own interests. Six clubs tarnishing the reputation of our league and the game. Six clubs choosing to disrespect every other club with whom they sit around the Premier League table. Six clubs taking for granted and even betraying the majority of football supporters across our country and beyond.

“At this time of national and international crisis — and a defining period for our game — clubs should be working together collaboratively with the ideals of our game and its supporters uppermost.

“Instead, these clubs have been secretly conspiring to break away from a football pyramid that has served them so well.”

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi explained the French club’s position having not signed up to the new format.

“Paris Saint-Germain holds the firm belief that football is a game for everyone,” he said at the UEFA Congress.

“I have been consistent on this since the very beginning. As a football club, we are a family and a community; whose fabric is our fans – I believe we shouldn’t forget this.”

Broadcasters have also joined in the criticism, with BT Sport, Sky and Amazon Prime all distancing themselves from the Super League.

‘No action is off the table’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has publicly denounced the ESL in its current form and said on Tuesday that his government was exploring ways of stopping it.

Johnson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden have also met with representatives from the English Football Association, the Premier League and fan groups to discuss the new plans.

“He [Johnson] expressed his solidarity with football fans and agreed they must always be at the heart of any decisions about the future of the game,” Downing Street said in a statement.

“He reiterated his unwavering support for the football authorities and confirmed they have the government’s full backing to take whatever action necessary to put a stop to these plans.

“He was clear that no action is off the table and the government is exploring every possibility, including legislative options, to ensure these proposals are stopped.”

CNN’s Aleks Klosok and Luke McGee contribute reporting.

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Meet Ayesha McGowan, the first Black American woman in pro cycling: ‘The thing that we’re working for isn’t just existing in a space, it’s thriving’

By Sana Noor Haq, CNN

A bike can take you a long way quickly. As well taking you to new places and spaces.

It’s a journey cyclist Ayesha McGowan is experiencing both professionally — and emotionally.

When McGowan chats to CNN Sport she’s on a high from finishing the first leg of an intense training season in Tuscany for the Liv Racing WorldTeam, with her membership as a satellite rider for the 11-person roster announced in February 2021.

“It didn’t feel real until I was on my way to training camp,” says the 34-year-old athlete, who will prepare for the next few months with the goal of racing and becoming a pro road cyclist after August 1.

“I feel very accomplished, but I feel a lot of pressure from myself to push even harder,” she tells CNN.

Finding her feet

McGowan says it’s her stubbornness that has pushed her to become the first Black American woman in pro cycling.

She comes from a long line of matriarchs, inheriting tenacity and grit from her grandmother, mother and older sister.

“I set my sights on something and wasn’t willing to stop until I got it,” she says as she remembers cycling on her grandparents’ expansive land in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, following her grandmother as she rode on a Red Cruiser.

But it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she started seeing cycling as a competitive sport.

In 2010 McGowan graduated from Berklee College of Music, where her principal instrument was the violin. She became a music teacher, working at a daycare center in Brooklyn for five years and then teaching private music lessons.

McGowan had been commuting for about seven years before racing in 2014, making her debut at the Red Hook Crit Women’s Field in Brooklyn.

That year she had her first win in the Category 4 race at the New York State Criterium Championships in White Plains.

“It was just a form of transportation, freedom and fun until that point. It still is, but now there’s also that competitive aspect,” she says.

Pushing for gender advocacy

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) — the sport’s governing body — told CNN Sport it does not have a breakdown of the ethnicities of cyclists currently competing.

However, the UCI said in 2019 it allocated a global amount of six million Swiss francs ($6.5 million) to push for diversity in cycling worldwide.

The UCI also highlighted that Teniel Campbell will ride for the UCI Women’s outfit Team BikeExchange from Australia, as she follows in the footsteps of Daniel Teklehaimanot, Stefany Hernandez and Guo Shuang among others.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that McGowan is riding for the Liv team. Bonnie Tu, who is the founder of the women’s cycling brand at Liv Cycling and Giant Group chairperson, has spoken of her dream “to encourage more women in the cycling industry and to encourage more women to cycle.”

Despite industry-led efforts to encourage greater global participation in the sport, McGowan quickly became aware of bike racing’s gender disparities when she started cycling. She explains that her interest and push for gender advocacy is because it aligns with her values.

In 2015, McGowan started A Quick Brown Fox, an online blog where she encourages more women and ethnic minority people to engage with the sport. Three years later she made the decision to fully commit to supporting herself via advocacy work and training.

Since then she has garnered nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram combined, facilitating conversations about race, racism and sexism in the world of cycling and beyond.

As she recently wrote in an essay for the US-based cycling firm SRAM, “You can’t fight for women and not fight for Black women, trans women, disabled women, or any of the other intersections where any one who identifies as a woman resides.”

McGowan has used her platform to create a space where people from marginalized backgrounds can exist in their fullest capacity, without minimizing parts of their identity.

“Growing up people of color are taught to diminish ourselves to make other people feel comfortable, and that feels very unnecessary to me,” she tells CNN.

“I don’t think I was ever in a place where I didn’t see myself as a Black person. It was ingrained in my family, we have very strong roots and a lot of pride in who we are,” she adds.

The limits of representation

In McGowan’s home state of Georgia, Stacey Abrams’ efforts to combat voter suppression and empower Black voters materialized in the 2020 US election and January senate runoffs, when president Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years and Rev. Raphael Warnock made history as its first Black senator.

“We see the power of collective community, and so there’s usually a push to organize not just Black women, but everybody to work together to make things better for everyone,” says McGowan.

“Maybe it’s because we’re constantly being left out of things,” she adds.

Living under three starkly different presidencies in the last decade means that she is equally committed to holding the people in power to account.

“I think people are so relieved to not have to deal with the constant insanity that came with our previous president, that we’re not as engaged as we need to be,” she says.

“There needs to be a little bit more urgency around Joe Biden to stay true to his platform and the things that he campaigned for.”

McGowan voted for the first Black president of the US — Barack Obama — and has seen Kamala Harris become the first Black and South Asian women vice president, but she cautions over the limits of representation.

“It’s important to see people through a full lens and not through rose-colored glasses,” she tells CNN.

She’s not wrong. After Biden entered the second month of his presidency, Republican state lawmakers passed a new Georgia law that advocates say could especially suppress the votes of Democratic and Black citizens.

She extends the same heed to athletes in the public eye, saying, “As athletes you usually have a platform whether you want to or not. I don’t think that they need to go on the campaign trail, but I do believe that there’s power in platform.”

When fighting becomes exhausting

At times pushing against social injustice is tiring, especially when McGowan sees such a slow rate of quantifiable change.

“For me, the toughest part is seeing the willful ignorance. I think a lot of the things that folks like me are working toward are things people in power know, but they don’t care enough to do anything,” she says.

“The whole idea of a movement to declare that Black Lives Matter shouldn’t need to exist, but it needs to because we have been shown that actually Black lives do not matter,” she adds.

Nonetheless, McGowan feels invigorated and inspired when she sees fellow Black women athletes take up space and succeed in their chosen fields.

She remembers watching three-time Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes compete at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

“I’m a very easily inspired person so that summer I definitely wanted to become a gymnast,” she says, citing the Williams sisters, Gail Devers and Jackie Joyner-Kersee as some of her all-time favorites.

The future of cycling

She recognizes people like Jools Walker, Rachel Olzer and all the members of The Black Foxes — a collective of Black cyclists and outdoors people — as her role models in cycling.

Some are taking place at McGowan’s inaugural Thee Abundance Summit, a virtual meeting of Black and Brown people in cycling and outdoor communities.

“There’s so many amazing people that are doing amazing things in cycling and the outdoors that I wish had more light, which is another reason that the summit exists,” she says.

On the cusp of her 34th birthday, McGowan’s ambitions are just as great as they were when she first began racing in 2014.

“I don’t think being in this position as a Black woman is enough, I would like to represent well,” she says.

“None of this is worth it if it isn’t in the name of finding joy, happiness and peace in the things we love. I want there to be more representation and equity in cycling because I want people to be comfortable, safe and happy here.

“The thing that we’re working for isn’t just existing in a space, it’s thriving in a space,” she adds.

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What is the new European Super League and how will it work?

By Steven Poole, CNN

Football fans, politicians and governing bodies are united in fury after 12 of the sport’s biggest teams announced plans to breakaway from European football competitions and form their own “Super League” — a move that poses an existential threat to the world’s favorite sport.

Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the plans, and why they matter.

What is it?

It is potentially the biggest ever shake up of European club football.

On Sunday, 12 of the largest — and wealthiest — football clubs in the world announced their intention to launch a European Super League (ESL).

The league would feature 20 clubs, which would include 15 founding teams, who would be permanent members. A further five clubs would qualify annually based on their achievements in the previous season.

It’s unclear whether those five clubs would be relegated from the ESL regardless of performance.

Who is involved?

The clubs involved include the traditional “Big Six” of the Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid would also feature, alongside Italian sides AC Milan and Inter Milan, as well as Juventus.

The 2020 Champions League winner Bayern Munich is not part of the project, while Borussia Dortmund chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke confirmed that the club was against the formation of the ESL.

Both Bayern and Dortmund are represented on the European Club Association board and, according to Watzke, the two Bundesliga teams support a new Champions League format, which was scheduled to be approved by UEFA on Monday.

Paris Saint-Germain are also not included, with The Guardian reporting their reluctance “could be down to proposed stringent financial regulations in the new competition that would be similar to UEFA’s financial fair play.”

Why now?

The timing may be key to understanding the announcement, as UEFA was set to release details of the expanded Champions League format today, outlining an increased amount of football matches in an already congested fixture list.

Football writers and analysts have speculated that the curiously timed declaration of plans for the ESL could be a tactical opening salvo in negotiations with UEFA, used as a bargaining tool to discuss a larger piece of the pie for the top European clubs.

From a fan’s perspective, the timing is awful and tantamount to owners exploiting a system weakened by the pandemic. Both grassroots football and the wider pyramids of the game across European national leagues are hemorrhaging money and under threat without fans in attendance for over a year.

Owners of the world’s biggest clubs have long agitated for a bigger share of football’s TV revenues and other financial rewards, while the increasingly undeniable importance of money in the game has grated with more traditional supporters.

In recent decades, multi-billion dollar takeovers of several teams like Manchester City and Chelsea have widened the gap between football’s haves and have nots, and it’s extremely rare for a team outside the small group of elites to win a major league trophy.

That disparity has led to rumors of a “super league” for years, and some have suggested the clubs involved could be convinced to shelve the plans in favor of a financial compromise. But Sunday’s announcement is by far the closest football has ever come to such a drastic breakaway.

READ: Jose Mourinho sacked as Tottenham Hotspur manager

How much money is involved?

JP Morgan confirmed to CNN on Monday that it will be financing the proposed new breakaway European Super League, but declined to offer further comment regarding the nature of the deal.

The official statement from the 12 founding clubs said: “Founding clubs will receive an amount of €3.5B ($4.21B) solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the Covid pandemic.”

“The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football … and [solidarity payments] are expected to be in excess of €10B ($12B) during the course of the initial commitment period of the clubs.”

When would it start?

In the statement, the current clubs involved outlined plans to potentially start the competition in August 2021.

All clubs in the new ESL format would compete against each other midweek, in both home and away fixtures, similar to the current Champions League knockout stage format.

Details released so far have not included a broadcaster set to support the breakaway competition, but the seismic development bears similarities to the establishment of the Premier League — which was key to BSkyB exerting themselves as the dominant domestic UK broadcaster of football.

With the growth of powerful tech giants and popular streaming services such as Apple TV+, Netflix, and Amazon’s Prime Video, the new ESL competition could provide a similar opportunity for such platforms to enter the European sporting market, while also increasing the huge financial broadcast deals that have continued to grow over the past decades, forming the basis for the game’s wealth.

READ: The breakaway competition throwing elite game into turmoil

What has been the reaction?

The condemnation of proposals has been widespread.

A statement from FIFA said, “FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures and not respecting the aforementioned principles.”

A previous statement from FIFA in January had gone so far as to say that “any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organized by FIFA or their respective confederation.”

That would mean that many of the world’s best players couldn’t play for their country — and would leave the next World Cup without stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kevin De Bruyne and many more.

UEFA — which oversees all European football — along with the English, Spanish, and Italian governing bodies and the top flight leagues from those three countries co-signed a statement.

“We wish to reiterate that we — UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations — will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” the statement reads in part.

“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”

The Premier League said, “Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.”

England’s Football Association said, “It is clear that this would be damaging to English and European football at all levels and will attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are fundamental to competitive sport.”

On the plans for ESL, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country. The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement, according to Reuters, “The president of the Republic welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate to a European football Super League project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit.”

CNN’s Rob Picheta contributed reporting.