Crowds to return to Melbourne stadiums at 50 per cent capacity when AFL season kicks off



Crowds will be able to return to the MCG and Marvel Stadium for AFL matches in Melbourne this season at a 50 per cent capacity.

The crowd capacity is the largest allowance at a sporting event in Victoria since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit last year.

Melbourne, Australia

The MCG will be able to host up to 50,000 patrons in round one of the AFL Premiership Season from March 4, where Richmond will host Carlton in the traditional blockbuster at 7:25pm AEDT.


Marvel Stadium will be able to host up to 28,961 patrons.
AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said the announcement was great news for clubs and fans.
“Footy fans in Victoria have been excited about getting back to matches and we have seen that with great numbers across the opening rounds of the AFLW season,” he said.
“We haven’t had footy crowds this big in Victoria since the match to support Bushfire Relief in February last year, so today’s announcement provides a big boost for our players and fans in the leadup to the season.

“Our team has been working extensively behind the scenes planning for multiple scenarios and all our venues will be ready to welcome fans back into the stands come next month.”

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Australian Open kicks off with what critics dub the ‘worst national anthem ever’


Australian Open kicks off with the ‘worst national anthem ever’ by singer Gordi who FORGOT the new lyrics – just moments after a bizarre Canadian musical performance

  • Singer songwriter Gordi performed national anthem at Australian Open final
  • But she sang the outdated lyrics of ‘young and free’ and copped a backlash
  • Twitter users slammed her Sunday night performance as having lacked passion
  • The tournament was the first time Gordi has performed at a major event 

The Australian Open men’s singles final has started with what critics have slammed as the ‘worst national anthem ever’.

Australian singer-songwriter Gordi took to Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park before the blockbuster clash between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev on Sunday night to perform Advance Australia Fair.

But the backlash quickly followed on Twitter over Gordi’s performance, which included her singing the outdated lyrics of ‘young and free’.   

‘The worst Australian anthem ever. Where’s the passion?,’ one person said.

Singer Gordi performs the national anthem prior to the Men’s Singles Final match between Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Daniil Medvedev of Russia

Another quipped: ‘Are there no singers in Australia? Why such ridiculous and disappointing delivery of the Australian anthem at a big event such as the #AustralianOpen’. 

The Australian Open was the first time Gordi has performed at a major event. She also performed the national anthem ahead of the women’s singles final on Saturday.  

‘Last time I sang the national anthem in front of a crowd it was to perhaps 30 people in Canowindra’s Morris Park when I was 11. In a small step up I will be performing the anthem at the women’s and men’s Australian Open final this weekend. Hazaar,’ Gordi earlier posted on social media. 

The lyrics of Advance Australia Fair were recently amended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, changing from ‘for we are young and free’ to ‘for we are one and free’.  

The national anthem followed on from a performance of ‘Welcome to the Rock’ from the cast of the musical Come From Away.  

‘Welcome to the weirdest closing ceremony/show ever,’ one person posted on Twitter. 

Another said: ‘I’m all for supporting the arts, but the Come From Away performance was bloody jarring ahead of the Australian Open’. 

The men’s singles final caps off a tumultuous few weeks for the Australian Open, which was beset by players being forced into strict quarantine after confirmed cases of coronavirus from players and officials linked to the tournament.

The first grand slam of the year was also forced to carry on at one stage without crowds after Victoria was plunged into a snap five-day lockdown.  

More to come.  

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Caitlin Greiser kicks three goals as St Kilda defeat Geelong by 29-points in the AFLW



Geelong remain without a win to start the AFLW season as they fell by 29-points to St Kilda.

The Saints were tested early at Moorabbin Oval, but ran away with the contest in the third term to win 7.9 (51) to 3.4 (22) on Friday night.

The Cats controlled parts of the first half in general play but could not put that dominance on the scoreboard as they wasted multiple opportunities.

St Kilda pulled away to a 37-point lead, before late goals to Georgie Rankin and Phoebe McWilliams ensured Geelong finished with their highest score of the season.

Forward Caitlin Greiser was a constant danger for Geelong’s defence as the All-Australian booted three goals to double her season tally.

Saints speedster Kate McCarthy looked to be done for the game when she was on the end of a heavy tackle in the first quarter and assisted from the field.

But the former Brisbane Lions ace returned to the ground and kicked an inspiring goal late in the game.

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Tall forward Kate Shierlaw’s contender for goal-of-the-year, when she snapped a shot from the pocket on the run, had the parochial Saints crowd roaring late in the third quarter.

Rosie Dillon and Tilly Lucas-Rodd were prolific for St Kilda, while Geelong were best served by McWilliams, Amy McDonald and captain Meghan McDonald.

The Saints move to 2-2 after their first victory since round one, while the Cats languish on the bottom of the ladder as one of four winless teams.

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Officials prepared for anything as season kicks off


Although the season is starting a little later than normal, the 15-man game will revel in the free air before the NRL season kicks off, but it is imperative the quality of matches is of a high enough standard to convince all sports fans that the game they play in heaven is a product worth watching.

Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby franchises will be hoping the new broadcast deal with Nine – the owner of this masthead – and Stan Sport can create a fresh feeling around the code.

Tate McDermott passes a ball in the Reds’ win over the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium last year. Credit:Getty

“There’s tons of excitement as this is a reset for the game in every way,” Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said. “We’re better prepared this year compared to last year and there’s more positivity around the game than I’ve ever seen.”

Seldom do rugby league State of Origin matches fail to live up to the hype, so there is plenty riding on Friday’s opener at Suncorp Stadium between the Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs. If it’s a flop, rugby can expect to lose casual viewers with one eye on the TV.

Last year’s fixture was a spicy affair, with NSW back-rower Lachie Swinton the chief instigator. He is suspended for Friday’s clash, but expect his NSW teammates to be fired up against a far more experienced Reds outfit.

While the Brumbies and Reds are the favourites to take out the title, the Western Force have built an excellent roster, on their day the Melbourne Rebels’ stars can deliver and the Waratahs are the the sleeping giant of the competition with the pressure right on them.

A wave of new Wallabies emerged in 2020 in the post-Michael Cheika era and how they handle their second years will be intriguing.

With no Michael Hooper this season, Reds back-rower Fraser McReight has clear air to show he can be Australia’s premier on-baller.

Then there’s new Force recruit Tevita Kuridrani, who will be up against his old team the Brumbies in the opening round, while Tom Robertson might have an interesting battle with a few old Waratahs teammates following his comments about NSW having serious off-field issues to contend with.

With Rob Kearney, Jake McIntyre, Tim Anstee and Tomas Cubelli on the books, the Force are certain to improve on their 0-8 record from last year.

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Playmakers Noah Lolesio and Will Harrison will be nipping at the heels of Wallabies James O’Connor and Matt To’omua, and pressing their claims to be included in 2023 World Cup plans.

And every hooker and second-rower in the competition will know there is a gold jersey up for grabs in July when France are likely to tour.

That is unless COVID-19 intervenes.

There are rule changes, league convert Suliasi Vunivalu, under-pressure Waratahs coach Rob Penney, red cards, styles of play, the influence of the TMO … the list storylines goes on.

The season can’t come fast enough.

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Judges seek recusal as major Italian mafia trial kicks off



Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri stands outside during a pause in a trial against more than 320 suspected ‘Ndrangheta mafia mobsters and their associates, accused of an array of charges, in Lamezia Terme, Italy, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

January 13, 2021

By Yara Nardi and Gabriele Pileri

LAMEZIA TERME, Italy (Reuters) – One of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials kicked off on Wednesday with more than 330 suspected mobsters and their associates facing an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking and theft.

The case targets the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and is considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful mafia group in the country, easily eclipsing the more famous Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily.

The trial is being held in a converted call-centre in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, with metal cages installed for the defendants and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors and spectators expected to attend.

But the initial hearing hit an immediate snag after the three judges assigned to the case asked to be recused, saying they had been involved in earlier aspects of the investigation.

Their request will be reviewed by a separate court, which will delay proceedings for several days, lawyers said.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers, including lawyers, accountants, business people, local politicians and policemen, who chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri says willingly aided the ‘Ndrangheta in building its crime empire.

Speaking to reporters as he entered the courthouse, Gratteri said the investigation had encouraged locals to speak out.

“In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the ‘Ndrangheta,” said the prosecutor, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob.

The state will call on 913 witnesses and draw on 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges. Gratteri said he expected the trial would take a year to complete, with the court due to sit six days a week.

Another 92 suspects have opted for a fast-track trial in the same case, with their hearings due to start later in January, while a much smaller group of defendants will stand trial in February over five murders – including the killing of a mafia hitman who was shot dead because he was gay, prosecutors say.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case that represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

That trial had a huge impact because it targeted numerous mob families. The Calabrian trial focuses primarily on just one group – the Mancuso clan from the province of Vibo Valentia – leaving much of the ‘Ndrangheta’s top hierarchy untouched.

“The road ahead is still very long, but we mustn’t give up because there are thousands of people who believe in us. We can’t let them down,” Gratteri told Reuters.

(Reporting and writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mike Collett-White)



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India kicks off massive Covid-19 vaccination drive on Saturday, Jan. 16


Bangalore Airport workers transfer carton boxes containing vials of Covishield vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India in Bangalore, India, Jan. 12, 2021.

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SINGAPORE — India is gearing up for one of the largest mass vaccination exercises in the world starting Saturday.

The South Asian country plans to inoculate some 300 million people, or more than 20% of its 1.3 billion population, against Covid-19 in the first phase of the exercise.

Indian airlines have started delivering the first doses of vaccines to Delhi and other major cities, including Kolkata, Ahmedabad and tech hub Bengaluru, tweeted Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri earlier this week.

Priority for the shots will be given to health-care and other frontline workers — an estimated 30 million people. That would be followed by those above 50 years of age and other younger, high-risk individuals.

The rollout will involve close collaboration between the central government and states.

India has also developed a digital portal called Co-WIN Vaccine Delivery Management System. It will provide real-time information on “vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individualized tracking of beneficiaries,” according to the health ministry.

India has a long history of immunization campaigns … and will rely on this expertise to distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“India’s expertise in vaccine manufacturing and experience with mass immunization campaigns has prepared it well for ‘phase 1’ vaccinations set to begin this weekend,” Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a report this week.

“India has a long history of immunization campaigns, including its Universal Immunization Program that inoculates 55 million a year, and will rely on this expertise to distribute coronavirus vaccines,” he added.

Emergency approval

India’s drug regulator has approved the restricted use of two coronavirus vaccines in emergency situations, both of which are being delivered to the various inoculation centers ahead of Saturday.

One of them is a vaccine developed by British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which is being manufactured domestically by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and is known locally as Covishield.

Another vaccine, called Covaxin, was developed domestically by India’s Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research. It was granted emergency use authorization as clinical trials continue.

The approval of Covaxin was reportedly criticized by some as the regulator gave the green light shortly after asking Bharat Biotech for more analysis.

India’s health secretary on Tuesday said the Indian government has signed procurement agreements for 11 million doses of Covishield at 200 Indian rupees ($2.74) per dose and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin at an average cost of 206 rupees per shot, which is likely to be cheaper than what they will cost in the private market.

Several other candidates, including a second domestically developed vaccine by Zydus Cadila, are undergoing clinical trials.

Potential risks

India currently has more than 10.5 million reported coronavirus cases, second only to the United States. More than 151,000 people have died from Covid-19 in India, according to Johns Hopkins University data. But daily reported figures show the number of active infection cases are declining.

South Asia’s largest country is also the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer and is said to produce about 60% of all vaccines sold globally.

As such, India’s production of Covid vaccines is expected to play a major role in global immunization drives against the disease.

Eurasia Group’s Bery said that despite the government’s optimism, two important risks may potentially slow the rollout of the vaccination campaign.

“First, vaccine production capacity will be limited even in best-case scenarios,” he said, adding that if the local vaccine-makers cannot produce the 600 million doses required to inoculate the initial 300 million people, then “India’s immunization timeline — and its export of vaccines to other countries — could be significantly delayed.”

The second risk is that India’s vaccine campaign will rely heavily on state governments “whose capacities and expertise vary widely,” Bery said. “Effective coordination will be needed between the central and state governments, something that has not been (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s strong point.”

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ViewQwest kicks off 2021 with acquisitions of Macro Lynx and iHalo in Malaysia


  • Malaysian coverage increased to nearly 120 residential, business & commercial sites
  • Full integration of customers and operations to be completed by end of Q1 2021

 

Singapore-based internet provider ViewQwest announced that it has acquired Macro Lynx Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned subsidiary of IGB Bhd, in its continued long-term push to expand its Malaysian footprint, in addition to acquiring the residential operations of iHalo starting with selected locations in Central Peninsula Malaysia and Johor Bahru.

 

ViewQwest kicks off 2021 with acquisitions of Macro Lynx and iHalo in MalaysiaWith the two acquisitions, ViewQwest’s coverage has increased to nearly 120 residential, business and commercial sites around the country at the end of 2020.

“With the acquisition of Macro Lynx, along with iHalo’s residential operations, ViewQwest is set to serve customers in more locales than ever, including the north of Peninsular Malaysia with our entry into Ipoh,” says ViewQwest chief executive officer, Vignesa Moorthy (pic).

“Through the economically challenging past year across the globe and the region, ViewQwest has remained steadfast in its expansion to serve more customers, especially during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) period, when many people are still practising working from home (WFH).”

He adds that ViewQwest’s robust network is designed to offer fast connectivity and a stable connection for students to access e-learning platforms from home.

On top of additional locations in the Klang Valley (including the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Jaya 33, G-Tower and Mid Valley City), ViewQwest will now be available in more locations in the south (Pasir Gudang, Johor), central (Cheras, Selangor), as well as the north (Ipoh, Perak) of the peninsula.

Full integration of the customers and operations onto the ViewQwest network is expected to be completed by the end of Q1 2021.

The new acquisitions expand the availability of ViewQwest’s premium connectivity and digital solutions to meet the challenging landscape of the changing working environment, following the widespread adoption of Work From Home (WFH) policies by many companies around Malaysia.

For  corporate customers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), ViewQwest will be making available an enhanced suite of connectivity, networking and cybersecurity services including leading-edge technologies such as Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), Cloud Connectivity & Security, Next-Generation Managed Firewalls, Perimeter Defence and Endpoint Security & Management.

 “At the same time, customers can enjoy unrivalled connectivity to entertainment content and leisure sites on the internet. We will be continuously working to integrate and upgrade our network infrastructure, our technical and business operations, our customer fulfilment and support services, and our portfolio of products and services,” Vignesa says.

Once full integration and network upgrades are completed, former Macro Lynx customers will be able to enjoy enhanced solutions for their businesses and former iHalo customers will have the full selection of ViewQwest residential plans and packages.

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Young players to take centre stage as W-League 2020-21 season kicks off


2020 has been one of the most challenging and transformative years in the long history of Australian women’s football.

Like all other areas of our lives, COVID-19 has forced the sport to reckon with its own fragile existence; to reflect upon where it has come from and to reconsider, perhaps, where it wants to go from here.

The women’s game in Australia was one of the first sports to respond to the pandemic.

From the Matildas’ hastily-rescheduled Olympic qualifiers in February to the W-League’s behind-closed-doors grand final in March, it foreshadowed the bubbles and empty grandstands and social distancing rules that have become the new normal in world sport.

But COVID-19 isn’t the only global event that has dramatically altered the women’s football landscape in Australia.

The rise of Europe on the women’s club stage has resulted in a number of senior Matildas such as Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams opting for the longer seasons, higher wages and cooler months of the European leagues.

In addition, July saw Australia and New Zealand win the rights to jointly host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, one of Australia’s most significant sporting events, of huge financial and logistical proportions, since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

This tournament presents Australia with its greatest chance at not just winning a World Cup, but to also catapult football — which many believe has yet to reach its full potential — into the Australian mainstream.

So what role will the W-League play in this new era for the women’s game, and for the Australian game more widely?

Sam Kerr is hugged by Ji So-yun.
Sam Kerr now plies her trade in England’s Women’s Super League, along with a number of her Matildas colleagues.(Twitter: Pernille Harder)

W-League to unearth ‘exceptional talent’

While the Matildas’ European exodus initially caused doubts among W-League fans about the 2020/21 season, the vacuum created by the loss of senior players has turned into a golden opportunity for the next generation of Australian footballers.

This, according to Matildas assistant coach Melissa Andreatta, is the most exciting aspect of the upcoming season.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting season, like we saw between 2009 and 2011 when a lot of those senior players — Kate McShea, Joey Peters, Cheryl Salisbury — all left the league, and the youngsters — the Sam Kerrs, Caitlin Foords, Kyah Simons — all stepped up,” she said.

“I think what happened then is what we’ll see now.

“There’ll be an exceptional talent that we’ll be talking about in generations to come, too.”

Mel Andreatta and Clare Polkinghorne stand on grass inside a stadium with yellow and red seats in the background
Mel Andreatta (left) is excited to see the younger players step up, while Clare Polkinghorne (right) is one of the few veterans returning to the league.(AAP: Albert Perez)

Senior players stress need for growth within women’s football

But this W-League season isn’t completely devoid of senior Matildas.

Brisbane Roar winger Emily Gielnik is one of several senior players who have returned to the domestic competition after spending time in Europe; many of them looking to maintain their fitness and impress incoming head coach, Tony Gustavsson, who starts his new role in January.

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“Obviously it’s devastating that we’re missing a lot of the national team players,” Gielnik said.

“But for me personally, with the standards I have and knowing the level I need to be playing at in order to keep myself in the national team, that motivates me enough to be at the top of my game for the entirety of the season.

“I want to give the league some backing here. I think that the league is strong. We’ve got some national team players in the Roar (including Tameka Yallop, Katrina Gorry and Clare Polkinghorne), so I know the level will be quite high at training and hopefully we can bring that into the games and force those high standards within the W-League and keep them high this season.

Younger players looking to make their mark

One of those emerging players is Sydney FC striker, Remy Siemsen.

After making her W-League debut as a 16-year-old, Siemsen scored six goals and went on to win the competition’s Young Footballer of the Year award.

Last season, at the age of 20, she was the joint Golden Boot winner with seven goals.

Siemsen is one of the young players looking to make her mark on the W-League this season in the absence of the big international names.

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“I’m really excited,” Siemsen told ABC Sport.

“It’ll be a really good season to show off the local, domestic talent in this country and it’ll give us an opportunity, especially leading into the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to get some exposure at the top level and try to prove ourselves.

“This will be our highlights reel; great exposure for the national team. You see the players that have come through the W-League — you see where they are today — and I think this will be the same.

“It’ll allow us to show Tony Gustavsson the talent we have and hopefully some opportunities will present themselves if some girls have good seasons here.”

The Matildas huddle in celebration in front of a roaring crowd
The Matildas have a new coach, who will have his eye on young talent in the W-League.(Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Development isn’t a dirty word

The W-League, then, finds itself in a fork in the road.

While it doesn’t have the money or the resources of Europe or the United States, Australia still occupies an important place in the global women’s football landscape.

As this year’s exodus of Matildas shows, the league has been responsible for discovering and developing some of the world’s best players — and this is where the future of the league likely lies.

Players and officials celebrate Australia and NZ winning World Cup bid
Australia’s female footballing future looks very bright.(Twitter: AsOne2023)

Indeed, ‘development’ is not a dirty word; it is the word that most accurately describes where Australia fits into the wider football ecosystem by taking all its tangled financial and cultural factors into account.

It may take some time for this new identity to emerge, but as the last decade has shown, development has always been at the heart of the W-League — that’s how some of Australia’s most-adored athletes became who they are today.

So, while it feels like the end of an era, the 2020/21 season is the beginning of the next: where the league fully embraces its developmental roots and sets up its newest stage, ready for a whole new generation of stars to walk out from the darkness of the wings, finally given their moment in the spotlight.

Samantha Lewis is a freelance women’s football writer who has been published in The Guardian, ESPN, Optus Sport and SBS — The World Game.



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Live Updates: Outside groups converge on Georgia as early voting kicks off for Senate runoff elections


Early voting for the Georgia Senate runoff elections started Monday as outside groups are converging on the state to stump for the four candidates and boost base turnout with Senate control on the line. 

One of the outside groups stepping into the runoffs is the Keep America America Action Fund super PAC, which supported President Trump in the presidential election. It is starting a bus tour on Monday through Georgia in support of incumbent Republican Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The tour will make 23 stops in six days and post 48 billboards in the state. 

FAST FACTS

    • The race between Perdue and Ossoff is one of two closely watched Georgia races on Jan. 5 that will determine the balance of power in the Senate. 
    • If both Democratic candidates win, it will split the chamber evenly

Meanwhile, NextGen America, the progressive group founded by billionaire Democratic booster and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer, is pushing a remote phone banking effort in support of Democrat challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. 

Follow below for more updates on the Georgia Senate race. Mobile users click here.



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