CVC would fire F1 boss Ecclestone if found guilty

Mackenzie denied that Ecclestone, who has built Formula One into a global money-spinner over the past four decades, was being kept in his post because of his importance to the business.

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Ecclestone remains a hands-on chief executive at the age of 83.

“If it is proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that is criminally wrong, we would fire him,” Mackenzie told a hearing at London’s High Court.

Ecclestone is facing a $100 million damages claim over allegations that he sold the business for too little when CVC became the largest shareholder in a deal agreed in late 2005.

The legal fallout from that deal has raised questions about whether Ecclestone can maintain his long grip on the sport and further complicated stalled plans to list the business on the stock market in Singapore.

Lawyers for German firm Constantin Medien argue that Ecclestone favoured a sale to CVC because it planned to keep him on as chief executive.

Mackenzie, a deal-maker who tends to avoid the media spotlight, told the court that Ecclestone had apologised for not immediately telling him about a multi-million dollar payment made to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky after Gribkowsky’s arrest in January 2011.

Mackenzie recalled a meeting with Ecclestone in February 2011 at which the Formula One head told him of the payment, despite earlier denials.

“He told me that he had had a meeting with one of his colleagues who had reminded him that he had made payments to Gribkowsky and he apologised for having forgotten this,” Mackenzie told the court.

“He told me he had never lied to me and I must say that I had trouble believing you could forget payment of $40 million,” Mackenzie said.

“SUCCESSFUL INVESTMENT”

A Munich court jailed Gribkowsky, former chief risk officer at German bank BayernLB for 8-1/2 years in 2012 over a $44 million payment made by Ecclestone and an Ecclestone family trust after the CVC deal.

CVC paid BayernLB around $830 million for a 47 percent stake in Formula One. Constantin, the successor company to former shareholder EM.TV, says it missed out on a share of the proceeds it would have been due had the stake fetched more than $1.05 billion.

Ecclestone told the court this month that he paid Gribkowsky around 10 million pounds because the banker had threatened to make false claims about his tax status that could have cost him as much as $2 billion.

The German authorities are due to decide next year whether to put Ecclestone on trial for bribery over the payment. Ecclestone denies any wrongdoing.

Pressed about how lucrative the CVC investment had been, Mackenzie said it was one of the fund’s top 10 deals but it had come at the price of some negative headlines.

“It is a successful investment apart from the adverse publicity and this is a good example of it,” Mackenzie told the court.

With a stock market listing having failed to come off, CVC sold down its stake last year from around 63 percent to 35.5 percent, bringing in U.S. investment funds Blackrock and Waddell & Reed and Norway’s Norges Bank as investors. The deals gave Formula One an enterprise value of $9.1 billion.

Constantin has brought the case against Ecclestone, the Ecclestone family trust, Gribkowsky and former trust lawyer Stephen Mullens. CVC is not a defendant in the damages claim.

Court hearings are expected to continue into next month.

(Editing by Erica Billingham)

Mind coach hails mountain-climbing Stenson

A win at the 2009 Players Championship in Florida, the sport’s unofficial fifth major, took the Swede up to fourth in the world before he suffered the second big form slump of his career to crash out of the top 200.

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Stenson decided to reunite with his former mind coach Hansson in 2012 and since then he has fought his way back to the top, culminating in Sunday’s historic six-shot triumph at the DP World Tour Championship in the Middle East.

Not only did the victory enable the former Ryder Cup player to finish the season as Europe’s number one golfer, it also meant world number three Stenson became the first man to land the Race To Dubai and U.S. FedExCup double.

“I used a metaphor these last four days when we were working hard to try and get these titles that we were attempting to climb the highest mountain in the world,” Hansson told Reuters by telephone just moments after arriving back in his native Sweden.

“We had been struggling in the bushes and then the woods but then suddenly we could see above the tree tops and we could actually start climbing.

“In these last four days we were in the last stages of our climb and I told Henrik, ‘It’s going to be hard because you’re totally worn out and it’s freezing up there but you must be really aware of where you’re putting your hands and feet’,” said Hansson.

“After he finished and we were having dinner last night I talked about the metaphor we had used and I gave him a flag because that’s the only thing he forgot to do, put the flag at the top of the mountain.”

During the course of the European Tour’s season-ending $8 million tournament in Dubai, Hansson said he wanted Stenson to be sure of every step he took.

“On the flag there’s an inscription that says no one has ever been here before and you are the first one,” he added.

“When you’re at that level of climbing you have to be 100 percent certain where you put your hands and feet so I was just trying to tell him, ‘Don’t move anything unless you are sure you have a good grip’.

“We take it one shot at a time and we don’t do anything unless he’s absolutely positive about the shot he’s about to play.”

LOW-KEY PARTY

Not surprisingly, given the scale of his achievement, Stenson resembled something of a busted flush on Sunday night.

“We had a low-key party really,” said Hansson. “I was with Henrik, his family and his close friends.

“I think he was more relieved and surprised than overwhelmed. Most athletes tell me the same, that they can’t really get in touch with their feelings because they’re so absolutely worn out.

“There wasn’t much drinking from Henrik last night, he’s not really into that stuff.”

Stenson will remain in Dubai for a couple of days before jetting to South Africa for a family holiday and rounding off his golfing year by competing in the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City that starts on December 5.

The 37-year-old has been troubled by a wrist injury for the last month but Hansson said he was confident two weeks of rest would cure the problem.

“Not only is his wrist sore now, everywhere in the body is sore after the last couple of weeks we’ve had, what with playing, criticising, training and all the effort he’s put in,” he explained.

“I think if we give him 14 days rest he’ll be ready again.”

Britain’s Ian Poulter, who battled Stenson all the way only to finish second in the Race To Dubai money list, said the Swede could justifiably be called “the best player on the planet” right now.

Stenson trails second-placed Australian Adam Scott and 14-times major winner Tiger Woods in the rankings but Hansson had no argument with Poulter’s assertion.

“You saw the performance he gave yesterday,” said Hansson. “With all that pressure, all that media scrutiny and then to top it all with an eagle at the 18th, how can you ever explain it in any other way?

“I’ve told him so many times if we stick to the plans and work really hard there will be moments when we have the golfing gods with us and he had that.

“The gods wanted him to win yesterday and they wanted him to win in a really spectacular way so that everyone in the world could see how good he is,” said Hansson.

“We really feel he can reach number one in the world. Now we have new goals and new mountains to climb.”

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

Ireland plans ambitious bid for 2023 World Cup

The ambitious effort would see games played on both sides of the Irish border as unlike football, the national team is an all-Ireland selection, and would represent another major step since a 1998 peace agreement mostly ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

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Ireland has been mulling the idea for over a year, looking to replicate the successful hosting by similarly populated New Zealand in 2011, and minister Leo Varadkar said he will seek approval from cabinet colleagues on Tuesday.

“It’s probably the biggest event a country like Ireland could do, we’re too small for the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup and for that reason it would engender enormous national pride,” Varadkar told an International Rugby Board conference.

“The second thing is that even during the very difficult times of the Troubles, rugby in Ireland was a unifying sport. For us in Ireland, it would just be a symbol of how far we’ve come from the bad times to the better times now.”

South Africa, hosts of the hugely symbolic 1995 rugby World Cup and 2010 football World Cup, have also indicated that they plan to make a bid. France, hosts as recently as 2007, have also expressed an interest in the 2023 edition.

ECONOMIC BOOST

Dublin has been working with the Northern Ireland executive on the proposal and also has the backing of Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), meaning it can use stadiums like the 82,300-capacity Croke Park.

Alongside Croke Park, there are another 10 Gaelic grounds as big or bigger than the second-largest rugby stadium in the country, Munster’s Thomond Park, although many will need major renovation to stage an international tournament.

The GAA, governing body for Ireland’s unique sports hurling and Gaelic football, had to ask its members earlier this year to allow the stadiums to be opened up to other sports which it had previously done eight years ago.

In 2005 the GAA changed its rules to permit rugby and football to be played at Croke Park while the old Lansdowne Road was being upgraded.

The vote was a landmark decision as Croke Park, the national stadium for Gaelic football and hurling, was the venue for the original “Bloody Sunday” in 1920 when British troops killed 14 people during Ireland’s War of Independence.

Until 1971 the GAA banned members from playing or attending so-called “foreign games” like rugby and the politically-charged Six Nations game against England in Croke Park in 2007 marked a significant moment in British-Irish relations.

Varadkar said it could potentially boost the ailing economy by as much as 800 million euros ($1.1 billion) with hundreds of thousands of fans coming to the country, according to a report prepared for government by consultancy firm Deloitte & Touche.

The World Cup will be hosted by England in 2015 and then Japan in 2019, the first time the tournament will be staged outside either Europe or the southern hemisphere powerhouses of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

“We see this is as having great potential for Ireland as an island and for the sport itself,” said Irish Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Philip Browne, who has been working on the bid since 2011 alongside the two governments.

(Editing by Conor Humphries)

Stressed Alonso fighting for Ferrari

Once the prince of Formula One and holder of all the “youngest ever” records, Fernando Alonso will head to Brazil this week battling to keep pace with the sport’s new king of speed.

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The two-time world champion Spaniard will also be leading Ferrari’s forlorn fight to finish as runners-up in the constructors’ world championship, having secured that position for himself in the drivers’ title race with his fifth place finish in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Like most competitors and observers at the Circuit of the Americas, Alonso, 32, doffed his cap to Sebastian Vettel after the 26-year-old German had registered another record-breaking feat in winning his eighth successive race for champions Red Bull.

But behind his dignified show of respect for the supreme team and four-time world champion, he was struggling physically and mentally.

Regarded by many as the finest racing driver of his generation, Alonso has seen his potential to win for Ferrari reduced almost systematically by the stunning speed and reliability of Vettel and Red Bull.

Yet in bringing his Ferrari home to claim second in the championship, Alonso demonstrated again his deep resources of courage and commitment in the most difficult circumstances.

Alonso raced with his body taped up to reduce the pain from his back and the headaches that have dogged him since his 25-G impact on the kerbs in Abu Dhabi two weeks earlier.

Some drivers might have withdrawn from the fray, particularly on a day when Vettel added more lustre to his legend. But not Alonso.

“I’m tired, very tired,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t have good preparation for this race physically. I was one week on the sofa or in bed with headaches.

“The race was demanding. It was not an easy race. I had to fight all the way through, so physically I feel tired now. I felt stressed all weekend from all the battles.

“Hopefully I can feel a little bit better in Brazil, less tired, enjoy the weekend a little bit more, but there are still some targets to do with the constructors’ championship for us.”

The fatigued Ferrari team, without a win since Alonso triumphed in Spain in May – will continue to compete for second place against Mercedes and Lotus, knowing that it could be worth several million dollars in prize money to succeed.

Alonso, however, virtually conceded defeat to Mercedes in the fight for second place after Sunday’s race saw them slide further adrift in third, by 15 points.

Hart can secure status as England’s top keeper, says Hodgson

Hart was dropped by his club, Manchester City, last month after his misjudgment led to defeat at Chelsea, the latest in a series of high-profile errors that has left question marks over England’s No 1.

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Hodgson gave Celtic’s Fraser Forster his senior international debut in the 2-0 friendly defeat by Chile on Friday, but Hart will reclaim the jersey for the visit to Wembley of three-times world champions Germany.

“I am sure (Hart) will respond very well,” Hodgson told reporters at England’s training base. “He is a proud man and very pleased to be playing for England. We have had no cause to doubt him in the (World Cup) qualifiers and also the Euros (2012 European Championship).

“I wouldn’t dream of putting a player in the team after one good game, or dropping him after one game. I can’t deny – and Joe wouldn’t deny – that this is another chance for him to show that he is a top-class goalkeeper and that he deserves his place, because he will be playing against a very good team that can cause us problems.”

Hodgson confirmed his line-up against Germany would feature the return of left back Ashley Cole and the retention – for his second cap after Friday’s debut – of Southampton winger Adam Lallana.

Steven Gerrard will captain the side, enabling the Liverpool midfielder to equal the 108 England caps of former defender and World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore.

Striker Daniel Sturridge has been declared fit despite carrying a thigh strain, and the Liverpool player will partner Wayne Rooney.

Hodgson confirmed he had been sounded out by the German football association about succeeding Berti Vogts as national coach in 1998. “It was a nice approach and a very flattering approach, but it was a long time ago,” Hodgson said. “They have got on pretty well without me.”

Since then Germany have rebuilt their national side to finish second, third and third in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. England’s best results in that period were their quarter-final exits in 2002 and 2006. In 2010 they were beaten 4-1 by Germany in the second round.

Hodgson admitted England could not match Germany’s recent record, but said he feels his players can prove themselves equal to Joachim Loew’s team.

“All the words in the world won’t make us better, it is what we do when we cross that white line and get on the pitch,” Hodgson said. “We have a very good group of players, and I believe in them and what we are trying to do.

“They (Germany) have a lot to do as well. They are the favourites with Spain to win the World Cup, there is pressure on them in a different way. Our pressure is to prove we can be as good as them.”

(Writing by Stephen Wood; editing by Justin Palmer)

Serbian media unhappy in Davis Cup defeat

Serbian media has criticised Radek Stepanek after the veteran led his Czech team to a second straight Davis Cup title at the weekend, beating home side Serbia 3-2.

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Stepanek, often an acquired taste for fans with his “worm dance” celebrations on court and a sometimes prickly personality, copped criticism after he ventured an opinion on the doubles rubber, won by himself and teammate Tomas Berdych on Saturday in what proved to be a decisive turn in the final.

The Czech hero was branded a heel in Serbia, with media quoting Serbian coach Bogdan Obradovic, who said he was ill-mannered, presumably for celebrating the victory obtained with his fifth-rubber defeat of untested Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-1, 6-1.

Stepanek said after the win that not playing Djokovic with Nenad Zimonjic in the doubles was like Serbia “leaving their Ferrari in the garage”.

The media also made a meal out of the punishment of Serb Viktor Troicki, suspended for missing a blood test by international anti-doping authorities until next July.

The hard-luck player who has been vigorously defended throughout the episode by his teammates, was reportedly banned from entering the Belgrade arena for the weekend tie.

But media tip-toed around any criticism of world number two Djokovic, who ended an exhausting season with his 24th consecutive match win as he kept his nation in the fight in Sunday’s reverse singles rubber by claiming his second point in three days.

“One Novak is too little for the trophy,” said tabloid Blic, adding that the decision to let Djokovic rest was a “a team decision”.

Russia should ‘follow English example’ to beat fan violence

Nikita Simonyan, the former Soviet Union striker and coach, made his comments following another episode of fan violence in Russia last month, during the Russian Cup match between Spartak Moscow and Shinnik Yaroslavl.

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“As you remember, English clubs were banned from European competitions for five years (in the 1980s),” Simonyan told a news conference.

“But the measures taken by Mrs Thatcher led to jail terms and stadium bans for football hooligans, and everything has calmed down in England.”

English football was bedeviled by hooliganism in the 1970s and 80s. A riot at the FA Cup game between Luton Town and Millwall at Kenilworth Road in 1985 led to a controversial national debate on the issue led by Thatcher.

The then prime minister and Conservative Party leader backed an ultimately unsuccessful bid to make football supporters in England carry identity cards.

It was the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final between their team and Nottingham Forest – that had the most profound effect on how football is watched in England.

The independent inquiry into the disaster culminated in the Taylor report, a document sent to Thatcher’s government in January 1990 that concluded that the “main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control”.

It recommended several measures designed to improve fan safety at sporting events, the most dramatic of which was the introduction of all-seater stadiums to England’s major football clubs.

In September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel said no Liverpool fans were responsible for the deaths.

Spartak Moscow and Shinnik Yaroslavl have been fined and ordered to play matches behind closed doors following the crowd trouble at their match at the end of October.

Earlier that month, a section of CSKA Moscow fans had racially abused Manchester City’s Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure, prompting a UEFA fine and a closure of part of their stadium for their next Champions League match.

Russia coach Fabio Capello last week urged football authorities in the country to step up their efforts to curb racism in the sport, saying “they should try to isolate them from football”.

Simonyan, the 87-year-old who was part of the Soviet Union’s first World Cup finals in 1958, added: “I’ve spent 68 years in football and I’m with both hands for the measures taken by Thatcher.”

Earlier this month, the Serbian government’s secretary of sport, Nenad Borovcanin, said the Balkan country must emulate Britain in preventing football hooliganism after another Belgrade derby was marred by fan violence.

Crowd violence and racism could prove embarrassing for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces ethnic tensions in Russia as it prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February and the 2018 football World Cup.

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Stephen Wood)

Vettel making most of F1 good times

Sebastian Vettel is determined to bask in the glory of his unbridled success now as he appreciates it could all come to a grinding halt next year.

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Like a runaway train, there is currently no stopping the four-times world champion who set a new record for consecutive number of wins in one season by taking his eighth straight chequered flag in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Another victory in the final race of the year in Brazil next Sunday will see Vettel equal Alberto Ascari’s all-time record of nine in a row set back in 1952-53.

It would also be his 13th triumph this season, matching the record haul of Michael Schumacher from his fellow German’s all-conquering 2004 campaign.

These are heady days and Vettel knows it, which is why in his radio message to his team on the parade lap he said: “We have to remember these days. There’s no guarantee they will be forever.”

With the regulations changing drastically for 2014, in particular with 1.6-litre turbo-charged V6 engines replacing the current 2.4-lire V8s, there is a chance Red Bull’s dominance could finally end.

For many fans and observers that would be a blessing, so Vettel is eager to drink it all in now because next season could be different.

“It’s a little bit of a shame that because of the run we’ve had lately people take it as guaranteed you deliver the result on a Saturday and Sunday,” the 26-year-old said.

“People tend to respect the result, what it means, the effort behind it, but as an athlete you have ups and downs.

“Right now you could say it’s rather more up than down, but you never know what’s going to happen. Next year is an unknown.”

Moscow laboratory faces WADA ban before Sochi Games

The laboratory must use independent experts to draft and implement a quality management programme and failure to do so will result in a six-month ban, WADA said in a statement.

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A ban would mean the laboratory will not be able to test athletes’ blood and urine samples for banned substances during the Sochi Games which run from February 7-23.

WADA imposed a second deadline of April 1, 2014 for the laboratory to show it has “drafted, finalised, implemented and embedded throughout its operations a comprehensive Quality Management programme.”

“If the two above-mentioned conditions are fully satisfied within the specified deadlines (to which no extensions will be granted), then the above referenced six-month suspension of accreditation of the Moscow Laboratory shall never come into effect,” WADA said.

The Moscow anti-doping centre can appeal against the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days and Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said WADA’s recommendations would be implemented.

“We have received a letter from WADA with several recommendations aimed at improving the operation of the Moscow anti-doping centre,” Mutko was quoted as saying on Monday by state-run Russian news agency RIA.

“One of them is that at least three international experts be included on its staff. Of course, WADA’s recommendations will be carried out.”

Samples taken from football players at next year’s World Cup in Brazil will be tested in Lausanne, Switzerland after WADA revoked the accreditation of a laboratory in Rio de Janeiro.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman,; Writing by Alison Wildey in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

Maracanazo 1950 repeat is the spur for Uruguay

Before kickoff the hosts will honour 86-year-old Alcides Ghiggia who scored the winning goal and is the sole survivor of the 2-1 upset victory over Brazil that gave Uruguay their second world title in the 1950 final at the Maracana.

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“What happened in that World Cup left a big mark on the Brazilian people,” Paris St Germain striker Edinson Cavani told a news conference on Monday.

“Uruguay have earned their respect,” said Cavani who scored a brilliant fifth goal with a venomous free kick in last week’s first leg in Amman.

The Uruguayans suffered a form slump in 2012 that jeopardised their qualification chances but were desperate to make it to Brazil, given the rivalry with their northern neighbours and the memory of the ‘Maracanazo’.

Cavani’s side, semi-finalists at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, do not want to show any lack of respect to their playoff opponents despite the one-sided nature of last week’s match.

The Interior Ministry have urged the sellout crowd of 45,000 at the Centenario, the stadium where Uruguay won their first World Cup in 1930, not to whistle or boo the Jordanian national anthem before kickoff.

“Uruguay took a substantial step towards qualifying for Brazil 2014 and they did so without humiliating their rivals even if the loaded scoreline appears to suggest the opposite,” the ministry said in a statement at the weekend.

“The thousands of Jordanians who watched the match enjoyed the light blues’s game. A packed stadium dreaming of another result ended up applauding our team, showing that respect is … as valuable as the dream of playing at a World Cup.”

TRUE NIGHTMARE

A team brimming with top talent such as Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and his strike partner Cavani would have to experience a true nightmare not to go through to the finals from this position.

Coach Oscar Tabarez, who is likely to name an unchanged team, is not expecting any complacency from his side.

“Footballers often feel their motivation according to their needs,” he said.

“When there’s no need there’s no motivation but I think as we get nearer the match … things will fall into place and I hope we can fulfil our objective which is to play a very good match.”

Suarez, leading scorer with 11 goals in the 16-match South American qualifying group, did not manage to get on the scoresheet in the first leg and will be looking to put that right in the return tie.

The Jordanians know it is almost impossible to overturn their first-leg deficit.

“We’re not going to kid ourselves, we are very disappointed. We told everyone at home it would be difficult but we hoped to give much more,” said striker Tha’er Bewab.

“Now we’ve come here for a good result. Above all for the public, we want to change our image.

“Apart from Cavani’s goal, the rest were from our mistakes. I don’t know if (it was) lack of concentration or what but they happened because we made mistakes we shouldn’t have made.”

Jordan’s Egyptian coach Hossam Hassan said: “We’re the only Arab team to have reached this stage. Our goal is to continue with the growth of this squad who have a great future.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires, editing by Tony Jimenez)