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World men’s tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to comply with Spanish health rules to be able to travel to Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday.

Answering a question on whether Djokovic would be allowed to enter Spain to compete after Australia deported him for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, Sanchez said: “Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was visiting Spain on Monday and stood beside Sanchez during the news conference, also insisted the different rules in the different countries must be respected. “We all have to abide by them, no matter who we are,” he said.

Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.

Spanish rules currently require people to have either a vaccine certificate, a PCR negative test or a certificate of having recovered from COVID-19. The country imposes strict quarantines on people who test positive.

During the same news conference, the Spanish Prime Minister made an impassioned call for vaccination. Even though vaccination is not mandatory in Spain, the vaccination rate is one of the highest in Europe.

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Fast start helps Lyon down Barca to win Women’s Champions League

Olympique Lyonnais beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Women’s Champions League final on Saturday with all the goals coming in the first half.

Midfielder Amandine Henry netted a brilliant solo goal and striker Ada Hegerberg scored one and made another.

Favorites Barca, who thumped Chelsea in the 2021 final after suffering defeat by Lyon in the 2019 decider, struggled to deal with the French side’s pressure in the opening 45 minutes, and by the time they found their feet it was too late.

On a sweltering night at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Henry gave Lyon the lead with a stunning strike in the sixth minute, winning the ball and cutting inside on her right foot before firing a rocket from distance into the top corner.

Hegerberg added a second with a header in the 23rd and the Norway striker then teed up Catarina Macario to score Lyon’s third with a tap-in 10 minutes later as the Spaniards, who have only lost once all season, looked a shadow of themselves.

Alexia Putellas pulled one back for Barca before the break and in the second half they came out all guns blazing, forcing Lyon back but struggling to make the most of their chances.

Patricia Guijarra stunning lob from inside the center circle came back off the bar and substitute Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic blazed a volley just wide with the goal at her mercy.

Boasting plenty of experience in their squad, Lyon succeeded in doing everything they could to take the pace out of the game and a tired Hegerberg almost added a second in stoppage time, volleying the ball against the near post.

The final whistle heralded Lyon’s eighth triumph in the competition after their last success in 2020, with France international Wendy Renard raising the trophy as fireworks exploded behind her.

With the club’s official Twitter account quickly welcoming the Champions League trophy home, Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor made history as the first to win the competition as both a player and a coach.

“Barcelona were incredible. But I’m just really happy that we were able to start the game so well, getting those three goals in the first half really helped,” Macario said.

“I think it just came out, we were the team that showed up the most today, and we had the most experience. So thankfully, we were able to come out on top,” she added.

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Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Time was running out and a fifth, sixth, and seventh goal were needed.

They would, astonishingly, arrive, because that’s what football miracles are made of.

But we’re jumping ahead.

This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs.

Manchester City are on the brink of retaining their Premier League title. Newcastle United have pulled off a record-breaking escape from relegation and are looking toward a bright future. And Wigan have gained promotion to the Championship.

But for sheer drama, none of these stories can quite compete with that of Bristol Rovers, owned by Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi.

At one point, the club was second to bottom in League Two, 91st out of 92 clubs in the pyramid of English football. To say promotion to League One was against the odds would barely scratch the surface of the events of the season.

“It was one of the most crazy, demanding seasons, really tiring because we went through it all, the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” said Al-Qadi. “In a normal season, I’m here 50 percent of the time, I attend 50 percent of the games, but this season, because of what was going on, the upheaval in the club, going from rock bottom, I was here a lot more. And as a result, negativity and stress and lots of problems arose from within the club, and around the club there was pressure on me to get rid of the manager (Joey Barton). It was basically a revolt from within the club to make change.”

Some difficult decisions had to be taken, ones that have been vindicated spectacularly.

“I stuck with him and as a result, I cleaned house in the club, everybody was just pushed out and I appointed the new CEO (Tom Gorringe) who was with us as a commercial director, he became the youngest CEO in English football. Sweeping changes all across the club in all the departments brought in new, young, energized people.

“The combination of Tom, Joe, and me we rode out the storm, and results started to happen,” he added. “It went from a total negative dark place to be, to a ride of success which was fantastic. The quality of football being played, the goals, fairytale gains, being 3-1 down with 18 minutes left to win 4-3 in the 95th minute, stuff like that. It’s just incredible.

“And then the final game of the season, ‘the miracle’ I call it, a footballing miracle, to witness that was just unbelievable. And then what happened after the celebrations. The whole city, for not only that night, for days and weeks, they’re still talking about and it will go down in the folklore of the club as one of the greatest achievements ever.”

May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line. But they trail Northampton Town, second in League Two and playing at Barrow, on goal difference.

“Going into the game, it (automatic promotion) was unlikely, we had to first of all win by five goals just to catch up and hope at the same time, if we didn’t do that hope we win and Northampton draws or loses,” said Al-Qadi.

“So I asked the manager, ‘Are we going for it? And he was like, hell yes. So I knew we were gonna attack and go for goal difference because we’re not relying on the other teams to do us favors. So the lineup was totally attacking, we put in wing-backs who are wingers actually, we changed the line up to basically nine attackers and just two defenders and I knew we were gonna go for it.”

What happened next defied all footballing logic.

“So we started off well but then the news filtered in, 1-0 Northampton, then 2-0 Northampton, then 3-0 Northampton, so you’re kind of deflated, and you start thinking, okay, at least we’re in the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. And then we scored a goal, and we scored another goal. And Barrow scored the goal. That’s three goals wiped off the deficit of eight.

“So at halftime, there were five to go, and honestly I thought that it was doable because I know we were going to go all-out attack. I know that we’re one of the fittest teams in the league, I know that a lot of our goals are scored in the last 15 minutes, so it was just me expecting the next goal to go in.

“And then after that went in, I was like, okay, when’s the fourth going in? And then, okay, when’s the fifth going in? Then the sixth goal (on 79 minutes). And then when the seventh goal went in (85), I lost it completely. It was, it was just incredible.”

Having pulled off the impossible, there was a brief, but terrifying, concern that it could all be in vain when the fans invaded the pitch before its conclusion, with the referee taking the players into the dressing rooms for 15 minutes.

“We were under the whim of this referee,” Al-Qadi said. “His decision could cost us, basically, promotion. So I went down on the pitch and addressed the crowd, ‘Please do not come onto the pitch’, because this referee could abandon the game again.”

After Barton addressed the crowd as well, the match was completed and the celebrations could start all over again.

Al-Qadi’s faith in his players to pull off the result was not based on blind optimism either. Increasingly throughout the season, the team had shown a capacity to score very late, decisive goals, a legacy of their improved fitness.

“When Joe came in, he realized that we were way behind in standards in fitness and sports science and nutrition,” he said. “So he did a complete overhaul in that department and he brought in people who he knows and trusts and who he’d worked with before. For example, we got in Tom Short, ‘Shorty,’ from Premier League Burnley. He had treated Joe when he was a player at Burnley and got him fit again, so he knows his capabilities.”

Al-Qadi calls Short and all the backroom staff “unsung heroes” for their part in the promotion.

“Joe built a super fit team that lasts beyond the 90 minutes, you could see it throughout the season, where other teams drop off around the 75th minute, and we keep on going. We’re fitter, we’re stronger, and the results speak for themselves.”

A week before the promotion was secured, Bristol Rovers had pulled off another miracle away at Rochdale. Losing 3-2 into stoppage time, Barton’s team somehow managed to turn almost defeat into a 4-3 win, a match Al-Qadi watched with the traveling support.

“It’s just crazy, I wanted to get on the pitch,” said Al-Qadi. “What a day. We had to win to keep up with everyone at one stage, we win, we are losing, we were out of the playoffs. Imagine we were losing 3-1 with 18 minutes left, we were out of the playoffs. Even going to the 90th minute, we’re losing 3-2, two out, and then all of a sudden we’re in and then the next week, we get promoted. It’s crazy.”

Rovers took more than 2,000 fans to Rochdale and Al-Qadi’s presence in the stands was proof that six years after taking over the club he is as much a fan as he is an owner.

“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “You have to because there’s so much stress and anger and you know, falling out with people and people don’t see that, it’s not just about watching a football game and enjoying it. So I guess it’s like a balance with all the joy you get. It balances out all the other negative stuff that you have to deal with, and we have dealt with, and how the season was crazy.”

With no stress of a playoff to worry about, the Bristol Rovers fans have been wallowing in the joy of “the miracle” and the chairman is enjoying the ride even as, behind the scenes, preparations for League One are already taking place.

“You should see the fans. I mean, my God stories of lost ones, dear ones, that they bring their pictures of the dear ones to the game. And after promotion, they just put that picture up and take a memory picture for them. It’s done for them. It’s so many stories, you know, it’s just unbelievable. I met a guy who flew in from Australia just for this game. And I was so relieved for him, because imagine if we didn’t make it.

“And another guy from Canada,” he added. “I was picking up my son at the airport in the morning. He came in from the US, and I was stopped by the flight steward who recognized me, (he) came up and said, ‘I just flew in from Ireland. I’m gonna go get changed and go to the game.’ It’s just beautiful stories.

“They’re over the moon, they’re just really happy,” Al-Qadi said. “They’re loving the football we’re playing at the moment. They say it’s the best football they’ve ever seen. It’s really satisfactory to hear that.”

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Real Madrid sign deal worth $380m for Santiago Bernabeu management

Real Madrid have signed a stadium management deal for the Santiago Bernabeu worth €360 million ($381 million), the club said Thursday.

The agreement was reached with investment firm Sixth Street and “experiences company” Legends, which specializes in organizing sports and other events and is partly owned by Sixth Street.

The deal with the US-based companies comes with Madrid close to signing Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, who would arrive as a free agent but command a club-record salary. One of soccer’s top stars, the 23-year-old Mbappe’s contract with PSG expires at the end of this season.

Real Madrid said the money from the deal can be invested in “any of the club’s activities.”

Madrid have not signed any top players in the last few transfer windows and currently hold the league’s highest spending limit at €739 million ($783 million).

The club this season won a record-extending 35th Spanish league title and will be looking to win a record-extending 14th European trophy when it faces Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 in Paris.

Sixth Street acquired the right to participate in the operation of certain new businesses of the Bernabeu for 20 years, Madrid said. The exact stake the company will have was not immediately disclosed by the club.

Legends, meanwhile, “will contribute its experience and knowledge in the operation of large stadiums and leisure centers, allowing for the optimization of the management” of the stadium.

“This alliance with Sixth Street and Legends, world leaders in their respective disciplines, will be fundamental in providing unique experiences in a stadium where multiple events can be hosted throughout the year,” Madrid said in a statement. “This agreement strengthens our goal of continuing to significantly increase the stadium’s revenues from both sporting and other types of events.”

Sixth Street said it manages over $60 billion in assets globally and is also linked to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, as well as to Airbnb and Spotify. Last year it invested a majority stake in Legends, which was formed in 2008 by affiliates of the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.

“Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu is hallowed ground in the world of football, and we are honored to be joining this partnership to invest in the innovative, long-term strategic vision that has guided the club’s consistent success over its storied history,” said Alan Waxman, co-founder and CEO of Sixth Street.

The Bernabeu is undergoing major renovation, getting a new roof, modern video screens and a retractable field in a project that was expected to cost close to €1 billion ($1.05 billion). The goal was to have it completed by the end of the year. Last season, the team played at the small Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium at the club’s training center. The renovation work was expedited as fans were not allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid rival Barcelona will also renovate their Camp Nou Stadium. It recently reached a naming rights deal for the venue with streaming company Spotify believed to be worth €400 million ($424 million) over 12 seasons.

Barcelona and Madrid did not join in the Spanish league’s deal with private equity firm CVC, which will bring in about €2 billion ($2.1 billion) in investment to Spanish clubs. They say the deal gives too much power to CVC over the clubs’ television rights deals for the next five decades.

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