Australia fires: Players struggle with poor air quality at Australian Open

A player was forced to retire from Australian Open qualifying after suffering a coughing fit brought on by the poor air quality resulting from ongoing bushfires in the country.

Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic had to be helped off court after she retired at 6-5 5-6 against Swiss Stefanie Vogele in the first round in Melbourne.

“It was really bad. I never experienced something like this,” Jakupovic said.

“I was really scared I would collapse because I couldn’t walk any more.”

Qualifying was delayed by an hour on Tuesday and practice was temporarily suspended because of the air quality.

Organisers said the conditions were expected to improve and would be “monitored constantly”.

Asked about the decision to continue with qualifying, Jakupovic said: “I think it was not fair because it’s not healthy for us.

“I was surprised. I thought we would not be playing today but we really don’t have much choice.”

People in Melbourne were advised to stay indoors and keep pets inside on Tuesday.

At least 28 people have died and an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km) of land has burned since 1 July.

Eugenie Bouchard also left the court during her qualifying match against You Xiaodi, complaining of a sore chest. The Canadian returned after a medical timeout and won 4-6 7-6 6-1.

Jakupovic, world ranked 180 in singles, added: “I’m angry and sad. I’m more sad because I had the win [in my grasp] and I just couldn’t finish it.

“I don’t have asthma even and I don’t have breathing problems from the heat.”

Australian Open organisers said prior to Jakupovic’s retirement: “Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.

“As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.”

Maria Sharapova’s exhibition match in Kooyong, which is in the east of the city, was also called off after both players complained about the air quality.

The Russian was trailing Germany’s Laura Siegemund 7-6 5-5 when the match was ended.

“I started feeling a cough coming toward the end of the second set but I’ve been sick for a few weeks so I thought that had something to do with it,” Sharapova told broadcasters after the match.

“But then I heard Laura speak to the umpire and she said she was struggling with it as well.

“We were out there for over two hours, so from a health standpoint it’s the right call from officials.”

Christian Eriksen: Tottenham midfielder to play despite Inter Milan links

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho says Christian Eriksen will play against Middlesbrough on Tuesday, despite being linked with a move to Inter Milan.

The Serie A side are expected to know more about their chances of signing the midfielder, who is no longer a first-team regular, within the next 48 hours.

Asked about his recent performances Mourinho said: “Is this the best Christian Eriksen?

“I have to be honest and say no. I know the reasons, I’m not an idiot.”

Eriksen, 27, has already indicated he has no wish to sign a contract extension at Spurs and wants to experience life outside England.

The Dane, who helped Tottenham reach the Champions League final in June, has appeared 25 times for the club this season, although eight of his appearances in the Premier League matchday squad have been as a substitute.

He made Mourinho’s starting XI for a league match for the first time in January, more than a month after the Portuguese boss took over from Mauricio Pochettino.

“A player in this situation, even if he wants – and I am not criticising him… It’s normal a player in this situation doesn’t perform in the highest level,” added Mourinho.

“But he is helping us in matches he has played for us. He’s had positive performances and contributions like against Olympiakos and Norwich.”

Eriksen started against Boro in their FA Cup third-round match, which finished 1-1, and looks likely to again when they play the replay at Tottenham Stadium.

“He plays tomorrow,” said the Spurs boss. “After that I have a match on Saturday and he maybe plays on Saturday again.

NFL play-offs: Kansas City Chiefs beat Houston Texans after coming back from 24-0 down

The Kansas City Chiefs staged a thrilling comeback from 24-0 down to beat the Houston Texans 51-31 and advance to the AFC Championship game.

Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes threw for four touchdowns in the second quarter to overhaul the Texans’ early lead.

Kansas City, who will now host the Tennessee Titans, scored 41 unanswered points and dominated the second half.

Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers reached the NFC Championship game with a 28-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Davante Adams starred for Green Bay, who will visit the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers to decide who will progress to Super Bowl 54 from the National Football Conference after they beat the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.

“Adams had an unbelievable night,” said team-mate Aaron Rodgers, who threw two touchdown passes to Adams. “He carried us on offense. His route running ability was incredible.”

‘Chiefs just had to keep fighting’

The Chiefs now face the Tennessee Titans, who beat the Baltimore Ravens in the other American Football Conference divisional game, for a place at the Super Bowl on Sunday, 2 February.

“We didn’t start the way we wanted to – we just had to keep fighting, just go one play at a time,” quarterback Mahomes said.

“We know the Titans are a tough team. We will have to play our best and find a way to win.”

On tight end Travis Kelce, who finished the game with a hamstring injury after taking three touchdown passes, Mahomes said: “Travis was amazing, man he’s a monster.

“The way he came through with an injury and was still making plays all day long – he’s a special football player.”

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson connected with Kenny Stills and Darren Fells, and Lonnie Johnson ran in a blocked punt as the visitors raced into a 21-point first-quarter lead.

But Damien Williams scored the first of his three touchdowns five minutes into the second quarter to spark a Chiefs resurgence, with Mahomes finishing with five touchdown passes, 321 passing and 56 rushing yards.

The Texans stopped the rot with the Chiefs leading 41-24 in the third quarter as Watson scored a five-yard rushing touchdown to get the margin within 10.

But the Chiefs extended their lead, Blake Bell adding another touchdown, to leave them one game away from their first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.

Siya Kolisi wants to bring change to South Africa

This week, in one of South Africa’s poorest communities, work starts on a new rugby field for children to play on.

On its own, the field at Mbekweni Youth Centre near Cape Town might not feel very significant. But for South Africa’s first black rugby captain, Siya Kolisi, it’s the start of something.

Two months on from his side’s World Cup victory, the 28-year-old believes his work off the pitch is becoming as important as his work on it.

It’s the celebrations which followed the Springboks’ win that Kolisi wants to hold on to. He tells Radio 1 Newsbeat: “I’ve never seen anything like that in my lifetime. That’s why we are doing lots of work to make sure it maintains and keeps on going.

“This is the momentum you’ve got to use. Hopefully we can do stuff right now that could mean change for decades.”

But he admits that it’s only in the last few days that he’s sat down to watch back that 32-12 victory over England.

“It was most special because of the period we are in as a country. We need it more than anyone else.”

His motivation comes from his own remarkable story. Kolisi grew up in one of the most deprived parts of Port Elizabeth. He was raised by his grandmother who cleaned kitchens to ensure the family survived. He had to go to one of his first rugby trials in his boxer shorts as he didn’t have proper kit.

There’s more of South Africa’s recent history which you need to understand to get the scale of the Kolisi story. The South African team which won the 1995 World Cup had only one black player. The 2019 team had 12 in the squad with him as captain.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so obvious – and the difference one man can make, as always, remains to be seen.

Historically, a much higher proportion of black South Africans have lived in poverty. In the first half of the last decade, the proportion of black and coloured (the term used in the country for people who are mixed-race) people in poverty increased, according to the government’s own data.

“I have to do more than just play and I have the platform to do that,” Kolisi said.

“Some just give financially but for me, it means a lot to me, because where I come from shaped me as the person I am today.”

“I’m only doing a little bit of it. I hope it inspires other people.”

This week, Radio 1 Newsbeat is reporting on the people, politics and culture of South Africa almost 30 years on from Nelson Mandela’s release.

When we meet Siya, he turns up on his own and parks his car outside. There’s no entourage – a bit of a surprise for one of the most recognised names in world sport right now.

He’s just signed up to be represented by Jay-Z’s talent agency, Roc Nation, which he describes as “ridiculous”.

“We listen to his music and his life is like what we grew up with – what he had to fight through. And he shares that in some of his music.”

It sounds like a big moment in the Kolisi story but, for him, maybe not as big as running into Jurgen Klopp in Cape Town. Like many here, Kolisi is a huge Liverpool fan.

“I went to dinner with some friends including Faf du Plessis (the South African cricket captain), he’s a very close friend of mine and he’s never seen me freak out like that. I nearly fell off my chair.

“I understand why his players play for him like that – because of the person he is and how much he invests himself into other people.

“It’s just like coach Rassie (South African rugby coach Rassie Erasmus). I think coach Rassie is amazing. I could see the resemblance of the two coaches. It’s nice to work under him because he plays the same level as we play now and he always teaches some of his mistakes he made and the learnings and the good things he’s done. I’d love to see how it’d be if they meet.”

As well as the project to open sports fields, the star is supporting work to improve schools.

“I know what it feels like to not have proper rugby fields and facilities. My goal is to make sure that one day everyone has a fair opportunity and all the schools play against each other, like kids who are disadvantaged play guys from the suburbs.”

He’s talking football, cricket and netball as well.

“I want to start opening computer rooms and improve bathrooms too. When I was in school, you didn’t want to go to the bathroom because the bathroom was so horrible, so we’re hoping to change that too.”

There’s huge ambition from Kolisi to bring change in South Africa – a country still struggling with equality more than 25 years after the end of apartheid, the law which forced communities to live separate lives.

“I know we have challenges and everyone does but I can’t sit here and complain and moan because this won’t change. This is a beautiful country. In the areas where I grew up, areas are struggling – people are still happy, some are hopeful and all they want is an opportunity. I’m hoping some of us can give that opportunity.

“In everything I do, I want South Africa to be part of the conversation.”

Kimia Alizadeh: A guide to Iran’s defecting athletes From

The announcement by Iran’s only female Olympic medallist, Kimia Alizadeh, that she will defect is the latest in a series of high-profile changes of nationality from the country’s top athletes.

The defections have been for a variety of reasons and across many different sports. Here are some of the most significant.

Kimia Alizadeh

Alizadeh made history when she competed in taekwondo at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Aged only 18, she beat Sweden’s Nikita Glasnovic 5-1 in the bout for the bronze in the -57kg category. It made her the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal.

But in the wake of that success, she felt the country’s authorities were using her success as a propaganda tool.

Now 21, she disappeared last week, with rumours circulating she was seeking to settle in the Netherlands.

Though she has not confirmed where she is, she has announced in an Instagram post that she left Iran because she did not want to be part of “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery”.

“I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools,” she wrote.

She has described herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran”.

As significant as Alizardeh’s defection is, it is not even the first major Iranian sporting defection of 2020 – less than two weeks into the year.

Two leading figures in Iranian chess, Shohreh Bayat and Mitra Hejazipour, have both been expelled for removing their hijab in competitions outside of the country. This action is considered defiance of Iran’s compulsory Islamic dress code.

Bayat is an international chess referee – Asia’s only Grade-A arbiter at that – and previously was the first woman to be general secretary of a sports federation in Iran. She said she would not be returning to Iran after photos were published showing her not wearing the compulsory headscarf during Shanghai Women’s World Championship 2020 games.

When the photographs first emerged, Bayat’s father said her headscarf had fallen accidentally. But pictures later showed her without it at other games. Nigel Short, the vice-president of the International Chess Federation (Fide), posted one of the photos on Twitter saying Bayat is “a great ambassador for her country”, and Bayat retweeted it.

Her father now says she is “worried about going on with her activities in Iran” and is seeking to continue in another country.

Meanwhile on 2 January, the Iran Chess Federation expelled veteran female chess grandmaster Mitra Hejazipour for removing her scarf during the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship in Moscow.

Hejazipour, who said she will now compete in a private capacity and live in France, was told she “has no place in the Islamic Republic’s national team any more”.

Meanwhile at the end of 2019, the world number two junior player, Alireza Firouzja, competed under a Fide flag instead of the Iranian one.

No official date for Zion Williamson return, Pelicans reportedly want one more practice

Zion Williamson‘s NBA debut could happen Thursday when his Pelicans take on the Jazz, but New Orleans tried to quiet those rumors on Monday night saying that nothing has been set yet. Via Will Guillory of The Athletic.

New Orleans is in Detroit on Monday night, then flies home and does not play again until Thursday. That certainly would leave time for a Wednesday practice and the possible Zion debut Thursday.

However, like any smartly run team, the Pelicans are not going to commit to a timeline.

If you want more footage of Zion looking close, here you go (this is from Saturday).

Zion reportedly did workout pregame in Detroit but did not dunk. Williamson has been out all season following surgery to repair his right lateral meniscus during training camp.

A.J. Hinch releases statement after being suspended and fired

Former Astros manager A.J. Hinch has issued a statement after being suspended for one year by Major League Baseball earlier today and after the Astros subsequently dismissed him. His former colleague, Jeff Luhnow, also issued a statement. They are in direct contrast to each other. Whereas Luhnow shirked responsibility and sought to blame others, Hinch simply accepted responsibility.

Hinch’s statement, via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:

I appreciate Commissioner Manfred’s unwavering commitment to upholding the best interests of baseball. I regret being connected to these events, am disappointed in our club’s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision.

As a leader and Major League Manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way. While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.

I apologize to Mr. Crane for all negative reflections this may have had on him and the Astros organization. To the fans, thank you for your continued support through this challenging time – and for this team. I apologize to all of you for our mistakes but I’m confident we will learn from it – and I personally commit to work tirelessly to ensure I do.

My time in Houston has provided some of the greatest moments in my career and those memories will always be near and dear to me and my family. I regret that my time with the Astros has ended, but will always be a supporter of the club, players, and staff I’ve had the privilege of working alongside. I wish them the best in the future of the game I love.

Indeed, Manfred’s report more or less vindicated Hinch. Manfred wrote, “Hinch told my investigators that he did not support his players decoding signs using the monitor installed near the dugout and banging the trash can, and he believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement.”

Just as importantly, however, Manfred said, “Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or [Alex Cora, then the Astros’ bench coach] that he disapproved of it, even after the Red Sox were disciplined in September 2017. Similarly, he knew of and did not stop the communication of sin information from the replay review room, although he disagreed with this practice as well and specifically voiced his concerns on at least one occasion about the use of the replay phone for this purpose.”

Hinch, like many in the Astros organization, didn’t always have the best response when embroiled in a scandal, but he did well with this statement in the wake of his suspension and firing, especially when compared to Luhnow’s statement. One wonders if his apparent contrition might help him more easily find work in baseball when his suspension is over following the completion of the 2020 season.