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The challenges COVID-19 poses for youth sports



“Hello everyone, after a long time of reflection our son has decided to leave the club.”

This is the Whatsapp message that a young football player’s parents wrote in a parents’ group of a regional league football team recently. That’s the highest-level of football in Germany for players under the age of 17. The 14-year-old, who was the best striker on his team, decided to give up the sport. The decision came as a bombshell for both teammates and parents – including his own.

Professor Hans-Georg Predel of the German Sport University Cologne says the lack of training and play due to COVID-19 restrictions is likely to have been a factor in the youngster’s decision.

“This could also mean an end to his sporting career,” he told DW.

However, according to the professor, who is a researcher in physical activity and high-performance exercise in childhood and adolescence and as well as in biological adaptations in high-performance athletes, behavioral patterns among 10 and 18-year-olds are quite inconsistent.

“Young people… are searching for their personal path in life, and this implies a great willingness to try out new things,” Predel said.

COVID-19 has disrupted the sporting paths of young athletes all over the world, with many experiencing more than one lockdown, forcing training, leagues and tournaments to be placed on hold.

A lost generation

In Kenya, sports came to a complete standstill from the first lockdown in March until the beginning of October, when athletes in individual sports were able to return to training. In football, the Kenyan Premier League season only resumed play last month.

But young athletes weren’t able to return to the pitch even when the schools reopened in October – and this poses a huge problem.

“We basically lost almost a year, like a generation. And we in the sport industry know how critical it is for a certain age group to remain active and continue to train,” Kenyan sport journalist Carol Radull told DW, adding that this has also impacted the development of young players.

Unlike in Germany, there is no developed system of sports clubs in Kenya, so youth sports are the domain of the school system. Academies are reserved for those whose parents have the necessary means. So, according to Radull, the only path for an athlete to get noticed by professional scouts is through events and tournaments organized through the Kenyan school system, which includes sports like football, field hockey and swimming on its curriculum.

Germany’s new solutions

In Germany, which is currently grappling with a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the number of competitions taking place in youth sports has been drastically reduced.

“This is dramatic for the players because it is completely new to them. Before the pandemic their lives were completely different,” Friederike Kromp, head coach of Germany’s under-17 girls’ football team told DW.

Youth national teams draw their players from amateur clubs, via Germany’s regional associations.

To keep young players motivated during the lockdown, Kromp and coaches such as Nate Weiss, technical skills and individual trainer at FC Nuremberg, have developed virtual training sessions designed not only to improve football skills, but also focusing on issues like mental stability, social media and diet.

The sessions, which were originally developed exclusively for youth national team players, are now being made available to other youths in under the DFB’s (German Football Assocation) talent-development program known as the Fussball Stützpunkt. Thousands of young players from more than 300 high-performance centers around the country have been participating in the sessions.

“We started to bring the players together via Zoom or other video platforms to train together. Everyone can follow the training sessions from their own living rooms or backyards, and it’s worked very well,” Kromp said.

“We have to try to make the best of things and motivate the youngsters. We need to be there for them and also give them a reason for hope.”

Interaction inhibited

In the United States, youth sports resumed when schools reopened after the summer break. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to reduce the risk of infection were a relief for some youth sports clubs but also criticized by many.

While major youth soccer tournaments such as the Youth Soccer National League, the largest youth sports organization in the country, has postponed events in some states, others still allow sports activities.

Sporting Omaha FC established the first girls’ soccer development academy and remains the only one in Nebraska that has the highest level of play in youth soccer under the US Soccer Development Academy. The Omaha FC girls’ academy provides young talents with an environment in which they can develop their game. Its aim is to empower the young players to reach their full potential. Its tournaments regularly draw dozens of American scouts and Division 1 college coaches. Its staff are also involved in strategic planning of youth development and competitive platforms.

Alex Mason, director of coaching at Sporting Omaha FC, where training with masks is mandatory, told DW that “it is really hard for young players to read facial expressions when the coaches are wearing masks. So there are a lot of interactions that are wasted, and we are missing out with our younger players.”

Mason also says that the pandemic has had an impact in participation, particularly at the recreational level.

“I am not sure if we are going to lose an entire generation of players, but I know just from the recreation point of view, there has been a dropoff in registrations of at least 30%.”

The day after the pandemic will come 

While youth coaches, sports clubs and sports ministries look for solutions, some believe this year’s state of limbo will have long-term effects in amateur sport and national programs.

But Kromp, the German under-17 girl’s coach, argues that there are ways that these effects can be mitigated and she says it’s also important to recognize that nothing that none of the work youngsters do during a lockdown will be a waste of time.

“The day after the pandemic is over will come,” she stressed.

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England 1-1 Hungary: Gareth Southgate’s ‘attacking experiment’ failed



bbc– Gareth Southgate gave England’s public what it wanted against Hungary and was rewarded with a deadly dull display greeted with a wave of indifference from a discontented Wembley gallery.

On a night that got off to the worst of starts as Hungarian fans jeered the England players taking the knee before clashing violently with police and stewards, the fare on the pitch was bitterly disappointing, lacking inspiration and sparkle.

England’s manager has been criticised for conservatism in the past, but his team sheet provoked excitement.

It was the kind of line-up his detractors have long demanded, with Phil Foden and Mason Mount alongside Declan Rice in midfield and serving Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.

But there was the whiff of serious anti-climax around Wembley as the home supporters filed away into the night following a stodgy 1-1 draw, though England still remain on course to qualify for next year’s Qatar World Cup.

It was not exactly a case of “be careful what you wish for” as England were comfortably contained by a Hungary side who lost at home to Albania in their last qualifier, but it may have served as a cold shower for some of the more romantic notions aimed towards Southgate in recent times.

He has based much of his qualifying campaign for the 2022 showpiece around the holding midfield partnership of Rice and Kalvin Phillips. With Phillips injured and Jordan Henderson on the bench, there was a sense of Southgate letting England off the leash. Yet they never even got out of the starting blocks

When John Stones equalised before half-time, it seemed certain England would go on to secure victory, especially as they were facing a team they had thrashed 4-0 in Budapest in September.

Not a bit of it. The second half was, in fact, an eyesore.

England were strangely lacking in ideas, despite the wealth of creation at their disposal. Hungary were resilient, well organised and presented Southgate’s side with a problem they could not solve.

Southgate did not hide from the reality. “Disappointing performance,” he said. “Hungary caused us a tactical problem and we were not fluid.

“We did not play at the level we need to play, simple as that. It’s difficult to pinpoint and we will go away and look at the balance of the team.

“We have to reflect and should not judge things on one game and that experiment. From the start we were not sharp with our play, gave the ball away, were over-running things and, for the first time in a long time, we have to hold our hands up.”

The biggest concern of all was the lightweight nature of the response when Hungary challenged England to break them down.

The symbol of their struggles was captain Kane, so far out of form and so lacking in confidence that there could be no questioning Southgate’s decision to take him out of the firing line with 14 minutes left. He looked jaded and off the pace, still dropping too deep on occasions, thus reducing his threat.

In the past, taking Kane off with the game at stake and England chasing a winner would have been regarded as a high-risk strategy. Not here. Kane had not made the case to stay on. His run of scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers was over.

The removal of Grealish, arguably England’s most dangerous player, was mystifying, but the substitution of Kane was not. No-one can be exempt from harsh judgement in such circumstances and Kane was a prime candidate to be hooked by Southgate.

Grealish was at least carrying a threat and his departure was greeted by jeers from a large section of the Wembley crowd – and probably with great relief by Hungary.

Sterling, somewhat marginalised at Manchester City these days, is another who is not at his best and he accompanied Kane on the long walk back to the bench after 76 minutes. Once again there could be no complaints.

There was little or nothing to recommend this night on or off the field, although Southgate will have learned much and there is now every chance the central midfield pairing of Rice and Phillips will be restored at the earliest opportunity.

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About 10,000 Tokyo Olympic volunteers have quit with Games closing in



Thousands of volunteers have pulled out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in recent weeks, organizers said, fueling concerns Japan may not be ready to host the rescheduled Games as the country struggles to rein in a new wave of Covid-19 cases.

About 10,000 of the 80,000 registered volunteers supporting athletic events had quit as of Wednesday, according to Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee officials.
Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the Organizing Committee, told Japanese media he does not believe the volunteer withdrawals will impact the operation of the Games, which were postponed last year due to the pandemic. The rescheduled event is due to start on July 23.
Volunteers are an instrumental part of the Summer Olympics. They help staff operate Olympic facilities and venues, and assist spectators and athletes. So if more continue to drop out, it could pose additional difficulties for organizers.
However, no foreign spectators are allowed into Japan for the Games, so organizers may not need as many volunteers as other host cities have in years past.
A first cohort of volunteers dropped out in February — the same month the president of the Games’ organizing committee resigned. The official, Yoshiro Mori, stepped down after sexist remarks he made in a meeting were leaked.
Though officials did not say why most of the 10,000 volunteers quit, it is likely tied to the pandemic. Opinion polls show most of the Japanese public oppose holding the Olympics, with hospitals overwhelmed by a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases and the vast majority of people still unvaccinated.
The country has reported more than 752,000 total coronavirus cases and more than 13,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Daily new cases have been in the low thousands in recent days, declining from a fourth-wave peak of nearly 8,000 on April 29.
Japan’s vaccine rollout has also gone much slower than expected. While there is enough supply to vaccinate much of the country’s 126 million people, there is a bottleneck of medical professionals available to administer them. Only nurses, doctors and dentists can legally give vaccines.
Currently, just the elderly and medical professionals are eligible to receive a vaccine. Muto, the CEO of the Olympic Organizing Committee, said doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be provided to Olympic athletes, but not to volunteers, who are being asked to use public transportation to commute to the Games. Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said the IOC would give Japan 20,000 vaccines, but negotiations for who receives those doses are ongoing.
Last week, the editorial board for one of the country’s leading newspapers, Asahi Shimbun, accused Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of holding the Olympics “against the will of the public” and called for the event to be canceled.
Meanwhile, a group of United States public health experts warned that pushing ahead with the Olympics as planned could put athletes and the public at risk. They said Japanese authorities and Tokyo 2020 organizers needed to reconsider their approach to risk management and recognize the limits of measures like temperature screening.
“We believe the IOC’s determination to proceed with the Olympic Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence,” the authors wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. “For us to connect safely, we believe urgent action is needed for these Olympic Games to proceed.”
A handful of prominent business leaders have also voiced concerns about the event. Last month, the CEO of e-commerce giant Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, told CNN it would be a “suicide mission” for Japan to host the games.
Also in May, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, an organization of about 6,000 doctors in the capital, wrote a letter calling for the Games to be scrapped.
Japanese authorities recently extended a state of emergency for much of the country, including Tokyo, until June 20 — about a month before the Olympics are set to begin.
US citizens were warned against traveling to Japan last month due to the spike in Covid-19 infections.
Olympic organizers have maintained they’re confident the Olympics can be held safely and securely. Canceling the Olympics would also be costly for both Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), especially due to the loss of broadcasting revenues.
Several officials have said it would be impossible to postpone the Games a second time.
“All the stadiums are booked for other events already. It has been such hard work to postpone by one year … it is impossible to postpone it again,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told Nikkan Sports, a Japanese newspaper, in an interview published Thursday.
Dick Pound, the longest-serving IOC member, told CNN this week that “none of the folks involved in the planning and the execution of the Games is considering a cancellation.”
“That’s essentially off the table,” he said.

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Lionel Messi scored two goals as Barcelona beat Getafe to climb to third in the La Liga table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid.



Messi broke the deadlock before lowly Getafe equalised through Clement Lenglet’s own goal.

A mix-up between Sofian Chakla and keeper David Soria restored Barca’s lead and Messi made it 3-1.

Enes Unal’s penalty gave Getafe hope but goals by Ronald Araujo and Antoine Griezmann sealed the points.

Barcelona are five points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who they host on 8 May, but have one game in hand.

Earlier in the day, Barca issued a statement about signing up to the European Super League, stating it was a “historic opportunity” to guarantee football’s financial sustainability.

On the pitch, Ronald Koeman’s side turned on the style in an incident-packed first half which saw Messi hit the bar and the post for the 2021 Copa del Rey winners.

However, they struggled after half-time and lived dangerously until late goals by substitute Araujo and Griezmann, from the penalty spot, secured the win.

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