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Afghan Women Use Boxing to Fight Stereotypes December 3, 2011

During the Taliban’s oppressive rule in the 1990s, Afghan women were stripped of most of their rights. Women were not allowed to work or get an education, much less take part in sports. Now, more than a decade later, a group of young women in Kabul not only are learning to box, but doing it in the same Kabul stadium that was once used for Taliban executions. VOA’s Sean Maroney visited their practice and has this report.

These young women are pushing the limits of cultural acceptance in Afghanistan. They wear boxing gloves instead of burqas. They are members of Afghanistan’s national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country’s Olympic Commission.

Nineteen-year-old Shabnam Rahimi has been with the team since the start.

“This sport is very exciting. I love its action,” she said.

Rahimi grew up surrounded by war, nearly constant violence. Here, she trains as a woman, free to fight back.

“I love that we can defend ourselves,” she said.

Studying the sweet science

This is the sound of women fighting against prejudice in Afghanistan. These young women say boxing gives them a sense of confidence that they want to share with future generations.

“I want to become a good trainer, and I want to teach other girls how to box. I will encourage other girls to learn boxing,” said Rahimi.

VOA

Wearing boxing gloves instead of burqas, these young women are members of Afghanistan’s national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country’s Olympic Commission.

Each week, these women come here. Boxing is their sport, and their passion, their personal fight against years of oppression. But only inside this gym – where it is safe and sanctioned by the government. When they step outside these doors, they still face oppression and fear of Taliban retaliation.

Team trainer Mohammad Saber Sharifi said all Afghans take risks as they try to move out of decades of war.

“There are a lot of difficulties in Afghanistan, for example security and economic problems. But this is a big step for us, and also for the world,” said Sharifi.

Organizers hope to take the team to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But for these boxers, this fight isn’t only for a championship, but for a new vision of Afghanistan.

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Penn State’s Joe Paterno cancels press conference November 8, 2011

Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, one of the most famous figures in American sport, has avoided his first chance to publicly address questions regarding a criminal investigation into allegations that a long-time assistant coach sexually abused boys.

In addition, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Paterno’s tenure as coach at Penn State will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, citing two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.

The New York Times reported that the board of trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Paterno’s exit, but that discussions about how to manage his departure have begun.

The university cancelled Paterno’s scheduled news conference on Tuesday minutes before the 84-year-old coach was due to face a barrage of media.

“Due to the ongoing legal circumstances centered around the recent allegations and charges, we have determined that today’s press conference cannot be held and will not be rescheduled,” the athletics department said in a statement.

Paterno and the university are engulfed in a scandal over the charges against his longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys over more than a decade. Paterno says he was informed of an incident involving Sandusky in 2002, and passed on the information to the school’s athletic director.

The alleged abuse was not reported to police even though it was known for years, authorities have said. Two former Penn State officials were charged on Monday with covering up alleged assaults.

Paterno is one of the most famous figures in the history of US college football, one of the most popular sports in the country.

The university had earlier said Paterno would respond to only questions regarding Penn State’s football game on Saturday against the University of Nebraska.

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Double dose of F1 Americana thrills Bernie Ecclestone October 26, 2011

The Formula One map is set for more change with the confirmation of plans to host a street-circuit race in the state of New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline as its backdrop.

Bernie Ecclestone has been trying to break into the Big Apple since before his Beatles haircut turned white and now, with Austin, Texas, scheduled to host a race next year and New Jersey set to join the calendar in 2013, the ringmaster will have two footholds in the US.

“I’m pleased that New Jersey will play host to Formula One beginning 2013, bringing one of the world’s most popular and exciting sports right to our backyard,” the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday night.

“The race will be a 3.2-mile road race, run on existing roads through Port Imperial and at the top of the Palisades in Weehawken and West New York. Up to 100,000 people are expected to attend each race, starting with practice Friday, qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday.”

Ecclestone, Formula One’s commercial-rights holder, will be 81 on Monday and is not expected to be running affairs for too much longer, but changes to the calendar have been gathering pace. This week the inaugural Indian Grand Prix will take place on the outskirts of New Delhi, representing another conquering of a Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economy; Brazil and China have already been gathered in, while Russia waits in the wings for 2014.

But it is the US that still carries the most allure and the sport’s stakeholders, the FIA, the teams and their sponsors, have been putting pressure on Ecclestone. When Austin was still in the planning stage, Ecclestone showed interest in bringing a grand prix to New Jersey should the Texas race fall through.

Nonetheless, there are already 20 grands prix on the calendar for next year, and there will be resistance to racing any more than that the following season, with 20 the unofficial maximum. The addition of New Jersey would take that to 21, which could have implications for other grands prix if the teams do not agree to an increase to the calendar.

The future of some races is already in doubt. Turkey has dropped off next year’s roster and serious doubts remain about the viability of racing in Bahrain and South Korea.

While Formula One has deserted many of its traditional homes, such as Portugal, France and South Africa, it has moved into areas where some believe it is more concerned with the advertising platform provided than the sporting landscape.

The US, though, could prove a great success, even if some fans there think IndyCar is better because the cars are faster. It is not as if Formula One has not been here before, of course. It has, but much of the experience has been airbrushed from the memory, especially since the 2005 event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when only six cars took part after a row about tyre safety.

Tony Jardine, the Sky Sports News F1 expert and someone with vast experience of the sport in the US, says: “It was often successful over there, in places like Long Beach and Detroit. But the tracks couldn’t always meet the increasing budget demands.

“But I think New York could be very good for the sport. It has already got Texas on the way, which will take interest in F1 into Latin America. And now this move could really open up a lot of opportunities in North America.

“It’s not as if people over there haven’t heard of Ferrari and McLaren and Lewis Hamilton, because they have. Now I think they will really take to European chic.”

US racing could be, should be, a great success. But the trouble with Formula One is that it too often squeezes every last penny from “clients”, before asking for a little bit more each time they go back. If F1 and Ecclestone can curb that propensity then the move to the US – both in Austin and New York – should be a spectacular triumph.

The concerns about the Indian adventure have still not been entirely dispelled, with the race only four days away. As recently as two weeks ago, Ecclestone was pessimistic over the readiness of the track to host its inaugural grand prix. That is unlikely to be the case in New Jersey on a street circuit.

“It will provide a very challenging course,” the West New York, New Jersey, attorney Joe DeMarco said on Tuesday. “They compare it to Spa in Belgium but it will have the feel of Monaco.”

The West New York mayor, Felix Roque, said: “It’s incredible. This is going to be an economic boom for this whole region. While political and public servants talk about creating jobs, the governor has put the pedal to the metal and delivered.”

Roque and the mayor of Weehawken, Richard Turner, whose district is also involved in the race project, have stressed that no taxpayers’ money will be spent to host the grand prix and it will instead be dependent on private investment. The Wall Street Journal reported that talks had taken place with a consortium of investors.

But before everyone starts whooping and hollering it should be remembered that previous F1 adventures in the US have not ended well.

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Hawaii makes surfing official high school sport October 4, 2011

Hawaii will soon become the first state in the US to call surfing an official high school sport.

Governor Neil Abercrombie and state education officials said on Monday that riding the waves will join the likes of football, basketball, volleyball and swimming as a state-sanctioned prep sport in public schools, starting as early as spring 2013.

“It’s quite clear, when you think of Hawaii, you think of surfing,” Abercrombie said with a scenic backdrop of sunbathers and surfers along Waikiki beach behind him. The news conference was held near the statue of island icon Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medal swimmer known as the father of modern surfing.

“Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. From Duke Kahanamoku to the thousands of residents and visitors who surf both recreationally and competitively, the sport is rooted in our culture and way of life,” the governor said.

The Aloha State is known for its world-class surf breaks and competitions. It is home to many pro surfers and has produced several world champions including Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, who this summer became the youngest world champion at 18.

“I think it’s awesome, and it will open doors for kids,” said Moore, who welcomed the announcement. She said the sport taught her many life lessons growing up, such as hard work, perseverance, and time management.

“Surfing and riding a wave is so much like life. You fall down over and over again, but you keep picking yourself back up until you ride one all the way to the beach,” Moore said. “I know that’s kind of cheesy, but I think surfing is definitely a really good outlet for a lot of teens and young kids. It’s a way to channel a lot of energy into something positive. It’s just really awesome.”

Hawaii has the only statewide public school district in the US, which means surfing will be offered across the islands.

The state department of education is working with the newly appointed board of education on developing a plan to implement surfing. Judging will be done similar to pro surf meets and there will be an individual boys and girls champions, as well as team champions, similar to golfing, said BOE member Keith Amemiya, the former head of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.

The board approved surfing in May 2004, but funding, safety concerns, liability and other challenges prevented the sport from becoming sanctioned.

With the addition of surfing, students in Hawaii public schools will have 19 different sports – believed to be the most in the nation – from air riflery to bowling, producing 44 state champions every year.

Amemiya said the estimated cost of surfing in the first year was about $150,000 (£97,210), with $50,000 (£32,410) already committed through private sources.

The financially-strapped state is confident it will receive the necessary funding gauging from the interest from the community and corporate sponsors.

“Regardless … we’re going to make this work,” Abercrombie said. “We’re not looking at this in terms of if we don’t have all the dollars, we’re not going to do anything. Quite the opposite.”

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John Lennon Was a Closet Republican, Claims Assistant July 1, 2011

The man who was an icon for peace and radicalism and full to the brim with songs in protest of American imperialism, the Cold War, and military violence was — in fact — not a liberal. John Lennon was a closet Republican in his final days, according to the former Beatle’s personal assistant.

John Lennon

Fred Seaman, who worked alongside Lennon from 1979 until his death at the end of 1980, also said that at the time of his death Lennon felt a little embarrassed by his radical past, reports the Toronto Sun.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and ’80 than he’d been when he wrote ‘Imagine.’ By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naiveté,” Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky in the new documentary series “Beatles Stories.”

Later in life, Lennon became a Ronald Reagan fan who found sport in arguing with left-wing radicals reflective of his younger self. Seaman recalls Lennon having “some really brutal arguments” with his uncle, who was a self-declared communist.

Seaman says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the ’70s at some sporting event . . . Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young [peace] demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that . . . He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.”

“Beatles Stories,” screening at film festivals across the nation, proclaims itself “a Beatle fan’s ultimate journey.” Indeed, Seaman’s comments reveal information about the pop legend even the ultimate fan doesn’t know.

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