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Olympic body calls for Russia to be excluded from sports

GENEVA — Russian teams were suspended Monday from all international soccer, including qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, as Moscow was pushed toward pariah status in sports for its invasion of Ukraine.World soccer body FIFA and European authority UEFA banned Russian national and clubs teams from their competitions “until further notice.” Russia’s men’s national team had been scheduled to play in World Cup qualifying playoffs in just three weeks’ time.“Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine,” FIFA and UEFA said in a joint statement.The high-level punishment involving sports and politics — something not seen for decades — came after the International Olympic Committee pushed dozens of sports governing bodies to exclude Russian athletes and officials from international events.The IOC said this action was needed to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants.”Denying Russia a place on the international stage could deliver a financial and psychological blow to the country, along with tarnishing its image as an elite sports powerhouse.FIFA’s move excluded Russia from the World Cup ahead of qualifying playoff on March 24. Poland already had refused to play its scheduled game against Russia.UEFA also took the last remaining Russians in European club competitions this season, Spartak Moscow, out of the second-tier Europa League. Spartak’s scheduled opponent on March 10 and 17, Leipzig of Germany, advances directly to the quarterfinals, UEFA said.Russia now faces the kind of isolation suffered by Yugoslavian teams in 1992 after war broke out in the Balkans and by South African teams and athletes during the apartheid era of racial segregation and discrimination.South Africa was suspended by FIFA in 1964 and expelled in 1976 over apartheid, then reinstated in 1992. Yugoslavia was dropped from the 1992 European Championship on short notice, a day after the U.N. approved sanctions against the war-torn country. It was barred from 1994 World Cup qualifying, before emerging as separate nations.Decisions by FIFA and UEFA can typically be challenged on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.“We reserve the right to challenge the decision of FIFA and UEFA in accordance with international sports law,” the Football Union of Russia said in a statement.It was not immediately clear how the IOC’s request to sports bodies will affect Russian hockey players in the NHL and tennis players, including top-ranked Daniil Medvedev, in Grand Slam, ATP and WTA tournaments outside the authority of the International Tennis Federation.The IOC also went directly after President Vladimir Putin, who turned the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics into a personal project. Putin’s golden Olympic Order, which was awarded in 2001, has been withdrawn, the IOC said in a statement.The Olympic body’s call also applied to athletes and official from Belarus, which has abetted Russia’s invasion by allowing its territory to be used to station troops and launch military attacks.The IOC said it acted “with a heavy heart,” but noted that the impact of war on Ukrainian sports and athletes who cannot now take part in competitions outweighed the potential damage done to athletes from Russia and Belarus.It was not a total blanket ban by the IOC, which also did not specifically suspend the national Olympic committees of Russia and Belarus.Where exclusion was “not possible on short notice for organizational or legal reasons,” then teams from Russia and Belarus should compete as neutral athletes with no national flag, anthem or symbols, including at the upcoming Winter Paralympics in Beijing, the IOC said.Russian Olympic committee leader Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement “there is only one comment to make — we categorically disagree,” adding it would help national federations to challenge “discriminatory rulings.”Sports bodies across Europe already had moved against Russia on Monday by refusing to host or play against its teams.Finland wants the Russian hockey team banned from the men’s world championships it will host in May, the Swiss soccer federation said its women’s team will not play Russia in July at the European Championship, and German soccer club Schalke said it had decided to end its longstanding partnership with Gazprom.In the World Cup, Russia’s potential future opponents Sweden and the Czech Republic had joined Poland saying they would refuse to take the field. The World Cup is scheduled to begin Nov. 21 in Qatar.FIFA had tried to compromise Sunday by suggesting Russia play at neutral venues without its flag and anthem and under the “Football Union of Russia” name.That aligned with sanctions imposed by CAS in December 2020 to punish Russia for state-backed doping and cover-ups of cheating, and applied at last year’s Tokyo Olympics and this year’s Winter Games in Beijing.Polish soccer federation president Cezary Kulesza said Sunday it was “totally unacceptable” that FIFA had not immediately expelled Russia from World Cup qualifying and said Poland is “not interested in participating in this game of appearances.”Another future opponent, Albania, also said Sunday it would not play against Russia in any sports. Russia and Albania are scheduled to meet twice in June in the UEFA Nations League soccer tournament.In hockey, the sport’s governing body has come under pressure from Finland and Switzerland to ban Russia and Belarus, both due to play at the world championships in May in Helsinki and Tampere.Finnish Hockey Association chairman Harri Nummela said in a statement Monday it had talks with the Zurich-based IIHF to exclude the two countries from the sport internationally. ———AP Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris in London contributed.———More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Gonzaga, Arizona remain atop AP Top 25 in week of changes

The top six and seven of the top 10 teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, both recordsBy JOHN MARSHALL AP Sports WriterFebruary 28, 2022, 6:59 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe top six and seven of the top nine teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day last week, an unprecedented day of chaos that led to some big changes in this week’s poll — everywhere but at the top.Gonzaga and Arizona remained the top two teams in the poll released Monday, holding steady despite both losing their most recent games.The Zags received 43 first-place votes from the AP’s 61-person media panel after being a unanimous pick last week. No. 3 Baylor had four first-place votes and No. 4 Duke picked up 11. Auburn rounded out the top five.Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, marking the first time in the AP poll era (1948-49) that the top six teams lost on the same day. No. 9 Texas Tech also lost, setting another record for most top-10 teams losing in one day.“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the Zags’ 67-57 loss to No. 19 Saint Mary’s to close out their regular season.Baylor was the biggest beneficiary of its Saturday win, moving up seven spots after beating Kansas 80-70. The Jayhawks fell one spot to No. 6 with the loss.Auburn lost three spots from last week after losing to No. 13 Tennessee. No. 7 Kentucky fell a spot after losing to No. 14 Arkansas and Purdue dropped four places to No. 8 with its loss to Michigan State.Got all that?In all, every team but four got shuffled in this week’s poll; only Gonzaga, Arizona, No. 14 Houston and No. 16 Southern California held steady.No teams fell out or moved into the poll, but things are getting awfully interesting with conference tournaments just around the corner.BATTLING BEARSBaylor, the reigning national champion, looked like a good bet to get back to the Final Four at the start of the season after opening 15-0 while holding the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 for five weeks.Then things got a little shaky.The Bears lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2015-16, then injuries began piling up, including a gruesome leg injury to forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua.After tumbling down the poll, Baylor may be finding its footing. The Bears won a rematch over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and did the same against Kansas on Saturday, improving to 10-1 against top-10 teams the past two seasons.“I know our team looked a little bit different in the beginning of the year than we do now but don’t count these guys out,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They persevere.”RISING/FALLINGBaylor’s jump was the biggest of the week by gaining seven spots. Tennessee, Arkansas and Saint Mary’s all climbed four spots.No. 17 UCLA and No. 20 Illinois had the biggest drops (five spots). The Bruins lost to Oregon before beating Oregon State last week and the Illini lost to No. 23 Ohio State before knocking off Michigan.CONFERENCE WATCHThe Big Ten and Southeastern conferences led the way again this week, each with five teams ranked. The Big 12 had four ranked teams, with the Pac-12 and Big East getting three each. The West Coast Conference had two ranked teams for the second straight week, with the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences at one each.———More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25

Column: Ukraine's boxers in the fight of their lives

The two big men standing shoulder to shoulder in The Associated Press photo taken Sunday in the mayor’s office in beleaguered Kyiv, Ukraine, were instantly recognizable to most boxing fans. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, the sons of a Soviet major general, are both former heavyweight champions and whenever one was in the ring, the other was always helping from the corner.Now they’re in a fight unlike any they ever imagined. The prize for this one isn’t a gaudy championship belt but the survival of their country.Vitali Klitschko is helping lead it as mayor of Kyiv. His younger brother plays the role of chief second.They’re a formidable pair, ready to do whatever it takes to defend their country against invading Russians. So far that hasn’t included armed combat, but both have made it clear they will fight in the streets if it comes to that.And, in a rich Ukrainian boxing community, they’re not alone.Vasiliy Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who some consider the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, hastily flew home from Greece to don combat fatigues as a member of a defense battalion. He was pictured on his official Facebook page over the weekend with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder near Odessa.“The Belgorod-Dnestrovsky Territorial Defence Battalion has been formed and armed,” the caption read. “In the territorial defence, boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko informed the mayor.”The current heavyweight champion is also in on the fight. Oleksandr Usyk returned home from London when Russia invaded his country and, instead of preparing for a possible rematch against Anthony Joshua this spring, he is getting ready to fight against Russians in his native land.Both are potentially losing million dollar paydays — in Usyk’s case, the biggest purse of his career in a rematch with Joshua. But defending a belt and defending a country are two very different things.On Sunday, Usyk posed not with gloves but an automatic rifle, flanked by three other armed men in the Kyiv Territorial Defense force.They’re all great fighters with proud legacies in the ring. When Wladimir Klitschko last fought in 2017, he and Joshua engaged in a thrilling knockdown bout before 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London. Klitschko came off the canvas that night to deck the British champion before ultimately being stopped by the younger fighter.And people in boxing still talk about Vitali Klitschko nearly getting the upper hand on Lennox Lewis in their heavyweight clash in Los Angeles in 2003 that ended only because the ring doctor stopped it when there was so much blood flowing down Klitschko’s face he couldn’t see.None of the Ukrainian prizefighters ever backed down with gloves on. And they show no sign of backing down now, even with so much stacked up against them.“Go back home,” Vitali said when asked what he would tell Russian soldiers. “You have nothing to find here.”Usyk was even more blunt with his message.“You are not at war with our government, our army,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “You are at war with the people. This is our land. We are at home.”Vitali Klitschko has been mayor of Kyiv since 2014, two years after he finally called it quits on a boxing career that earned him an Olympic gold medal and a world title. His brother was arguably even more successful, holding pieces of the heavyweight title while going 11 years without a defeat.They grew up fighting in the Soviet amateur system and, while their technical styles didn’t endear them to boxing fans everywhere, they were extremely popular in Germany where they sold out arenas and stadiums for big fights.They’re also very smart. Both have advanced college degrees and speak four languages.And both have friends in high places.“I am thinking of you, my friends,” actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeted, along with a picture of the brothers. “You were my heroes in the ring and you’re my heroes now.”On the Boxrec.com website that is the closest thing boxing has to a record book, the home page on Monday featured a picture of Vitali Klitschko holding an automatic rifle above the ratings.“#1 — Vitali Klitschko,” the caption read.Sadly, this is war, not sport. There is no referee, very few rules and extremely deadly weapons.Still, with Russian troops threatening the city on Sunday, the brothers tried to stay upbeat inside the mayor’s office even as Vitali Klitschko warned of a looming humanitarian crisis as the city’s food and medicine supplies dry up.“Right now, the most important question is to defend our country,” he told the AP’s Francesca Ebel and Efrem Lukatsky.They will be there for that defense, like so many brave Ukrainians. The courage they’re showing in the face of great force is the same courage they took into the ring, multiplied by a factor of 10.Knowing them, it’s no surprise they’re willing to shed blood in defense of their country.They’re fighters, and they’re in the fight of their lives.———Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press who first began covering the Klitschko brothers in 2002. Write him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Medvedev is 27th No. 1 in ATP rankings, overtaking Djokovic

Daniil Medvedev officially has moved up to No. 1 in the ATP rankingsBy HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis WriterFebruary 28, 2022, 6:08 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDaniil Medvedev officially moved up to No. 1 in the ATP rankings on Monday, overtaking Novak Djokovic to become the 27th man to hold the top spot since computerized rankings began in 1973.Medvedev, a 26-year-old from Russia who won last year’s U.S. Open and was the runner-up at this year’s Australian Open, rose from No. 2.Djokovic slid down one place after having participated in only one tournament in 2022 because he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19. He was deported from Australia and not allowed to try to defend his title at Melbourne Park because he is not inoculated — and has said he won’t get the shots, even if he needs them to be able to play elsewhere, such as the French Open or Wimbledon.Medvedev is the first player other than Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray to get to No. 1 since February 2004, when Andy Roddick was there.Medvedev is also the first new No. 1 since Murray in November 2016 and the third Russian man to lead the rankings, following Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.“It’s a huge honor to take over this spot. I’m sure everyone can understand it comes with mixed emotions that it happens this week,” Medvedev tweeted Monday, an apparent reference to his country’s invasion of Ukraine. “Thank you to my wife, team, sponsors, friends, & everyone that has helped along the way. It’s a long journey and I look forward to the years ahead.”Djokovic’s most recent stay atop the rankings started in Feb. 3, 2020, and his total of 361 weeks there are the most for any man since the tour’s computerized rankings began in 1973.He called Medvedev “very deserving” in a Twitter message last week.“It’s great for tennis, I think, to have somebody new at world No. 1 again,” Jiri Vesely said after his victory over Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships on Thursday guaranteed there would be a change this week. “Tennis needs, of course, new No. 1s. A new generation is coming up. I think it’s just great.”The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Medvedev plays a shifting, unusual brand of tennis, using his long limbs to help get to potential winners off opponents’ rackets while displaying a willingness to alter his tactics during the course of a match.He has appeared in four finals at major tournaments so far, losing to Nadal at the 2019 U.S. Open and the 2022 Australian Open — despite taking the opening two sets — and losing to Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open before beating Djokovic at the 2021 U.S. Open to end the Serb’s bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam by a man in 52 years.Medvedev’s 13 career tour-level titles include four at Masters 1000 events and the season-ending ATP Finals in 2020.Alexander Zverev remained at No. 3 after getting kicked out of the Mexico Open for a violent outburst directed at a chair umpire, while Nadal rose one place to No. 4 by winning the title there — and beating Medvedev along the way — to improve to 15-0 this season.There was movement in the Top 10 of the WTA rankings, too, with 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova rising one spot to a career-high No. 2 behind No. 1 Ash Barty.Aryna Sabalenka dropped down to No. 3, followed by new No. 4 Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, who moved up four places to equal her career best.Anett Kontaveit rose from No. 7 to her personal best of No. 5.———More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Iowa jumps to 12 in women's AP Top 25; top five unchanged

Iowa climbed nine spots in the AP women’s basketball poll to No. 12 after a big week for the HawkeyesBy DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball WriterFebruary 28, 2022, 6:00 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleIowa had a huge week and jumped up nine spots to No. 12 in The Associated Press women’s Top 25 basketball poll released Monday.The Hawkeyes won a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship by beating then-No. 10 Indiana, Rutgers and No. 6 Michigan last week. It’s Iowa’s first regular-season crown since 2008.“This is when you want to play your best basketball,” Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark said after the win over Michigan on Sunday. “And we’re playing our best basketball.”South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1, receiving all 30 first-place ballots from a national media panel. The Gamecocks, who have been in the top spot since the preseason AP poll, will be the top seed when the SEC Tournament begins later this week. South Carolina (28-1) beat Texas A&M and Mississippi to wrap up the conference regular-season title.The top five teams were unchanged, with No. 2 Stanford followed by N.C. State, Louisville and Baylor. LSU, UConn, Iowa State, Texas and Michigan round out the top 10 teams.The Hawkeyes’ ranking was their best since early in the season when the team started in the top 10 before falling all the way to 25. They shared the regular-season conference with No. 13 Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be the top seed in the conference tournament.Oregon, which was tied for No. 25 last week, fell out of the poll.FALLING GATORSFlorida dropped eight spots this week to No. 23 after losing to Vanderbilt and Missouri. The Gators have lost three in a row and finished the regular season tied for fourth in the SEC.CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAYThe ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will all crown their tournament champions this weekend. Those four conferences should combine to have dozens of teams in the NCAA field announced March 13.——More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25

Jokic, Barton help Nuggets to 128-110 win over Kings

Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, Will Barton inched closer to the franchise record for 3-pointers, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Sacramento Kings 128-110By MICHAEL WAGAMAN Associated PressFebruary 25, 2022, 8:05 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, Will Barton inched closer to the franchise record for 3-pointers, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Sacramento Kings 128-110 on Thursday night.Denver outscored the Kings 36-23 in the fourth quarter and had 15 3-pointers and 30 assists to give coach Mike Malone his 300th win with the Nuggets.“It was really a nice moment in the locker room,” said Malone, who has 39 wins from his 106-game stint in Sacramento from 2013-14. “Nikola gave me the game ball and said some nice words, which was touching. This is a tough business. I got fired in my first job. I’ve seen my father get fired. This business is not for the weak-minded. Here’s to 300 more.”Jokic did the majority of his scoring in the first half and came up big late to help the Nuggets win their fourth straight. Jokic had eight points in the fourth quarter and fed Monte Morris for a layup that extended Denver’s lead to 116-100. He later made two free throws to make it 126-104.“The fourth quarter was really good for us,” Jokic said. “We did a good job of defending. We literally controlled the whole fourth quarter.”Barton scored a season-high 31 points on 11-for-17 shooting. Barton made three 3-pointers and needs five to pass J.R. Smith for most in franchise history. Smith, who played five seasons in Denver, made 768.Morris finished with 19 points and Aaron Gordon scored 12 for Denver.Domantas Sabonis had 33 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for the Kings. De’Aaron Fox added 20 points. Sacramento has lost four of six.“We had a lot of turnovers which really affected the game,” Sabonis said. “Against a team like that, if you turn it over they’re going to convert on the other end. In that fourth quarter they made a couple of 3s in a row that really hurt us.”The teams play again in Denver on Saturday.Sabonis had 19 points and eight rebounds in the first half, but Jokic and Barton combined for 30 points to put the Nuggets ahead 63-58 at the break.Sacramento trailed by 14 early in the third, but closed strong and closed within 90-87.MISSING ELEMENTNearly three weeks after trading away their best 3-point shooter as part of the deal to land Sabonis, the Kings are struggling beyond the arc and shot 9 of 29 on 3s against the Nuggets.“We have to shoot the ball better,” Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry said. “We had a lot of open looks we missed and they came down and (made). That’s where the separation starts.”SUPPORTING UKRAINEPlayers from both teams locked arms and stood near midcourt during a moment of silence for Ukraine. Kings 7-foot center Alex Len, along with fellow Ukrainian Svi Mykhailiuk of the Toronto Raptors, issued a joint statement on Twitter before the game to voice their concern over Russia’s invasion, offering support for their homeland.“Ukraine is a peaceful, sovereign state inhabited by people who want to decide their own destiny,” the pair tweeted. “We pray for our families, friends, relatives and all the people who are in the territory of Ukraine. We hope for an end to this terrible war as soon as possible. Dear fellow Ukrainians, hold on! Our strength is unity! We are with you.”TIP-INSNuggets: Denver hadn’t won in Sacramento since Oct. 28, 2019. … Morris got a tricky assist in the third quarter when he slipped and fell to the court but got the ball to Jeff Green under the basket for an uncontested score.Kings: Sabonis’ points are his most since getting traded from Indiana on Feb. 8.UP NEXTThe teams face off again in Denver on Saturday.———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Islanders' Chara breaks NHL record for games by defenseman

Zdeno Chara broke the NHL record for games by a defenseman Thursday nightBy JOE STIGLICH Associated PressFebruary 25, 2022, 7:45 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAN JOSE, Calif. — Zdeno Chara broke the NHL record for games by a defenseman Thursday night.The seven-time All-Star was on the ice for the New York Islanders for the opening faceoff against San Jose for his 1,652nd regular-season game. He broke the mark set by Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.“I would like to start by thanking Chris Chelios,” Chara said after New York’s 4-3 shootout loss. “He set such a high standard for many of us. It’s been very inspiring and a huge motivation. I want to thank him for that. … I’m very lucky that I get to still play this game.”Chara received a standing ovation from the SAP Center crowd and waved in acknowledgement when his feat was announced during a stoppage of play. The Sharks also played a videotaped message of congratulations from former San Jose forward Patrick Marleau, who holds the NHL record for games by any player.The Slovak star, the tallest player in NHL history at 6-foot-9, is in the twilight of a decorated career that began in 1997 when he was just 20. He’s now three weeks shy of his 45th birthday, and he signed a one-year deal with the Islanders before this season to reunite with the team he began his career with.Chara even challenged the Sharks’ Jeffrey Viel to a fight in the second period as they exchanged punches and fell to the ice.“He got involved with someone who was acting up a little bit,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “He fought, and our bench got some energy from that.”Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2008-09 while with Boston. Two seasons later, he served as captain of a Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup. He also spent time with Ottawa and the Washington Capitals during his 24-year career.———More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports