Ashleigh Barty, Nick Kyrgios lock in lead-up event, Brisbane set to host WTA event in February


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Brisbane is shaping as the likely location for the late-February tournament – also classified as a WTA 500 event – which will be played immediately after the Open from February 22.

In a logistical challenge for Tennis Australia, the five events running concurrently at Melbourne Park in the week before the Australian Open are the ATP Cup men’s teams event featuring 12 nations including wildcard Australia, two WTA 500 events and two ATP 250 tournaments.

The women’s events that week will be known as the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic, while the men’s events will be known as the Great Ocean Road Open and the Murray River Open.

The women’s events have star-studded fields with 49 of the world’s top 50 female players committed to compete. Each of the events will feature a 64-player draw, with the top 32-ranked players to be split across the two weeks and remaining players randomly drawn.

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Nick Kyrgios, who won’t represent Australia in the ATP Cup with singles spots going to Alex de Minaur and John Millman, will feature in the field for the Murray River Open, alongside Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov and rising Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The tournaments will begin immediately after more than 1000 tennis players and officials complete a mandatory two-week period of quarantine, with players housed at a number of Melbourne hotels. Players secured the opportunity for a daily five-hour period for training and treatment while in quarantine.

Tennis Australia was involved in intricate negotiations with the Victorian government and health authorities – along with the ATP and WTA tours – to go ahead with a delayed Australian Open. It has kept a close eye on border closures caused by coronavirus restrictions with its scheduling decisions.

Barty will make a public appearance in Brisbane on Friday to outline her playing commitments for the summer.

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GWS Giants announce plan to set up training base in Albury in lead-up to AFLW season start | The Border Mail


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Greater Western Sydney’S AFLW team will be the latest national sporting team to relocate to Albury to dodge the worsening COVID-19 situation in the NSW capital. The Giants confirmed on Wednesday their AFLW team will be heading south from Friday and using the recently redeveloped Lavington Sportsground as its base in the lead-up to the 2021 season starting in late January. The approval to use Lavington was given by Albury Council chief executive Frank Zaknich, subject to compliance with all existing or new NSW Public Health Orders, with some councillors unaware of the call until media reports surfaced mid-afternoon. Cr David Thurley expressed some reservations about the decision and was miffed at finding out about the decision after the Giants had issued a media release announcing they were coming to Albury. “Provided they meet all the relevant health protocols I am comfortable with the decision,” he said. “But given what is happening in Sydney we need to be taking all the appropriate precautions.” Cr Thurley voted against Melbourne Storm coming to Albury based on the health advice at the time. NSW new coronavirus cases jumped to 18 in the last 24 hours with the state government responding by announcing tougher than originally planned restrictions for New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city. Giants AFLW players who reside in Sydney have to test negative to COVID-19 before departing and once again when they arrive in Albury. IN OTHER NEWS Players, coaches and support staff will not be entering a quarantine bubble when in Albury and will be subject to the same rules in place for National Basketball League teams, the Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks, who are already in the border city. National Rugby League premiers Melbourne Storm was originally granted permission at a staff level to use the council-managed Greenfield Park as a training base earlier this year before councillors rolled the decision 5-4 at an extraordinary meeting. Mr Zaknich confirmed council received the initial request to come to Albury on December 27. “The visit requires strict adherence to NSW COVID-19 and AFL public health protocols, including any new requirements that may apply should circumstances change,” he said. Rugby league official Mike Eden congratulated council staff for making the call. “The executive of Albury Council allowed the Storm to use their facilities for training before being overturned by councillors,” he said. “Good on them for being consistent.” Melbourne Storm was able to stay in Melbourne when they were able to train at Albury Sportsground under conditions included in a lease deal between council and Albury Tigers Football-Netball Club. “The NSW government has done a brilliant job keeping the Northern Beaches cluster under control, but in light of the current border restrictions, we have had to make alternative plans as part of our lead in to the commencement of the 2021 AFLW season,” Giants’ official Jason McCartney said. By relocating to Albury for 14 days, the Giants team can satisfy government requirements to enter Victoria, which will then in turn satisfy meet the criteria to travel to Western Australia. The Giants play Fremantle in Western Australia on January 31.

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Matildas get World Cup dress rehearsal in lead-up to main event


The lead-up tournament will serve as a test event in Australia and New Zealand. Europe (UEFA) will get 11 direct slots in the World Cup, while Asia (AFC) gets six and Africa (CAF), like CONCACAF, gets four.

South America (CONMEBOL) gets three and Oceania (OFC) one. Australia and New Zealand’s slots are taken directly from the quotas allocated to their confederations.

The 2019 World Cup field of 24 teams featured nine teams from Europe, including host France, five from Asia, three from Africa and CONCACAF, two from South America, one from Oceania and the winner of the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL play-off. The first Women’s World Cup, held in 1991 in China, had 12 participants.

Australia and New Zealand won the hosting rights to the tournament – the biggest sporting event to be staged domestically since the 2000 Sydney Olympics – in June. The Matildas are currently ranked seventh in the world.

FFA chief James Johnson wants the side to play at least 11 matches a year leading into 2023.

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‘‘We want the Matildas to have the best possible preparation for the World Cup on home soil,’’ he told the Herald in July. ‘‘That means being active in every single FIFA window and playing top-level opposition. Ideally, most of these matches would be in Australia.

‘‘We will be able to attract high-quality opponents here because they will want to experience their next World Cup host country in advance. Obviously, we will need governments to support this and continue the ‘Team Australia’ effort that has so far delivered a great result with a winning bid.’’

In other tournament news, FIFA has canceled the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups scheduled for next year due to the pandemic. The next editions are now due to be staged in 2023.
AP



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Matildas get World Cup dress rehearsal in lead-up to main event


The lead-up tournament will serve as a test event in Australia and New Zealand. Europe (UEFA) will get 11 direct slots in the World Cup, while Asia (AFC) gets six and Africa (CAF), like CONCACAF, gets four.

South America (CONMEBOL) gets three and Oceania (OFC) one. Australia and New Zealand’s slots are taken directly from the quotas allocated to their confederations.

The 2019 World Cup field of 24 teams featured nine teams from Europe, including host France, five from Asia, three from Africa and CONCACAF, two from South America, one from Oceania and the winner of the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL play-off. The first Women’s World Cup, held in 1991 in China, had 12 participants.

Australia and New Zealand won the hosting rights to the tournament – the biggest sporting event to be staged domestically since the 2000 Sydney Olympics – in June. The Matildas are currently ranked seventh in the world.

FFA chief James Johnson wants the side to play at least 11 matches a year leading into 2023.

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‘‘We want the Matildas to have the best possible preparation for the World Cup on home soil,’’ he told the Herald in July. ‘‘That means being active in every single FIFA window and playing top-level opposition. Ideally, most of these matches would be in Australia.

‘‘We will be able to attract high-quality opponents here because they will want to experience their next World Cup host country in advance. Obviously, we will need governments to support this and continue the ‘Team Australia’ effort that has so far delivered a great result with a winning bid.’’

In other tournament news, FIFA has canceled the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups scheduled for next year due to the pandemic. The next editions are now due to be staged in 2023.
AP



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BOM warns a heatwave is on the way in lead-up to summer


It is still a few days out from the official start of summer, but the heat is set to ramp up this week and residents are being urged to heed health warnings.

Severe heatwave conditions are set to stretch across the continent — from north-west to the south-east — as heat is drawn down from the centre.

Swathes of the country face severe heatwave conditions and this will not be a one-day affair.

To hit the official criteria for a heatwave, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) requires “three days or more of high maximum and minimum temperatures that are unusual for that location” — the heat is expected to hang around all the way into next week.

Where is it getting hot and when?

The heat has been building over northern and central Australia for weeks now and, according to BOM senior forecaster Jonathan How, a cold front is set to push that heat into the south-east.

As of Wednesday, temperatures will heat up in South Australia and western Victoria and hit the high 30s.

From Thursday, the heat is expected to build and extend further over inland New South Wales.

By Friday, temperatures are expected to be 10 to 20 degrees above average for southern South Australia and western Victoria and reach the high 30s and low 40s.

Saturday is when the heat is expected to peak, bringing the first real blast of prolonged heat to the south-east — temperatures are expected to be up there with November records.

Sea breezes are likely to keep things cooler over Melbourne, but Adelaide is set to be the hottest capital, reaching 40C on Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday, the heat is set to move into coastal New South Wales, including Sydney, where the city’s west is forecast to reach the low 40s.

The heat is expected to dissipate a little by Monday, but heatwave conditions are expected to move up into northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland.

Beware the hot nights

It is not just the daytime temperatures that are cause for concern.

“The warm nights and hot days are really going to create very uncomfortable conditions,” Mr How said.

Telecross REDi is a service activated to check on clients during declared heatwaves.(Supplied: Red Cross)

Nick Banks, state manager of emergency services for the Red Cross, said South Australia’s Telecross REDi program was up and running and ready to contact people registered as being at risk on extreme heat days.

Regardless of which state you live in, during extreme heatwaves we should be checking in on each other — in a COVID-safe way, of course.

“We encourage people to think about the people in your life, in your family, in your neighbourhood, who are likely to be more impacted by extreme heat and to think about what you can do to support them,” Mr Banks said.

The most at risk include the elderly, the very young and those with other medical conditions. People partaking in strenuous outdoor activity are also at risk.

A headshot of a woman screwing up her face as it is splashed with water.
It’s the time of year when this kind of thing starts to look appealing.(Pixabay: Ryan McGuire)

It might be as simple as checking in with others on extreme heat days to ensure they are OK.

“You can have a conversation with them when hot days are coming up to make sure that they’ve got things in place to look after themselves,” Mr Banks said.

He said people should learn the signs of heat stress, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke so they could intervene early.

Symptoms include:

  • headache
  • muscle cramps
  • general exhaustion
  • weakness
  • dizzy spells

Before extreme-heat days, there are things you can do to prepare.

Around the house you can use shade cloths and fans and it’s wise to check that your air conditioner is working.

Use this period to make sure you have food, water and critical medication ready in advance — throwing a few ice blocks in the freezer is also a good idea.

On extreme-heat days, Mr Banks said the vulnerable, in particular, were advised to stay inside and out of the heat as much as possible.

“Plan outings and appointments early in the day or ask someone to help you with them,” he said.

He said other measures could include taking cold showers, splashing yourself with cold water or using a damp cloth to cool off during the day.

When is it going to end?

Unlike last weekend, this system is not expected to be associated with thunderstorms and high winds, which will lessen the fire danger to some extent, although elevated fire danger is still expected.

But without a proper clear-out of the atmosphere, the hot air will hang around.

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For the heat to dissipate, he said, what we really need would be for the monsoon to start off across northern Australia.

“That’ll bring a lot more cloud and rain into central Australia to help clear that out.”

At the moment, all eyes are on the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), a band of volatile wet conditions that circles near the equator which is expected to move across northern Australia in the first half of December.

Combined with the still-present La Niña, it is expected to bring about wet conditions early next month.

“That would certainly help to flush away some of that heat,” Mr How said.

While we wait for that cool relief, take it easy while in the sun, keep an eye on the fire warnings, and do a COVID-safe check on your elderly neighbours and relatives.



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Season-opening tennis events in Melbourne in doubt over player arrival uncertainty, putting ATP Cup, lead-up events at risk


But central to TA’s plans was the need for tennis stars to have access to practice facilities while undertaking a compulsory 14-day period of quarantine. The Andrews government and Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services is yet to sign off on the plans and continues to analyse requirements for various major events scheduled for in Melbourne during Christmas and through January.

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The Australian Open has been a key plan of the city’s major events calendar since the tournament was relocated to Melbourne Park in 1988. Premier Andrews expressed his confidence on Wednesday that the Open would go ahead.

“There was some reporting earlier in the week that this all was some sort of done deal, that there would be lead-up tournaments … and the whole thing was finalised,” he told reporters.

“I just want to make the point – this is incredibly complex, it has to be safely, it has to be done properly. So that reporting was not accurate.

“We are working very, very closely with Tennis Australia. They are working all of their partners. We’re confident that we’ll finish up with an Australian Open. It’s a very important event.

“But there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that that’s as safe as possible – not just from the broader Victorian community from a public health point of view.

“It has to be safe for those involved in the event.

“It’s a massive task. There is more work that has to be done and we’re deeply engaged with Tennis Australia and others to get that outcome.”

Tennis Australia has been pushing for players to arrive in Australia in early December, giving them plenty of time to quarantine before events begin. The Open is scheduled to begin on January 18 while the new ATP Cup men’s teams tournament – which took place in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane earlier this year – was set to begin early in the new year.

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But the ATP has indicated that those arrangements were now under review.

“In discussions with Tennis Australia over the past 24 hours, we have been informed there are some new challenges around the previously planned arrival dates for players and team members,” the ATP said in a note to players.

“We continue to work with Tennis Australia on confirming plans for January, and we will provide an update as soon as more information is available in the coming days.

“We understand there is uncertainty about the start of the 2021 season, and we are working as hard as possible to deliver the best possible calendar of events to players.”

When contacted on Wednesday, TA could not provide an immediate comment, but indicated more information would be made available later.

TA chief executive Craig Tiley has said that the costs involved in implementing strict biosecurity measures Down Under would exceed $30 million.

“It’s going to be painful. We are in investing in the event,” Tiley told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. “We have over $33m in biosecurity costs we didn’t have before. We will have a reduction in our partnership revenue.

“I think our broadcast revenue will stay whole because we’ll be able to broadcast across Australia and around the world. Our merchandise numbers will be down, ticket numbers will be down, hospitality will be down and costs will be up. We will run at a loss this year.”

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Melbourne Cup 2020 form: The best lead-up runs from Australia and aboard, Tiger Moth, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate


Half the battle when it comes to picking the Melbourne Cup winner is lining up formlines from Australia and abroad — and it can get tricky.

We’re here to help, with this in-depth look at some of the best lead-up runs towards the big 3200m handicap.

Watch the Melbourne Cup LIVE on Racing.com, available on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

MELBOURNE CUP DAY LIVE: FOLLOW ALL THE ACTION HERE



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Melbourne Cup 2019 best lead-up runs, video, Caulfield Cup, Irish St Leger, Ebor Handicap


With the Melbourne Cup one of the world’s great international races, assessing formlines from here and abroad can get tricky.

We’re here to help, with this look at some of the best lead-up runs towards the big 3200m handicap.

JIM CASSIDY’S ULTIMATE FORM GUIDE: LEGENDARY JOCKEY HELPS YOU BACK A WINNER

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In the lead-up to Malawi’s election ‘re-run’, its Government is in free fall


Malawi’s upcoming presidential election on 23 June will determine the nation’s future and fortunes. Assistant editor Nicholas Bugeja reports.

IN THE LATEST episode of Malawi’s increasingly fraught presidential election, President Peter Mutharika’s Government attempted to remove the Chief Justice, Andrew Nyirenda, from his position on the judiciary.

On June 12, Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara, a judge on the nation’s High Court, announced that the Government intended to place Chief Justice Nyirenda, aged 64, on leave, for he accrued more days of leave than days he had remaining as a member of the judiciary before his mandatory retirement at 65 years of age.

Mr Muhara’s public notice read:

‘[The] Government wishes to inform the general public that the Right Honourable Andrew K. C. Nyirenda, S.C., Chief Justice of Malawi, will proceed on leave pending retirement with immediate effect … In accordance with the Constitution, the most senior Justice of Appeal will act as Chief Justice until such time as His Excellency the President will appoint a successor.’

Chief Justice Nyirenda’s lawyer, Wesley Mwafulirwa, decried the Government’s decision:

“This is wrong. It’s got to do with the election. The President himself has been going flat out against the judiciary.”

While University of Cape Town Professor Danwood Chirwa wrote in a Facebook post that:

 ‘This is the work of a government, illegitimate to begin with, afraid of itself and of a likely loss on 23 June, desperate to take revenge on the judiciary before it left power … This shameful effort must be resisted by the judiciary and all Malawians. Judicial independence is sacrosanct and must be defended at all costs.’

However, Malawi’s judiciary rejected the Government’s decree, saying that it was improper for the executive government to involve itself in the ‘internal affairs of the judiciary’. This statement was backed up by the High Court’s order of an interdict – also known as an injunction – to prevent the Government from compelling the Chief Justice to take leave.

Mr Muhara’s announcement on behalf of the Government came days before Malawi’s June 23 presidential election “re-run” — pitting incumbent Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party against the Malawi Congress Party’s candidate, Lazarus Chakwera.

In a landmark decision on 3 February this year, the Constitutional Court of Malawi invalidated the results of the 2019 presidential election in which Mr Mutharika was victorious, albeit by a small margin. The Court expressed its concern at the presence of ‘widespread, systematic and grave’ irregularities in the poll. This included the apparent use of “white-out” and typewriters to alter election ballots.

Mutharika’s Government subsequently appealed that decision to Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal. The Court, led by Chief Justice Nyirenda, “unanimously” affirmed the findings of the Constitutional Court, confirming the need for a new election.

This is not an unprecedented step in African political affairs. Though it is rare. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Kenya annulled the results of its previous presidential election, because it was ‘neither transparent nor verifiable’. In that “re-run”, however, Kenya’s Opposition boycotted the election, handing incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta another term in office.

There is no indication that the Malawian presidential election on June 23 will run the same doomed course.

Even prior to this ill-fated decision to remove Chief Justice Nyirenda from his position, Mutharika’s Government has been rocked by controversy and opposition. The landlocked country of 18 million has seen several nationwide demonstrations in response to what critics say is President’s Mutharika’s refusal to embrace democratic norms.

The President maintains that the May 2019 Election was “not rigged” and that protesters are agitating for a “lawless state”.

Since mid-2019, the police have arrested protest organisers and activists – such as Gift Trapence and Timothy Mtambo of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition – sometimes at the direction of the President himself.

There are signs that the protests have proven effective. On 22 May, the Chair of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Jane Ansah resigned, a month shy of the presidential election. The Supreme Court of Appeal found that Ansah’s MEC had performed well-below reasonable expectations in its administration of the 2019 Election. Although, Ms Ansah asserted that her resignation was not the product of public pressure.

Amid this political turbulence, it’s crucial that the June 23 presidential election – taking place during the  COVID-19 pandemic – is free, fair and without error.

Such an outcome would allow Malawi to close this troubling chapter, in which government overreach has proven itself common and the judiciary has stood in the way of a breakdown in Malawi’s democratic structures.

Since achieving independence in 1964, Malawi has weathered its share of political challenges. It was a one-party state until 1993, whereupon it became a multi-party democracy. In 2002, President Bakili Muluzi tried to force through constitutional amendments, allowing him to serve three terms as president. The Parliament refused to pass it.

Then, in 2014, President Joyce Banda sought to annul the results of a presidential election which she lost to Mutharika — action which the High Court deemed unconstitutional.

Against this background, it’s clear that the magnitude of this presidential election cannot be underestimated, for it could determine the trajectory of Malawi for many years to come. So far, the constitutional order, based on the separation of powers, democratic principles and human rights has held the country together.

But it’s only managed to do that by a thread.

Nicholas Bugeja is an assistant editor for Independent Australia.

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