Liverpool’s all-conquering season that brought them the club’s first league title in 30 years seemed an age away as they were eliminated by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final at a deserted Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, who carried all before them in the league last season, are now left with only the Premier League’s top four – and a place in Europe’s elite competition next term – to aim for if they are to salvage something from this fragmented, disappointing, injury-hit campaign.
As Zinedine Zidane’s players celebrated a professional job that saw them set up a Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, Klopp was left to ponder Liverpool’s fall from grace in the past 12 months.
He will no doubt face calls from frustrated Reds fans to revamp a squad that has served him and the club magnificently in recent seasons – indeed the social media jury was already delivering that knee-jerk verdict moments after elimination.
The manager, quite rightly, will guard against over-reaction. Liverpool have achieved too much and have too many high-class players for that – but that does not mean he does not have serious questions to consider.
So does this Liverpool squad really need a major overhaul, or just minor renewal?
A team as good as Liverpool have been seems an unlikely candidate for an extensive rebuild – but fresh faces can create momentum, renewal and a new mood, and this group has been together a long time.
When Liverpool and Real met in the Champions League final in Kyiv in 2018, Klopp’s line-up included seven of those who started at Anfield on Wednesday.
And in those intervening three years Liverpool have continued to lean heavily on those seven starters from Kyiv on all fronts.
They have been carrying a very heavy workload for a long time and while the likes of Diogo Jota, who has been excellent, and Thiago Alcantara, who has not, have lightened the load in phases this season, Liverpool’s squad and best starting line-up still has a very familiar look to it. It is inevitable it has taken its toll.
Injuries have been the backdrop to all of Liverpool’s efforts this season and their inspirational leader – and one of the world’s finest central defenders – Virgil van Dijk is expected to be fit for the start of next season after the serious knee injury that has kept him out since September.
Joe Gomez, another fine talent, should also be back after a similar injury but there is no question a central defensive reinforcement is required. It remains to be seen whether it will be Ozan Kabak, currently on loan from Schalke, or RB Leipzig’s outstanding 24-year-old Ibrahima Konate. Nat Phillips has been excellent but Klopp needs more strength and quality.
Klopp has plenty of resources in midfield but Georginio Wijnaldum’s reluctance to sign a new contract points towards his departure while Jordan Henderson, still a huge influence at 30, has been sorely missed in his injury absences.
Thiago was meant to be a tempo-dictating game-changer after arriving from last season’s Champions League winners Bayern Munich but he has struggled, and it was significant that he did not start in either leg of this quarter-final when these looked like the sort of games he had been signed to play in.
Liverpool are relaxed about any speculation on Mohamed Salah’s future. The Egyptian is 29 in June but is still of such world class that he would command a huge fee. It would be a major shock if any situation developed where he left Anfield this summer.
The complications may arise if Liverpool fail to reach next season’s Champions League, a real possibility as they currently stand sixth, three points behind surprise package West Ham in fourth.
The idea of dropping into Europe’s lesser competitions may exercise the minds of the likes of Salah.
Jota has been a major success since his £45m summer arrival from Wolves and Liverpool will look to him to offer competition, respite and support for their main three forwards next season – although Roberto Firmino’s indifferent form means he may face a real fight for his place from the Portuguese.
But even if Liverpool do not finish in the Champions League places this is a time for measured judgements and careful recruitment, rather than for tearing down the monument to success that has brought Klopp and his players the European and domestic glory in the two preceding seasons.
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Australia’s reigning Olympic champion women’s sevens team has had a disjointed preparation for a five-day Tokyo Games hit-and-run mission but they could get a block of games against the Kiwis in June.
Having not played any competitive matches since March last year due to COVID-19, a number of the team’s best players, including Shannon Parry, Sharni Williams, Evania Pelite and Charlotte Caslick, will take part in this year’s Aon Uni Sevens series, starting this weekend.
But the end goal is another gold medal in Tokyo, and coach John Manenti concedes the outcome isn’t completely in Australia’s court.
Northern hemisphere sides have managed to get games recently, butthe Games begin in four months and Australia and New Zealand can’t afford two weeks of quarantine on return if they were to try and play a tournament abroad.
Games are being organised here between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in June, but nothing has been locked in.
If a trans-Tasman bubble isn’t established in coming weeks, New Zealand have indicated they may remain in Australia for an extended period and travel straight to Tokyo in July.
It means Australia could get a good hit-out against the 2016 silver medallists and the form team in the world.
“They [could] stay here for a month’s preparation,” Manenti said on Wednesday. “For us and them, it’s critical for us to have some sort of competition when we feel the rest of the world is getting ahead of that stuff.
“We’re replicating games, we’re having internal games, we’re playing games, but it’s very hard to play games without genuine meaning.
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Liverpool will face Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Manchester City have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund, while Chelsea play Porto and defending champions Bayern Munich take on Paris St-Germain, the team they beat in last year’s final.
In the semi-finals, the winner of the Real Madrid v Liverpool tie will face Porto or Chelsea and Manchester City or Dortmund will take on Bayern or PSG.
The two-legged quarter-finals will take place on 6-7 and 13-14 April.
The first legs of the semi-final will be on 27-28 April with the return ties on 4-5 May.
Liverpool and Real Madrid met in the 2018 Champions League final with the Spanish club, who have won the competition a record 13 times, winning 3-1.
The two teams have played each other six times in Europe’s top competition, with both winning three games apiece, including Liverpool’s 1-0 victory in the 1981 final.
Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund
Porto v Chelsea
Bayern Munich v Paris St Germain
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Bayern Munich or Paris St-Germain v Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid or Liverpool v Porto or Chelsea
More to follow.
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Real Madrid hosts Atalanta, holding a 1-0 from the first leg, and Manchester City looks to complete the job against Borussia Mönchengladbach, leading 2-0 from the first leg in Germany.
Follow all the live scores, stats and commentary from the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano in Madrid and the Puskás Aréna in Budapest in this morning’s Champions League ties.
Real Madrid vs Atalanta
Manchester City vs Borussia Mönchengladbach
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Paris St-Germain have ruled Neymar out of the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Barcelona.
The Brazil forward missed the first leg against his former side, which PSG won 4-1, with a thigh injury.
“Neymar returned to partial training with the squad last week and will continue to work back to fitness individually,” said a PSG statement.
Barcelona will be without defenders Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo for the match in Paris on Wednesday.
Pique sustained a knee injury in the Copa del Rey semi-final win over Sevilla on 3 March, while Araujo has returned to training after an ankle problem but is not in the squad.
Ex-Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho is still missing for the Spanish side because of a knee injury.
Barcelona, who lost 8-2 to eventual winners Bayern Munich in last season’s one-legged quarter-final, have made it past the last 16 of the Champions League in each of the past 13 seasons.
In 2016-17, they were beaten 4-0 by PSG in the last-16 first leg in Paris, before winning the second leg 6-1 in Spain.
Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman remained optimistic his side could reach the quarter-finals and said: “It is always different to have a result like this.
“Losing 4-1 at home means we have to score goals away from home and it’s more complicated but nothing is impossible.
“We believe in ourselves – we know we are Barca and have to win and will demonstrate this mentality.”
PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, who took Tottenham to the Champions League final in 2018-19, will also be without on-loan Everton striker Moise Kean as he is self-isolating because of coronavirus.
Neymar helped the French champions reach their first Champions League final last August and has scored 12 goals in 17 competitive fixtures this season.
Barcelona need to make history to advance – the stats
PSG have won two of their past three games against Barcelona in the Champions League (lost one).
No team has progressed from a European Cup or Champions League knockout tie over two legs after losing the first leg at home by a margin of three goals.
This will be the first Champions League meeting between PSG and Barcelona at the Parc des Princes since February 2017, when the home side won 4-0 – PSG’s biggest margin of victory in a home knockout game in the Champions League and Barcelona’s joint-heaviest defeat in an away knockout match (also 4-0 v Liverpool in May 2019 and v Bayern in April 2013).
Barcelona have won one of their past nine away games in the knockout stages of the Champions League (drew three, lost five), beating Manchester United 1-0 in April 2019.
PSG have scored at least once in each of their last 22 Champions League games at the Parc des Princes (61 goals). The last team to keep a clean sheet away at PSG in the competition was Real Madrid (0-0 in October 2015).
Barcelona are yet to concede a goal away from home in the Champions League this season (three games).
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Olivier Giroud’s spectacular overhead kick gave Chelsea an outstanding victory against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg in Bucharest.
Giroud’s superb moment of improvisation not only delivered the win and a vital away goal but also continued new manager Thomas Tuchel’s unbeaten start at Chelsea and put them in pole position to reach the quarter-finals.
In a tie played in Romania instead of Spain because of Covid-19 restrictions, Giroud demonstrated athleticism and technique to send an acrobatic effort beyond Atletico keeper Jan Oblak in the 68th minute. The goal was originally ruled out for offside before a video assistant referee review revealed the ball had bounced off Atletico defender Mario Hermoso.
It was reward for Chelsea’s more progressive style in the face of the usual attritional approach from Diego Simeone’s Atletico. They rarely troubled Tuchel’s side who comfortably kept the in-form but increasingly frustrated Luis Suarez at bay.
Chelsea have now gone eight matches unbeaten since Tuchel succeeded Frank Lampard while Giroud is emerging as their Champions League talisman after scoring all four goals in the group-phase victory against Sevilla and a last-minute winner away to Rennes.
Tuchel was quick to praise the impact of 34-year-old World Cup winner Giroud and said: “If you see him on a daily basis, you cannot be surprised. He is totally fit, his body is in shape and his physicality is on top level.
“He trains like a 20-year-old, like a 24-year-old. He is a guy who has a good mixture of serious and joy in training. He is always positive and it is a big factor for the group.”
Tuchel’s biggest statement yet
Tuchel’s Chelsea have been efficient rather than spectacular since the German coach was appointed following Lampard’s departure in January – but there will be no complaints after the most impressive result of his brief time in charge.
Chelsea were regarded as underdogs in this last-16 tie against the La Liga leaders but apart from a couple of early scares – keeper Edouard Mendy miscontrolled early in the game before Suarez flashed the ball across the face of goal – they were in charge.
They showed more ambition than a strangely lethargic and even more cautious than usual Atletico.
It will increase Chelsea’s confidence that they have appointed a coach who is comfortable operating at the highest levels after reaching the Champions League final with Paris St-Germain last season and impressing at Borussia Dortmund.
And once again Giroud proved what an intelligent and talented player he is with a piece of ingenuity that settled a tight game to give Chelsea high hopes going into the second leg.
Giroud has proved time and again he is invaluable to Chelsea’s cause, demonstrating what a bargain buy he was at £18m from Arsenal in January 2018.
It was also a good night for young England forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, who performed creditably after the debate surrounding his substitution after coming on as a substitute in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton.
Hudson-Odoi was replaced again after 79 minutes in Bucharest but this was after a performance full of energy and hard work that will have delighted taskmaster Tuchel on a highly satisfying night for Chelsea.
Atletico still pose a threat – but this was poor
This was a dismal showing from an Atletico Madrid side who have been excellent domestically in heading Real Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona.
Atletico adopted a more conservative approach than Chelsea despite this being their ‘home’ leg, albeit on neutral territory, and the old streetfighter Suarez was reduced to familiar moments of gamesmanship in a bid to unsettle his opponents. It was all to no avail as the Premier League side held firm.
It was a game that pointed to Chelsea building the platform for progress in the second leg but Atletico’s resilience, ability to fight the odds and love of being the underdog still makes them a threat.
Simeone will need to inspire a big performance from his players in the second leg but they can never be written off, as Liverpool – rampant in the Premier League at the time – painfully discovered when they were eliminated by Atletico over two legs at this stage last season, completed by a 3-2 win at Anfield after coming from 2-0 down.
Chelsea achieved a superb result and their destiny is now in their own hands but Tuchel will not, and cannot, allow for any complacency against an Atletico team who may just revel in the task facing them in the second leg.
Another Champions League goal for Giroud – the stats
Thomas Tuchel became the third Chelsea manager to win his first Champions League game in charge when the game took place in the knockout stage after Roberto Di Matteo and Guus Hiddink.
Atletico Madrid failed to have a shot on target against Chelsea – the first time they had failed to register a shot on target in a Champions League game since March 2019 v Juventus.
Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud has scored six Champions League goals this season, his best return in a single campaign in the competition.
Giroud (34 years and 146 days) became the oldest player to score a Champions League knockout goal for Chelsea.
Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Champions League this season (five).
Mason Mount’s yellow card after 55 seconds was the quickest card shown in the Champions League this season.
Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea and PSG) became only the second manager in the history of the Champions League to manage two different clubs in the competition within a single season after Ronald Koeman in 2007-08 (PSV and Valencia).
‘A big reward’ – what they said
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel told BT Sport: “Fantastic result, fantastic goal. Well deserved.
“We wanted to dominate in the opponents’ half, to never lose concentration, not to do any easy mistakes and always be aware of quick counter-attacks for all their quality.
“It was a very disciplined performance – a deserved shut-out. This is the hard work, a team effort – the basis for a big win.
“We knew they were ready to suffer with eight people in the box. The intention was to keep the intensity high. This is what we did very good. We never let them breathe or come out for counter-attacks. We have a big reward with this result.
“This is one of the toughest challenges to open a defence like Atletico.”
Player of the match
Squad number13Player nameOblak
Squad number15Player nameSavic
Squad number7Player nameJoão Félix
Squad number18Player nameFelipe
Squad number6Player nameKoke
Squad number8Player nameSaúl
Squad number14Player nameMarcos Llorente
Squad number10Player nameCorrea
Squad number11Player nameLemar
Squad number22Player nameHermoso
Squad number9Player nameSuárez
Squad number19Player nameDembele
Squad number20Player nameVitolo
Squad number12Player nameRenan Lodi
Squad number5Player nameTorreira
Squad number18Player nameGiroud
Squad number19Player nameMount
Squad number7Player nameKanté
Squad number28Player nameAzpilicueta
Squad number11Player nameWerner
Squad number20Player nameHudson-Odoi
Squad number4Player nameChristensen
Squad number3Player nameAlonso
Squad number17Player nameKovacic
Squad number2Player nameRüdiger
Squad number5Player nameJorginho
Squad number24Player nameJames
Squad number10Player namePulisic
Squad number16Player nameMendy
Squad number22Player nameZiyech
Squad number29Player nameHavertz
22HermosoSubstituted forMachín Pérezat 84′minutes
14LlorenteBooked at 63mins
8SaúlSubstituted forTorreiraat 82′minutes
11LemarBooked at 90mins
10CorreaSubstituted forDembeleat 82′minutes
7SequeiraSubstituted forLodi dos Santosat 82′minutes
12Lodi dos Santos
20Hudson-OdoiSubstituted forJamesat 80′minutes
5JorginhoBooked at 64mins
17KovacicSubstituted forZiyechat 74′minutes
19MountBooked at 1minsSubstituted forKantéat 74′minutes
11WernerSubstituted forPulisicat 87′minutes
18GiroudSubstituted forHavertzat 87′minutes
Match ends, Atlético de Madrid 0, Chelsea 1.
Second Half ends, Atlético de Madrid 0, Chelsea 1.
Reece James (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Vitolo (Atlético de Madrid).
Foul by Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea).
Lucas Torreira (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Thomas Lemar (Atlético de Madrid) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Thomas Lemar (Atlético de Madrid).
Foul by Kai Havertz (Chelsea).
Koke (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Andreas Christensen (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Luis Suárez (Atlético de Madrid).
Foul by Kai Havertz (Chelsea).
Renan Lodi (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Chelsea. Christian Pulisic replaces Timo Werner.
Substitution, Chelsea. Kai Havertz replaces Olivier Giroud.
Foul by Reece James (Chelsea).
Renan Lodi (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).
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LIVERPOOL, England — It is every week, now, that Liverpool seems to lose another little piece of itself. An unbeaten home record that stretched back more than three years disappeared in January, spirited away by Burnley. The sense of Anfield as a fortress collapsed soon after, stormed in short order by Brighton and then by Manchester City.
The golden afterglow of the long-awaited Premier League crown that arrived last summer has been dimming for some time, but it darkened for good last week, with Jürgen Klopp conceding the Premier League title while still in the bitter grip of winter.
And then, as fireworks boomed and car horns blared across Merseyside on Saturday evening, came what may be the most hurtful shift of all. Everton had not tasted victory at Anfield this century. It had not won a derby at all in more than a decade. For Liverpool, the impotence of its neighbor and rival had been a source of such unbridled glee that it had long since been fused into part of its self-identity.
But now, all of that, too, has gone. Richarlison put Everton ahead after just three minutes. Carlo Ancelotti’s team held Liverpool at arm’s length with a degree of comfort, ruffled only in flurries, for the rest of the evening.
The only hint that the Everton players knew they were close to making — or, perhaps, ending — history came in their celebrations when Gylfi Sigurdsson settled the game from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play, completing the 2-0 score line. The reactions were raucous and definitive, the sound of a curse being lifted. On the touchline, Duncan Ferguson, part of the fabric of Everton for almost all of that 20-year spell, first as a player and now as a coach, bounced and roared.
Of course, Ancelotti and his players deserve praise and admiration for the precision and the poise of their performance, but the approach that brought them victory relies on a confluence of factors. First, of course, is that your team must be focused and disciplined and organized: not far from perfect, in fact.
Second, you must be, if not lucky, then at least not unlucky: even the most finely laid plan can be undone by an unfortunate bounce of the ball, an arbitrary deflection, a moment of wonder.
And third, you need your opponent to be found wanting. A team full of confidence and energy and ideas will, most often, pick a way through even the most masterful defense. Liverpool lacked all of those things utterly and absolutely.
It is not desperately hard to work out why Liverpool has toiled so much this season. Klopp, certainly, does not believe there is any great mystery here. Liverpool has lost not only Virgil Van Dijk, but Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to injury, tearing the base out of its defense, of its team. Klopp has had little choice but to dismantle his midfield to patch up his defense.
But that is just the start. At times, it has seemed as if everything that could have gone wrong for Liverpool this season has gone wrong. It is easier to list the players who have not spent at least a few weeks in the treatment room: Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané.
Fabinho, the first midfielder drafted into defense, is currently absent with his own injury. Jordan Henderson, the second, limped off in the first half Saturday with a groin injury. Alisson Becker, widely regarded as the one of the world’s best goalkeepers and the one reassuring presence in Liverpool’s make-do-and-mend back-line, made three glaring errors in the defeats to Manchester City and Leicester.
If the root of the problem does not require forensic investigation, though, the response to it might. Klopp has, at times, appeared noticeably more irascible than usual this season, clashing with television reporters, snapping at journalists in news conferences, exchanging cross words with opposing managers.
When it emerged earlier this month that he had endured a personal tragedy — the death of his mother — it seemed as if that offered an explanation for the change in mood. Klopp, though, is adamant that he is able to compartmentalize his emotions; those who work with him say there has been no real change. Klopp has always been prickly. What has changed is the perception. Terseness from a position of strength is a flexing of the muscles. From a position of weakness, it looks a lot like a tantrum.
Indeed, it is striking that, even as what started as a dip has become a slump and now, on the back four consecutive home defeats — the club’s worst run since 1923 — has the look of a spiral, Liverpool has not sought change of any sort.
That is true of the club as a whole — its failure to have a central defensive reinforcement ready to go on January 1 was the act of a club operating in the old world, not the new — and it is especially true of Klopp. The style has stayed the same. The system has stayed the same. “The only way I know is to try it again, and again, and again,” he said Friday.
It was a telling statement. Klopp is the archetype of what might be called a system coach: He has a way of playing that is baked into his soul. His counterpart at Everton, Ancelotti, is the opposite: a manager who once coached Andrea Pirlo but who is perfectly content, in a different time, to instruct Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey to punt the ball long and hopeful, over and over again, hoping to catch the right current in the wind.
Such pragmatism is anathema to Klopp. Changing his style, so integral to his identity, would mean changing himself. That is the trait that has brought him such success, of course; it is possible, though, that it might also be what limits it in certain circumstances, that his loyalty to the system is damaging when external factors mean the system itself can no longer work.
Klopp has experienced a run like this — a period when it feels as though nothing goes right — once before, in his last year at Borussia Dortmund. Then, too, his squad was ravaged by injuries. He had, in the previous seasons, dealt with the departure of a raft of key players, too. He refused to compromise his beliefs. Dortmund finished seventh, and he stepped down.
The echoes of that year grow stronger with every passing week at Liverpool, with every new and unwanted record that falls. Liverpool keeps doing the same things, expecting different results, a team banging its head against a brick wall. It keeps losing all those little pieces of itself, lost in the shadow of an identity that cannot countenance change.
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The threat was clear: Pinned to the door of a medical clinic in the small town of Fronton in south-west France in late January, the page said health professionals who discuss COVID-19 on television were turning the country into a giant drug dispensary, and that “silencing them is a matter of public health.” Underscoring the message at the bottom was a chilling drawing: Two nooses.
To the clinic physician Dr. Jerôme Marty, this was just one more nerve-racking moment during months of harassment leveled against him for supporting lockdowns, masking—and now vaccines. “People call me and say: ‘We are coming to your house, and we are going to skin you alive,’” says Marty, who as president of the country’sNational Union of Independent Doctors has become a regular guest on French television. He says the threats have grown increasingly personal against himself and many other doctors who share similar views. “They post pictures of my home online,” he says.
In the race to vaccinate its populations, the European Union has fallen behind both the United States and the neighboring United Kingdom. As of Feb.14, the E.U. had administered 4.9 doses per 100 residents, vs 16 doses in the U.S. and 23.7 in the U.K. Blame for what has gone wrong can be assigned to any number of individuals and organizations, but one clearcut failure was the E.U.regulator’s sluggish effort to approve and purchase vaccines for its 27 nations.
There is one major factor that helps explain the snail’s pace of France’s vaccine program: Widespread distrust, and even hostility, among millions of French towards vaccines in general, but specifically towards the new generation of shots currently being rolled out. In an October poll of 18,000 people across the world,France was the most reluctant out of 15 countries to get a hypothetical COVID-19 vaccine, with only 54% of French willing to be immunized, were a shot to be approved. Anti-vaccine sentiment has eased worldwide as the drugs have been rolled out—but only slightly in France. In a Kantar Public poll this month, over one-third (37%) of French said they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, compared with 26% in the U.S., 23% in Germany and just 14% in the U.K. The strongest anti-vaccine feeling in France was among those in their 20s.
Among the French skeptics, a core of hardline anti-vaxxers has now seized on the pandemic as its line in the sand. In numerous interviews with TIME over the past week, doctors, scientists, and pro-vaccine activists describe months of relentless trolling and verbal abuse. No health professional has been physically attacked, yet. But the rise in extremist views is unmistakable. “We have seen for the past year the growth of a movement of people who are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, they see it as a conspiracy,” says Marty, the doctor in Fronton in south-west France. “They have begun to threaten doctors.”
The militant anti-vaccine movement
Back in 2017, long before “coronavirus” became a household term, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government was considering increasing the number of immunizations children required in order to attend school, sparking outrage from many parents. A number of concerned citizens set up a Facebook group,Les Vaxxeuses, in order to rebut their often erroneous or misleading claims. When the mandatory vaccines increased from three to 11 vaccines in 2018, Les Vaxxeuses began countering anti-vaccine arguments on social media, and in the comments sections of news sites, using scientific data.
During the pandemic, Lex Vaxxeuses has intensified its work and gained a new public profile—it now has over 25,000 followers, and its savvy pro-vaccine memes are widely shared. That work has opened a flood of verbal assaults against them, which has grown more vicious in recent months, as the COVID-19 vaccines have begun to roll out. In an interview on an encrypted call, three of the group’s moderators said they had decided to remain anonymous when they launched in 2017, fearing verbal, and maybe physical, attacks. But this was worse than anything they anticipated; among text and Facebook messages seen by TIME are several threatening Les Vaxxeuses members with long-range rifle shots, others suggesting sexual assault, and one saying the group’s members deserve maximum-security prison for endangering people’s lives.
On the group’s encrypted call with TIME, a middle-school teacher who asks to be identified only as Anna says she has isolated herself from colleagues, and doesn’t dare to express her pro-vaccine views at work. “Some of the other teachers are anti-vaxxers, and every time someone says anything about vaccines, they are very aggressive,” she says. “They say it is crap, that it is to kill us. Every time we meet in the restroom, they look at me very, very angrily.” When I ask Anna how fellow teachers might respond to her involvement in Les Vaxxeuses, she says, “I do not want to imagine what would happen.”
She says her teenage students seem to have absorbed their teachers’ anti-vaccine views. The youth voice a range of fears and suspicions, including that the COVID-19 vaccines are simply a money-making scheme by the pharmaceutical industry or “Big Pharma,” a phrase widely used (in English) in France. “Kids are frightened,” Anna says. “They ask if it is true that we will have microchips in our vaccines. It is a nightmare.”
Anti-vaccine sentiment was high in France before COVID-19, in part the legacy of major French health scandals, including donor blood found to have been contaminated with the AIDS virus in the 1990s; a furor, also in the 1990s, over a supposed link between Hepatitis B vaccines and autism, which has been disproven; and millions of euros spent needlessly on H1N1 flu vaccines in the late 2000s.
Trust in Macron’s government was also eroded after it made some serious missteps when the COVID-19 pandemic hit (though they were hardly alone). The government first told the French public thatfacial masks were useless; in fact, a previous administration had destroyedthe national stockpile of a billion masks. It also said only those with symptoms needed tests; in reality, the government wanted to limit the number of people seeking tests because testing labswere drastically short of supplies. Coronavirus survivors havesued the government for bungling the crisis, with charges that could land Prime Minister Jean Castex up to two years in jail if the case goes to trial and he is convicted.
Now that vaccines are here, many French doubt their government’s word can be trusted. “There is a really, really strong link between skepticism of the vaccine, and distrust of political institutions,” says Antoine Bristielle, a researcher with the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in Paris, who has conducted several polls on vaccine views. “We have a very, very high level of political distrust,” he says.
So when the government began rolling the vaccines out, it did so tentatively. Only one French politician—Health Minister Olivier Véran—has been vaccinated live on television, unlike the dozens of senior political figures who have done so in the U.S. For weeks, the French government allowed only doctors—and not nurses or pharmacists, for example—to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The first recipients were senior citizens in nursing homes, who were given a five-day reflection period to confirm their choice. “A lot of people are fiercely against vaccines,” says Françoise Salvadori, an immunology researcher at France’s University of Burgundy, and author of a book on vaccine skepticism. “It explains the government’s very prudent plan. The health minister is walking on eggshells.”
But that caution seems to have backfired, as millions of French now wonder why other countries’ vaccine programs are working so much better than theirs. “Macron overestimated the anti-vaxx trend in France,” says Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris. “The government was really afraid of promoting the COVID vaccine, in case there were problems, and they would be held responsible.”
Down with Big Pharma
Far-right leaders like Florian Philippot, head of Les Patriotes party, which wants France to leave the E.U., have fueled the rising anti-vaccine feeling, through weekend demonstrations outside the Health Ministry; 11 rallies are planned across France on Feb. 20. On stage, and on television, Philippot denounces Macron’s “coronafolie,” or corona madness, and rails against lockdowns and possible vaccination passports. His message appears to have caught on, as those supporting widespread COVID-19 vaccines are cast as a tool of Big Pharma—a familiar villain in a country with long distrust of large multinationals, among both left-wing and right-wing French.
And while only a minority of vaccine skeptics are hardline anti-vaxxers, that minority’s actions can be terrifying. Lacombe learned that first-handlast year. Last April, she said publicly that COVID-19 could not be cured by hydroxychloroquine—a therapy touted by infectious-disease specialist Didier Raoult in Marseille, andendorsed by U.S. President Donald Trump. Lacombe went on television to debunk the claims. “I said on TV that I was amazed by the gullibility,” she says.
The reaction against Lacombe was immediate—and vicious. “There was a video on the Internet with a gun to my head,” she says. Hundreds of calls jammed the switchboard at the hospital where she works, many hinting at physical violence against her, and accusing her of working for Big Pharma. She shut down her Twitter account after thousands of menacing tweets jammed her account. Fearing the threats of violence, she fled her apartment. “I felt sure someone was waiting for me in my house, so I stayed with friends,” Lacombe says. “It was really, really difficult.”
Months later, Lacombe sees a direct connection between the current fury against pro-vaccine doctors like herself, and the furor last spring over hydroxychloroquine. Raoult’s supporters and their message appear to mesh closely with that of the anti-vaxxers, she says. “People are very against the pharmaceutical companies.”
That antipathy greatly complicates mass immunization, given that of the three authorized vaccines in the E.U, two are manufactured by American pharma giants Pfizer and Moderna—and overseen by a government that many far-right and far-left French have portrayed as being intertwined with big business. Deepening that suspicion in the minds of some,Macron hired the U.S. consultancy McKinsey last month to help it speed up France’s vaccine program.
Despite the harassment, the vaccine defenders refused to be cowed into silence. Les Vaxxeurs say that as the anti-vaccine talk has grown increasingly aggressive, they too have become more vocally active, trusting that their anonymity protects them from physical harm. “We like to think that these are only words, and that they will stay words,” one member told TIME on the encrypted call.
Lacombe, for her part, is still deeply shaken at the campaign against her last year, but continues to speak frequently in favor of accelerating vaccines, and was awarded with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civil honor, last month. “It is very, very important that we do not shut up when we are harassed,” she says. “What we are saying about the vaccines is true, with science.”
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Two fresh faces have been added to the 2021 All-Australian selection panel.
Jude Bolton and Nick Riewoldt have accepted invitations to join the panel, while Luke Darcy has resigned to focus on his director role at the Western Bulldogs.
Bolton is a 325-game champion at the Sydney Swans, winning two premierships in 2005 and 2012.
Riewoldt, a five-time All-Australian, is St Kilda’s longest serving captain, booting 718 goals in 336 games.
Dual Adelaide premiership player Courtney Cramey and former Geelong captain Melissa Hickey were also added to the AFLW All-Australian selection committee.
AFL GM of Football Operations Steve Hocking said: “We look forward to Courtney, Jude, Melissa and Nick’s unique insights and perspectives on the game as members of the AFL and AFLW All Australian selection panels, respectively.
“Each player has enjoyed a decorated career in their own right and their success as players has them well-placed as selectors of men’s and women’s All Australian teams for years to come.
“On behalf of the AFL, I would also like to acknowledge and thank Luke for his contribution as a selector over a period of 10 years.”
AFLW All Australian Selection Panel
Nicole Livingstone (chair), Sarah Black, Courtney Cramey, Tim Harrington, Melissa Hickey, Steve Hocking, Sharelle McMahon, Kelli Underwood, Josh Vanderloo, Shelley Ware.
AFL All Australian Selection Panel
Gillon McLachlan (chair), Kevin Bartlett, Jude Bolton, Steve Hocking, Glen Jakovich, Chris Johnson, Cameron Ling, Matthew Richardson, Nick Riewoldt, Warren Tredrea.
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Bryson DeChambeau is continuing to blow people’s minds with his hulking figure seeing another monster drive.
The US Open champ was playing at the US PGA Tour Tournament of Champions and landed on the green of the 431-yard 12th from the tee, another huge drive that continues to show off his impressive physique.
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DeChambeau spent about a year piling on 9kg of muscle in order to be better on the golf course.
“I’ve upped about 20 pounds (9kg),” DeChambeau said last June after unleashing his new rig. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to hit it farther, but I’ve done a lot of speed training to attain these new ball speeds.
“When I was out here I was attaining ball speeds of 193 (miles per hour, or 310km/h), 195 on certain holes, and quite honestly I can’t use it out here. There’s only a couple holes I can use it, No. 11 and No. 1 and No. 2 really.”
But DeChambeau was hitting it further, becoming the longest driver on the PGA Tour in 2020 with an average driving distance of 337.8 yards and had the seventh longest drive of the year.
This 414 yard monster would have been the third longest drive of 2020 — and it’s just a week into the year.
The drive was so big it snuck up on the group in front as they were lining up their putts.
While the monster wasn’t able to be turned into an eagle after he missed the putt, it once again got the golf world talking.
DeChambeau started the day four off the pace after a first-round 4-under 69, and stayed there after day two following a 6-under 67, in a tie for 10th.
But don’t expect the long bombs to stop any time soon with DeChambeau putting the work in to get the tee shot as long as possible.
“I spent my off-season swinging my butt off as hard as I can. There were times where everything hurt in my body and it was breaking down my whole nervous system and rebuilding it back up,” DeChambeau told PGATour.com.
“There were numerous times where I was seeing a tunnel and I had to stop. I did not blackout, but I came very close, just like (long drive champion Kyle Berkshire) did.”
Harris English currently leads the tournament by two strokes at -14
The 31-year-old American made six birdies in a bogey-free round to stand on 14-under 132 after 36 holes on the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Hawaii.
“I feel good about my game right now,” English said. “I felt like I played really solid. Just didn’t hole as many putts as I did in the first round. I drove the ball really well and hit a lot of greens in regulation.
“If I keep shooting six-under it’s going to be a good score at the end of the week.”
Americans Justin Thomas, Ryan Palmer, Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger shared second on 134 with South Korean Im Sung-jae and Americans Brendon Todd, Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele on 135.
— with AFP
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