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Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig deliver Bundesliga early Christmas gift



Right at that time of year when those watching the Bundesliga ask themselves whether anyone can challenge Bayern, RB Leipzig answered with a resounding yes.

Julian Nagelsmann’s side dominated early proceedings, recovered from a quick fire Bayern double and kept the world’s most in-form striker, Robert Lewandowski, out of the game. They might not have won, but it has been a long time since a team displayed as much quality and confidence throughout a game in Munich.

Bayern, on the other hand, might feel more like this was two points dropped than one gained. Hansi Flick’s side had their moments, Kinsgley Coman bagged a hat trick of assists that left Leroy Sané in the wind, but not even the inevitable nature of their equalizer could hide just how a tough a test this was.

A game worthy of the hype

Despite excessive schedules only exacerbated by having a host of players away on international duties, this was a contender for game of the season. Not just for the dramatic back-and-forth and exciting football on display but because a game between the top two teams in the league, the best attack (Bayern had scored 31 goals beforehand) against the best defense (RB Leipzig had only conceded six beforehand), and the country’s top two coaches truly lived up to the hype.

Much of that is down to Julian Nagelsmann and his side. Indeed, the only thing better than Nagelsmann’s plan was his side’s execution of it. Given he was unable to rest too many big names in Leipzig’s midweek thriller in Turkey – unlike Hansi Flick in Madrid – and with more than half an eye on the showdown with Manchester United next week, assessment of the young German coach in this game might have been tied to RB Leipzig’s European hopes. Instead, it should be about how he delivered a blueprint as to how to push the defending champions.

“We had Tuesday in the back of the minds so I’m happy with the way the lads went to their limit,” Nagelsmann said afterwards.

RB Leipzig’s opener, one that fittingly came from a Bayern attack, was less of a surprise and more a reward for a game plan that hurried their hosts and made them look ordinary. Having won the ball back following Thomas Müller’s misplaced pass, Emil Forsberg sprang the pass for Christopher Nkunku. The Frenchman did what few have ever done and found a way around the out-rushing Manuel Neuer before rolling into the empty net.

Musiala and Müller magic

Perhaps Hansi Flick might have made the change anyway, but when the weakest element of this Bayern side (Javi Martinez) was forced off with injury, his replacement breathed new life into the hosts.

Seventeen-year-old Jamal Musiala’s agility and speed on the ball made a difference in midfield. Five minutes after he came on, he sent a rasping low drive into the bottom corner from outside the box. “He was in a position where we had trouble at the start, but he demanded the ball and even though he is 17, he is really mature,” Flick said afterwards.

Five minutes after that, Thomas Müller had Bayern in front as the contest went up a gear. “You live for games like these,” Emil Forsberg said afterwards.

Indeed, games that players long to play in also afford many the opportunity to make their name, and loanee Justin Kluivert did just that with a neatly taken finish to make it 2-2. Three minutes after the restart, Angelino put the third on Forsberg’s head, as the Swede capped a great night. “I was surprised at how open I was,” Forsberg admitted afterwards, a damning indictment of Bayern’s marking.

First Munich, then Manchester

Bayern had gone from looking like Bayern to looking like Germany, namely capable of scoring goals but incapable of defending. Flick called it a wild game, lamenting relatively easy goals conceded and that too often his side played the ball long when a pass along the ground was necessary.

Naturally, Müller was on hand to head home a perfect Coman cross at the peak of Bayern’s pressure.

“It was a thrilling game. You could see we had a day less to recover and had to take off key players after the hour mark to rest them for next week and that made life harder for us,” Nagelsmann said afterwards.

In the context of the Bundesliga, such games are not unprecedented. In recent years, Bayern and Dortmund have delivered truly exciting games, as have Bayern and RB Leipzig. In the context of the current season though, that these two teams – admittedly aided by enormous financial means – were able to deliver such a contest was impressive.

Julian Nagelsmann proved against Bayern Munich that with great risk can come great reward. Now the unrelenting nature of football’s schedule will ask him and his side to do it all in again in three days time. For now though, it is clear who Bayern’s challengers this season are.

As it happened:

— Müller in critical mood

He may have notched a brace but Thomas Müller is not entirely satisfied with his evening’s work.

“For me there were too many times that we lost the ball,” Müller told Sky. “Not everything was perfect. Of course you don’t score twice in every game, I’m happy about that but for me personally, it could have been more today.”

— No winners or all winners?

Who is happier with that result? Instinct would probably say Leipzig, but Julian Nagelsmann’s substitutions suggested he thought his side could win it. Bayern are certainly looking more vulnerable than they have since Hansi Flick took over but they still get the job done. And, despite their shortcomings, which were evident in today’s draw with Eintracht Frankfurt, this result keeps Borussia Dortmund in touch.

FULL TIME: It petered out a little at the end but this was a sensational game.FromNkunku’s early breakaway goal, through a goal from the bench from 17-year-old Musiala and a brace from Müller that put Bayern in front and then saved them, it had it all. In the end, a draw was a fair reflection of a high caliber game and Bayern remain two points clear of RB Leipzig at the summit of the Bundesliga. Stay here for post-match reaction and report.

90+1 – Neuer flies out of his goal again, as he did for Leipzig’s first. But this time he gets it right and whacks it clear.

90′ – Neuer gets away with another nervy moment as he controls a ball outside the box on his chest but Bayern on the front foot as we move in to two minutes of added time.

87′ – Gnabry has grass in front of him and drives in from the left flank. But Nkunku blocks his shot from the edge of the box. Leipzig have lost a bit of control here, they can’t keep the ball.

85′ – Two subs combine as Costa floats a ball from the left towards Musiala on the opposite flank. But the teenager can’t do anything with the header.

83′ – The tempo has slowed a touch, unsurprisingly. But Flick won’t have that, he introduces Costa in place of Coman and Richards for Boateng, who has had a touch evening.

80′ – In to the last ten and neither side look keen to settle for a point, feels like there’s a winner here.

77′ – Gnabry wriggles free down the right and hammers in a low cross, Konate just about hacks it clear. And Nagelsman moves for a change before the corner, bringing on Orban and Sörloth for Haidara and Kluivert.

75′ – Bayern Munich 3 (Müller) – 3 RB Leipzig
It had been coming, and it’s that man Müller. Musiala started things, pushing the ball out to Coman on the right. The winger whipped in a wicked cross and two Leipzig defenders got drawn to Lewandowski, leaving Müller free to nod home from close range. What’s next?

72′ – Sabitzer, who has had a few injury problems of late, is replaced by Kampl, who should bring some energy to the visitors. Dani Olmo is also on, with Mukiele the man replaced.

70′ – The visitors are starting to sit deep here. It’s a long time to hold on against this Bayern team.

67′ – Bayern have seen a lot of the ball lately but they’re struggling to turn their opponents around. Lewandowki and Müller both being kept quiet. For now.

64′ – Flick responds. Gnabry on for Sane, who had a quiet game.

62′ – Nagelsmann makes the first change, Poulsen replacing Forsberg who, as it stands, has scored the winner. Fair way to go yet though.

60′ – Musiala drifts left and spots the run of Sane from the opposite flank, but his cross is slightly overhit.

59′ – Little bit of a scrappy spell now, for maybe the first time in the match before Neuer almost makes another blunder, slipping during a routine backpass. Gets away with it.

55′ – Musiala dances his way in to the box after a short corner on the left but he holds on a bit too long as is crowded out.

54′ – Neuer just about gets away with another mistake as he looks to play a one-two with Süle in his own box. Adams reads it but he’s too close to the byline and can’t get it under control.

51′ – Mukiele is the first name in the book for a fairly innocuous looking challenge.

48′ GOAL! Bayern Munich 2 – 3 RB Leipzig (Forsberg 48′)
A well-worked move from Leipzig but more catastrophic defending form Bayern. The Swedish midfielder finds yards of space between Süle and Boateng and nods in Angelino’s inch-perfect cross from the left.

47′ – Upamecano plays a loose pass at the back which almost gets his side in trouble. But Coman is a touch slow in reading it and gives away a foul.

46′ – We’re back underway in this fascinating contest. A massive 45 minutes coming up.

HALF TIME: Well, I think we all need a breather after that. RB Leipzig started the scoring, with Nkunku breaking Bayern’s offside trap and beating Neuer, who come way off his line. Bayern then turned it round with two excellent goals from substitute Musiala and then Müller. It’s been frantic, fun and high quality. Here’s to more in 15 minutes.

45+2 – Lewandowski, who has been ususually quiet, tries to flick Sane in but the keeper gets there first.

45′ – Now Nkunku is down, a disjointed end to a brilliant half.

44′ – Haidara is up and hobbling and we go again.

42′ – Haidara down on the turf holding his head and played is stopped for a moment. Time for a breath.

40′ – Forsberg thinks he’s got Nkunku through again but he’s just offside. Bayern’s defensive line almost on the halfway line there, a dangerous game against this team.

39′ – This has been played at a frantic pace but there’s still a decent level of control, the sign of a high class contest.

36′ – GOAL! Bayern Munich 2 – 2 RB Leipzig (Kluivert)
What is going on?! Julian Nagelsmann’s selection call now vindicated. This one came from nowhere, with Haidara turning a cute, cushioned little ball around the corner on the edge of the box and the Dutchman setting himself before hammering a low drive from right to left across Neuer. What a game.

34′ – GOAL! Bayern Munich (Müller) 2 – 2 RB Leipzig 
Another sensational goal, this time a real team effort. Musiala and Lewandowski do brilliantly to work the ball to Coman, who spots a cheeky little reverse pass and Müller does the rest from 10 yards.

33′ – On a knife edge this one, a really absorbing game.

30′ – GOAL! Bayern Munich (Musiala) 1 – 1 RB Leipzig 
Wow, what a strike and what an introduction. Coman pops a ball in to Musiala on the edge of the box and the teenager takes a touch, finds half a yard and steers it low to Gulacsi’s left. Flick’s bold call vindicated by the English youth international, born in Germany.

28′ – What a save!
Remember Pavard’s incredible strike for France against Argentina at the World Cup? Well, he almost repeats it, cutting across a bouncing ball from the right edge of the box and sending it arcing for the top corner. But Gulacsi makes a stunning fingertip save to retain his side’s lead.

26′ – The new man and Alaba test Gulacsi with crosses from the left, but the Hungarian keeper is up to the challenge.

25′ – Yep, Martinez is off, replaced by 17-year-old Jamal Musiala. Bold call there from Hansi Flick.

24′ – Martinez looks to be struggling a little here, it seems to be his groin that’s causing him bother.

23′ – Kluivert gets in behind now, out wide on the left. But he dithers a little and the opportunity is lost. Leipzig sense blood here.

19′ – GOAL! Bayern Munich 0 – 1 RB Leipzig (Nkunku)
No surprise that it’s a devastating counterattack that gives Leipzig the lead. Forsberg picks it up deep and Nkunku sees a space vacated by Boateng stepping out. The Swedish midfielder picks out the Frenchman in that space and Neuer comes flying out to sweep up but gets it all wrong allowing Nkunku to beat him to the ball and roll in to an empty net from outside the box. Errors from a couple of Bayern veterans there. Game on.

19′ – Coman races on to a lovely ball down the left from Alaba. The French flyer just reaches it before the byline and drives across goal. Gulacsi makes a bit of a meal of it but Leipzig survive.

17′ – Nkunku again involved out on the left. He stands up Pavard and tries to curl on in to the opposite corner with his right foot, but it’s a little high. Danger signs for the champions right now.

15′ – Sabitzer swings a lovely ball out to Nkunku on the left but his cross is hacked clear. The visitors are clearly looking to break at speed here and exlpoit Bayern’s high line, and perhaps Boateng’s decreasing mobility on the turn.

13′ – Then Leipzig break. Forsberg finds Nkunku, whose effort is diverted over the bar for a corner. Angelino’s set piece is easily cleared. A pattern is starting to emerge here.

12′ – Coman twists and turns in the area but his shot from a tight angle flies in to the side netting.

10′ – Lewandowski hits the deck after tangling with Upamecano but it looks like he’ll be alright.

8′ – The home side starting to dominate the ball, but mainly in areas that won’t worry their opponents. Leipzig then look to break through Kluivert but his cross floats in to Neuer’s arms.

5′ – The ball breaks to Sane in midfield and he drives forward, before pushing it out to Müller on the right. His cross is cleared behind by Upamecano but Gulacsi punches the corner firmly clear.

2 ‘ – Woodwork!
Great start from the visitors. Kluivert forces a corner, which eventually finds its way to Sabitzer on the edge of the box. He cuts across the ball and the swerving drive rattled Neuer’s bar. The Bayern keeper looked unsure there.

1′ – And we’re off! Forsberg gets this critical clash going.

— Nagelsmann looking to Champions League

As my colleague Matt Ford points out, Julian Nagelsmann has just told Sky that his team selection was influenced by the big Champions League game against Manchester United on the horizon. Big gamble, that.

— Sane starts

A host of big names return for Bayern after a weakened XI won a point against Atletico Madrid in the week. Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka are back, while Leroy Sane starts ahead of Serge Gnabry. Sane hasn’t begun a match in the Bundesliga since late October.

There’s a bit of a surprise in the visitors line up too, with neither Alexander Sorloth or Yussuf Poulsen starting. Justin Kluivert is given the nod, with Nagelsmann perhaps thinking his pace will trouble Bayern’s high defensive line.

— Boost for both sides

After a loss to Cologne last time out, Borussia Dortmund have spurned the chance to put the pressure on Bayern and Leipzig. Lucien Favre’s men could only manage a 1-1 draw away at Eintracht Frankfurt, with Gio Reyna’s sweet second half strike leveling it after Daichi Kamada had given the hosts an early lead. Elsewhere, Arminia Bielefeld picked up a huge 2-1 win over Mainz while the points were shared between Cologne and Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach and Freiburg. Both those finished 2-2.

— Battle of the bosses

Have Bayern dropped off a bit of late? Probably, but they’re still top of the table and cruised through their Champions League group. Julian Nagelsmann said the champions have the best squad in the league and have improved under Hansi Flick but believes there’s a chink in the armor.

“Sometimes it looks as though they lose a bit of focus in certain situations, and seem a bit less sharp,” he said ahead of the game. “That’s a natural consequence of a long preseason and the busy schedule. But they’ll want to win at home. We’re prepared for that.”

The treble-winning Bayern coach did admit there’s been something of a drop off but expects his team of winners to demonstrate their mettle when it counts.

“First vs. second is always a special game. Champions prove themselves in these big games, so I’m expecting my team to show that they can play better than they have been doing in recent weeks.”

— Head to Head

As they have with every side in the division, Bayern have a strong record against Saturday’s visitors. The first time the sides met was as recently as December 2016, when a 3-0 win at the Allianz Arena meant Bayern pipped the newly-promoted side to the top of the table ahead of the winter break. They’d go on to win the title and capture the double over RB with a memorable 5-4 win in Leipzig, capped off by this Arjen Robben special.

Since then, the games have tightened up with just three goals in their four meetings in the last two Bundesliga seasons. Leipzig’s only win remains a 2-1 victory in 2018, thanks to goals from Naby Keita and Timo Werner. Both of those are gone, but is Bayern’s hold over the Red Bulls?

— Team news

Hansi Flick had updates on some key figures for Bayern in his prematch press conference, not least Joshua Kimmich.

“If it were up to him, he’d be playing 60 minutes tomorrow,” Flick said. “We don’t want to rush things though. The way he is training, day to day, is just lovely to see.”

The Bayern boss went on to suggest the Leipzig game would come too soon for Kimmich and revealed that Alphonso Davies is back in training, though also not expected to feature on Saturday.

The visitors will also be without a number of key figures, including Konrad Laimer, and Lukas Klostermann but French creator Christopher Nkunku is back after missing Leipzig’s Champions League win in midweek.

— Match preview

If you can’t beat Bayern Munich, statistically you have next to no chance of winning the Bundesliga.

In the last 30 years, only one team has managed to claim the title without defeating the record champions – Borussia Dortmund in 2001.

So if relative newcomers RB Leipzig really have aspirations to reach the top, they’ll have to find a way of beating the Bavarians.

Since cementing themselves as title hopefuls two seasons ago, however, they’ve fallen flat with three draws and a loss. Close, but not good enough.

Just two points currently separate the Bundesliga’s top two teams but Nagelsmann realizes that victory is no easy task.

“Bayern have the best squad in the league and a strong team chemistry,” he said. “They’ve improved significantly under Hansi Flick, particularly in defense and working without the ball.”

“Ideally [we want] all three points, but you can never guarantee that against the record champions.”

Chinks in the armor

Behind the scenes, though, Nagelsmann’s competitiveness will ensure he’s drilling belief into his squad ahead of what could be a crucial result at the end of the season.

Bayern have endured a rough schedule during the corona pandemic – the consequence of an incredible treble run. After an almost non-existent off-season, they’ve started to look vulnerable.

“In some situations, Bayern haven’t looked as sharp and not quite as focused,” Nagelsmann admitted. “But they will want to live up to their top-dog status at home. We’re ready for that.”

No Timo, no problem?

Much has been made of Timo Werner’s departure and understandably so. Yet Leipzig certainly haven’t been less dangerous in front of goal.

Last season they netted 17 in the first 10 matchdays with Werner grabbing nine of them. After 10 matches this campaign, they’ve shared 18 goals around the squad, with left-back Angelino top scorer with four.

Nagelsmann has adapted his system, but to compete with the best he’ll need to find a new striker. It’s rare to find a world-class team that doesn’t rely heavily on one expert marksman.

Alexander Sorloth finally broke his duck against Bashakshehir on Wednesday and he cut a frustrated but relieved man during his celebration. He’d missed a penalty last weekend against Bielefeld and it’s been a tough start to his Leipzig career.

Nagelsmann was clearly delighted but also admitted Sorloth had had a “complicated” game. Nevertheless, if the 24-year-old Norwegian can start scoring regularly it would be a huge boost for the team’s title chances.

Champions’ mentality

Bayern’s recent fragilities have largely gone unpunished. They haven’t looked at their best, particularly defensively, but have still found enough to grind out results. Their recent win over Dortmund was yet another sign of their pedigree.

It’s the type of mentality which has set them apart for the last two decades, but Flick wants to see more from his team against Leipzig.

“First versus second is always a special game,” Flick said. “Champions prove themselves in these big games, so I’m expecting my team to show that they can play better than they have been doing in recent weeks.”

If neither Leipzig nor Dortmund both can find a way to beat Bayern this season, history suggests Bayern will stroll to a ninth straight Bundesliga title.

This is Nagelsmann’s big chance to show that they won’t have it all so easy this season.

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Frenchman Yannick Bestaven clinches Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race in dramatic finish




France’s Yannick Bestaven was crowned the winner of the Vendée Globe round-the-world solo yacht race on early Thursday morning after 80 days at sea.

The race concluded in dramatic fashion when competitor Boris Hermann collided with a fishing trawler on the home straight 160 km from port.

Frenchman Charlie Dalin was the first to cross the finish line first off Les Sables d’Olonne, western France, on Wednesday evening at 8.35 pm CET, surrounded by an armada of boats that glittered in red, green and blue.

The 36-year-old, who led the ranking for more than half of the course aboard his latest generation flying boat, had to wait to see if he would be declared the winner of the 2020 Vendée Globe.

France’s Yannick Bestaven was crowned the winner of the Vendée Globe round-the-world solo yacht race on early Thursday morning after 80 days at sea.

The race concluded in dramatic fashion when competitor Boris Hermann collided with a fishing trawler on the home straight 160 km from port.

Frenchman Charlie Dalin was the first to cross the finish line first off Les Sables d’Olonne, western France, on Wednesday evening at 8.35 pm CET, surrounded by an armada of boats that glittered in red, green and blue.

The 36-year-old, who led the ranking for more than half of the course aboard his latest generation flying boat, had to wait to see if he would be declared the winner of the 2020 Vendée Globe.

Two other competitors, the German Herrmann, who arrived third, and Bestaven, who came in fifth, also crossed the line were also in contention for the race.

Both skippers had time compensation in hand for helping to rescue competitor, Kevin Escoffier, whose yacht sank in heavy seas off Cape Horn on November 30.

These bonuses – six hours for Herrmann and 10 hours and 15 minutes for Bestaven – could only be taken into account once the line had been crossed.

This was Bestaven’s second attempt after he lasted just 30 hours in 2008. The 48-year-old, from La Rochelle, finished eight hours behind leader Dalin but snatched victory thanks to his time bonus.

“We go from total solitude to this party, these lights, these people who are there despite the complicated context,” Bestaven said after his victory.

“It’s a joy, I don’t realise yet what’s happening, I’m still in my race, even though it’s over. It’s a child’s dream come true.”

Dalin, who finished in 80 days, six hours, 15 minutes and 47 seconds – officially placed second followed by fellow Frenchman Louis Burton, who crossed the finish line second four hours later but came third overall.

Greeted by 300 volunteers, Dalin said: “For sure it has changed me, I don’t know in what way yet… it’s so many emotions, it’s incredible emotions, it’s emotions of a strength that I had never felt before…”

Third-placed Burton said: “It’s a great joy, a great pride to be among the first to cross this finish line. (It is) seven days less than four years ago [when he finished 7th], 75 days more than eight years ago because I had given up after five days”.

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Football for Friendship keeps the ball running online




Educating young generations goes beyond the classroom. But inspiring in children and teenagers the moral values that will guide them in their professional and personal lives is not always straightforward. Parents and educators have often nudged young people into playing team games, which have been recognised as effective tools to help them acquire important values while enjoying themselves.

For the last eight years, the Football for Friendship (F4F) platform has helped young people from across the world get together, share their love for football, and in the process acquire important ethical values, focusing on friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour, the building blocks of the F4F project.

In 2020, the social restrictions across the world that halted real-life football matches did not stop F4F, with over one million users taking part in this eighth season. The programme launched a new online game, F4F World, allowing young people to play football with peers anywhere. The game gives children the option of being players, coaches, or fans, and each role comes with different responsibilities and tasks. Players can apply to join their teams of choice, and as they advance in the game, they can become coaches, select other players, and set up their own team. The first F4F eWorld Championship brought together 32 teams of young players from 104 countries on the F4F World football simulator.

The game, available to download since early December, has received thumbs-up from many young players who praised how it connects players around the world, its availability on mobile and PC and the originality of its gameplay and character creation.

The online game keeping young people engaged with football throughout lockdowns, time away from school, and restricted social lives can help them maintain and build new connections with many other football afficionados from different cultures and backgrounds, while still strengthening their football skills away from the turf.

The variety of roles children and teenagers can choose from, the interactions needed to build teams, select players, engage with coaches and be part of the community provide a fertile ground for creating new friendships around their common passions for football.

An Online International Friendship Camp involves famous football players and F4F ambassadors that engage young people in team-building games and workshops that do not account for age, gender, nationality, race, or physical abilities. “Football for Friendship is a programme that brings together truly talented and motivated kids who are in love with football, giving them the opportunity to develop, learn more about each other and find new friends in other countries,” says Roberto Carlos, F4F Global Ambassador. “Many young football players all over the world dream of getting into Football for Friendship, and the universal human values promoted by the programme are really important for the children, for their future.”

The end of the season also brought for F4F the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the Most users on a football/soccer video hangout, with a 2.5-hour master class with live video feeds from France, Brazil, Russia, Uruguay, Pakistan, Ireland, Cyprus, Peru, India, Guyana and Spain being organized for children from over 100 countries.

By learning and following the rules of F4F World, young players also become more responsible for their online behaviour; and while football itself teaches fair play, engaging in games and trainings with other children and teenagers, as well as with coaches from different cultural backgrounds, races, and beliefs encourages participants to be fair and treat everyone equally and honourably.

Beyond practical skills, F4F and in particular, the new online game, helps young people remain motivated to win, devoted to the game and to their teams, and continue a traditional game even through difficult social and economic times.

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Russian city of Kazan to host 2022 Special Winter Olympics after Sweden pulls out




The countdown has begun for the Special Olympics, World Winter Games, which are set to kick off in Kazan, Russia in one year.

More than 2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from over 100 countries will compete.

Kazan jumped in to host the games at the last minute after Sweden pulled out due to financial reasons – a controversial decision given that Russia is currently serving a ban from all major sporting events.

In December, Russia’s ban was reduced to two years from four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after its anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.

”We are as a country ready for a bigger message on inclusion and as Special Olympics International is not a signatory of the World Anti Doping Code, therefore we were in a good place to come to Russia with the World Games,” Natalia Vodianova, an international Russian-born model and member of Special Olympics International Board of Directors, told Euronews.

“My younger sister Oksana was born with an intellectual disability. There is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of miscommunication about the abilities of people with special needs. Therefore, I hope that the world Games will bring more clarity and break some stigmas around possibilities and opportunities for people with special needs like my sister,” she added.

After hosting the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and the FIFA World Cup three years later, Kazan is no stranger to big events.

Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics is a global movement aimed at ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. It offers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.

Special Olympics Russia, which has been active for more than two decades, has 128 thousand athletes taking part in sports and competitions across the country.

But this represents just 4% of the estimated three million people with intellectual disabilities in Russia, and Vodianova is hoping the Special Olympics winter games coming to the country will mean more people can benefit from the initiative in the future.


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