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Diplomatic gold? Joint North Korea-South Korea Olympic bid faces long odds

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Diplomatic gold? Joint North Korea-South Korea Olympic bid faces long odds

SEOUL/BERLIN (Reuters) – If North and South Korea succeed in their long-shot bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, any athletic feats at the Games may be overshadowed by the political achievements needed to make it happen.

South Korea capital city Seoul’s Mayor Park Won-soon gives a presentation during a general meeting of Korean Sport & Olympic Committee in Jincheon, South Korea, February 11, 2019. Picture taken February 11, 2019. Yonhap/Handout via REUTERS

Buoyed by the role the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics played in easing tensions last year, South Korean and North Korean officials are due to meet on Friday with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Switzerland to discuss what would be the first ever bid by two countries.

To make Olympic history, experts say the bid would need to overcome international sanctions against North Korea, decades of mistrust between Seoul and Pyongyang, and wide political and economic differences between two countries still officially at war.

The Switzerland meeting comes ahead of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam, which will be key to the future of reclusive North Korea’s relations with the world.

Since the Olympic bid was announced after a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in September, South Korean officials have been pushing forward with plans despite the obstacles. On Monday Seoul was named as the city that would make the South Korean bid.

In a statement, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said officials would soon seek to establish a line of communication with Pyongyang and “make all-out efforts” to co-host with North Korea and make the 2032 Olympics the “last stop to establish the peace”.

For its part, the IOC said in a statement it “welcomes very much” the two Koreas’ intention to jointly host the 2032 games, as “sport could once more make a contribution to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world”.

“From a political perspective it would be huge,” said one senior IOC member who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive process. “Because we can say that the IOC brought peace in that area a year ago during the Games in Pyeongchang and it is a huge achievement for the IOC and President Thomas Bach.”

But privately, IOC members also expressed scepticism.

“We have not really spoken about it yet,” another member said. “Any discussions today are more an exercise in political marketing than real details of such Games.”

CONTENTIOUS HISTORY

Last year’s Games in Pyeongchang may have left warm feelings in Seoul and Pyongyang, but the two Koreas share an older, darker Olympic history.

After Seoul was selected to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea proposed that it be allowed to co-host the Games.

Those talks went nowhere and just months before the Olympics opened, North Korean agents bombed a South Korean airliner, killing 115 people. The one surviving agent said the attack was aimed at disrupting the Games.

Later, North Korea pursued its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, earning the ire of South Korea and the international community, which imposed stifling sanctions on Pyongyang.

North Korea also faces international sanctions over human rights abuses, including prison camps and repressive control over much of the population.

“At this very moment it is difficult to imagine it without some huge political changes,” one senior IOC member told Reuters, comparing the idea to East and West Germany trying to co-host the Olympics at the height of the Cold War. “Is it possible or realistic to have Games in two countries with such different political, economic and infrastructure systems?”

Advocates see the Olympics as precisely the vehicle to bridge many of the gaps between the two Koreas.

“The fact that North Korea is pursuing hosting an Olympic games is a statement of their intent to denuclearize, to become part of the international community, and to open their doors,” said chairman of South Korea’s parliamentary sports committee An Min-suk.

LOGISTICAL HURDLES

A joint bid could be welcomed under the IOC’s Agenda 2020 and New Norm reforms of recent years, which aim to reduce the size of the Games and the burden on the host city or country.

Among a long list of potential bidders mentioned for the 2032 Games are Mumbai, Shanghai, Melbourne, Johannesburg and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

South Korea has made a positive impression both times it hosted the Olympics, the second IOC member said.

“The level of organization is fantastic,” the member said. “It means they have the skills for such events.”

The North Koreans, meanwhile, have long made athletics a major part of their international outreach, and have poured significant amounts of their limited resources into building sports infrastructure as part of Kim Jong Un’s drive to become a “sports power”.

For example, they tout Pyongyang’s May Day stadium as one of the largest in the world, and it already sports Olympic rings and a cauldron for an Olympic flame.

This was not lost on international visitors who attended the opening of the “Mass Games” performances there in September.

“This looks like an audition for an Olympics opening ceremony,” Gianni Merlo, the head of the International Sports Press Association told Reuters at the event.

Other countries have pitched multi-city Olympics, including an Italian bid that is one of the finalists of the 2026 Winter Games.

But North Korea will pose more challenges.

Current sanctions against North Korea bar or limit a whole spectrum of activities including financial transactions, oil imports, and joint ventures.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, North Korean athletes could not be gifted the Galaxy Note 8 smartphones that sponsor Samsung Electronics gave to all athletes, due to sanctions.

“A North-South Korea joint Olympic hosting will fit the Olympic spirit to a T – promoting peace, reducing war and building relationships,” said Kim Yeon-chul, Director of Korea Institute for National Unification.

“But in order for it to happen, everything has to go together – resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, the U.S.-North Korea relations, and the acceptance of the international community.”

Reporting by Joyce Lee and Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Joori Roh; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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Bills QB Josh Allen pokes at Jags CB Jalen Ramsey with autograph

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Bills QB Josh Allen pokes at Jags CB Jalen Ramsey with autograph

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen added a message for Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey while autographing a photograph of himself Sunday.

Allen wrote, “Hey Ramsey … Am I still trash?” under his signature on the photo, which showed Allen celebrating a touchdown during a 24-21 win last November over the Jaguars. Through a Bills spokesperson, Allen confirmed Monday he signed the photo and said he added the jab at Ramsey at the request of a fan.

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Tennis player Djokovic, gymnast Biles win top Laureus awards

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Tennis player Djokovic, gymnast Biles win top Laureus awards

MONACO (Reuters) – World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic crowned a winning return to the courts after surgery with the Laureus sportsman of the year award on Monday, while American gymnast Simone Biles won the sportswoman of the year prize.

FILE PHOTO: Simone Biles competes on the floor exercise at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Serbian Djokovic, who 12 months ago had elbow surgery, won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018, before lifting this year’s Australian Open crown, to add to his tally of Grand Slam singles titles and reclaim top spot in the rankings.

With his record seventh crown at Melbourne Park, Djokovic moved ahead of Pete Sampras into third on the men’s all-time list of Grand Slam title winners (15), just two behind Rafa Nadal. Roger Federer is still out in front with 20.

“I did think about leaving tennis,” Djokovic said on Monday. “I did not find myself in a good balance. It took me several months to find that purpose and meaning again. This award reflects and symbolizes this journey.

“Reflecting on the journey it seems like a fairytale story.”

Multiple Olympic champion Biles in November became the all-time leading world gymnastics championship gold medal winner with a record 14 golds.

With 20 overall medals at the worlds, Biles, who has also won four Olympic golds, tied Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina for the most by a female gymnast in world championships competition. Her all-around world title was her fourth, also a record.

The comeback of the year award was handed to U.S. golfer Tiger Woods, who silenced even his harshest critics when he earned what some consider to be one of the greatest victories of his career at last year’s Tour Championship season finale.

Woods, who collected the last of his 14 majors at the 2008 U.S. Open, has had plenty of health-related setbacks, having to endure several knee and back surgeries, and his career seemed to be nearing its end in 2017.

Japan’s world number one women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka, who lifted her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open last year, and went on to claim the 2019 Australian Open, won the breakthrough of the year award.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris

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NBA Power Rankings special edition

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NBA Power Rankings special edition

With All-Star Weekend in the books, it’s time to look at which NBA Finals contenders are in the driver’s seat for home-court advantage, which teams are still fighting for a playoff spot and which struggling clubs already have eyes on the draft.

Our panel (ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre’ Snellings, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring) ranks all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are looking most like title contenders. For reference, we’ve included FiveThirtyEight’s NBA projections, while turning to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index for the latest draft lottery odds.

Previous rankings: Week 18 | 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency

The NBA Finals contenders

1. Golden State Warriors
Record: 41-16 (1st in West)

The Nuggets’ staff might have coached in the All-Star Game, but the Warriors own the best record in the Western Conference. Keep an eye Golden State and Denver as they battle it out for the top seed in the conference: The Warriors and Nuggets split a pair of games in Denver, while Golden State hosts the final two contests that could decide home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs. — Spears


2. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 43-14 (1st in East)

With the best record in basketball, Milwaukee is sitting pretty and should be concerned merely about maximizing its playoff potential. The trade to secure floor-spacer Nikola Mirotic, who will make his Bucks’ debut after the break, was seemingly a wise move in that direction. — Herring


3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 43-16 (2nd in East)

The Raptors have been one of the league’s most consistent winners this season, even with the load management of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry‘s missed games. Now they’re without Fred VanVleet, a vital member of their rotation, for a few weeks. The pressing question down the stretch for the Raps: Can this high-IQ group that has endured sporadic absences find the cohesiveness necessary to win an Eastern Conference title? — Arnovitz


4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 37-20 (3rd in West)

The Thunder reached the All-Star break in third place out West, four games behind the Warriors. The Thunder have positioned themselves as a legitimate contender, built on the strength of a top-five defensive efficiency and two MVP-caliber team leaders, Russell Westbrook and Paul George. If defense and superstars win championships, a healthy Thunder squad is one that no one will want to face in the playoffs. –– Snellings


5. Denver Nuggets
Record: 39-18 (2nd in West)

The Nuggets reached the break with the second-best record out West, despite injuries that have seen them miss a combined 82 games from their starting five. Nikola Jokic has turned in an MVP-caliber campaign thus far, ranking third in the NBA with a Real Plus-Minus of 6.46 that has led the Nuggets to the fourth-best offensive efficiency in the league. — Snellings


6. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 37-21 (T-4th in East)

With the trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers let it be known to the world that their aspiration this season is nothing less than the NBA Finals. If the first four games and 73 minutes their new starting lineup has played together is any indication, they have a strong case to be a favorite in the East. The Philly Phive has an eye-popping net rating of plus-24.6 points per 100 possessions. — Arnovitz


7. Boston Celtics
Record: 37-21 (T-4th in East)

The Celtics are currently tied for fourth in the East with the 76ers, a game behind the Pacers. They are likely too far behind to catch the first-place Bucks or second-place Raptors, so their most likely scenario has them challenging for the third seed. However, they are widely considered to have one of the most talented rosters and own the third-best scoring margin (plus-6.4) in the NBA. Perhaps the best news for the Celtics is the recent play of Gordon Hayward, who has averaged 21.0 points (63.3 shooting), 4.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds during the three games leading into the break and looks like he is approaching full strength for the first time this season. –– Snellings


8. Houston Rockets
Record: 33-24 (5th in West)

James Harden is working hard to make history. Can he keep that up and have enough gas left to go deep in the playoffs? Can 33-year-old Chris Paul stay healthy and find his superstar form again? Paul also has to figure out how to best fit with Harden being so ball-dominant. One good sign: Paul is plus-52 in the past four games despite not shooting well (39 assists, five turnovers). — MacMahon

Don’t forget about us

9. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 34-23 (4th in West)

The Blazers enter the post-All-Star break in a precarious position. Portland will have to be nearly perfect to catch up to Golden State, Denver or Oklahoma City in the top three West playoff spots. The Blazers currently own the fourth seed, which comes with home court in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Portland has four teams breathing down their necks trying to take it away. — Spears


10. Indiana Pacers
Record: 38-20 (3rd in East)

Credit to Indiana, which has gone 13-9 without injured All-Star Victor Oladipo this season after posting an 0-7 mark in games without him in 2017-18. As a third-place team, the Pacers should still be a lock to make the playoffs in the East, even without their best player. But it’d be a huge accomplishment to somehow hold on to home-court advantage. — Herring


11. Utah Jazz
Record: 32-25 (6th in West)

Ricky Rubio maintained his professionalism — and sense of humor — as the Jazz dangled him in an attempt to upgrade with Mike Conley. Utah probably needs Rubio, a free agent this summer, at his best to advance past the first round for the third straight year. The Jazz also need Dante Exum to come back strong after a long absence due to a left ankle sprain. — MacMahon


12. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 33-26 (7th in West)

Can DeMar DeRozan get his groove back? His production and efficiency have slipped significantly since the calendar flipped to 2019, as he has dealt with fatigue and nagging injuries. The Spurs look like a good bet to extend their playoff streak to record-tying 22 years. The question is whether Spurs can do any damage once they get there. — MacMahon

California dreamin’

13. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 28-29 (10th in West)

LeBron James returned more than two weeks ago, but the Lakers still find themselves slotted at No. 10 in the Western Conference playoff race. Missing the postseason would be embarrassing for the Lakers, even with the tempered expectations set at the start of the season. Qualifying won’t be easy, as the upstart Kings have shown no signs of tailing off, and the resilient and transitional Clippers still able to play .500 ball or better, irrespective of who’s on the roster. — Arnovitz


14. LA Clippers
Record: 32-27 (8th in West)

The Clippers won’t say it aloud, but most within the front office wouldn’t mind being edged out at the finish line for a playoff spot, thus allowing them to retain their first-round draft pick this June. In the meantime, the top priority is the continuing development of rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Clips would love to be able to enter free-agency pitches not only with cap space, but evidence that Gilgeous-Alexander is a point guard with the skills to lead an elite, contending team. –– Arnovitz


15. Sacramento Kings
Record: 30-27 (9th in West)

Do the Kings finally have enough to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006? Adding quality veteran forward Harrison Barnes as a starter and veteran guard Alec Burks off the bench sure showed the club is going for it this season. De’Aaron Fox has been outstanding in his second year at point guard, and perhaps it’s time for the Kings to take the training wheels off talented forward Marvin Bagley III and let him start. — Spears

Chasing the playoffs

16. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 30-29 (6th in East)

It’s ironic that in a season the Nets finally own their first-round draft pick, they’re playing their way into the postseason — but Brooklyn will gladly take a pick in the teens in exchange for the playoff berth. Even with the Nets’ recent slide, no team works harder, gets more out of its personnel and is better coached than Brooklyn. The gritty supporting cast has been a revelation, but the Nets’ postseason hopes will rest in large part on the play of D’Angelo Russell, who has led the team in scoring in each of the past nine games. — Arnovitz


17. Detroit Pistons
Record: 26-30 (T-8th in East)

Detroit won five of its last seven games before the break and enters the second half of the season in a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Pistons retooled their roster some, hoping to find a bit more support for Blake Griffin, who has been great, but at times looked overburdened on offense because of the team’s lack of ball handlers. At this point, with just one playoff appearance in the previous nine seasons, Detroit will take some mid-April basketball anyway it can get it. — Herring


18. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 27-30 (7th in East)

The Hornets were gracious hosts for All-Star Weekend, but their fans are more worried about getting back to the postseason. Charlotte, however, made no significant move at the trade deadline to help its cause. The Hornets have tough competition for the final two playoff spots with Detroit, Miami and Orlando. — Spears


19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 27-30 (11th in West)

The Timberwolves desperately need to pick up some wins if they hope to make the postseason for the second year in a row. Minnesota is currently four games out of the playoff race behind the Clippers. Success would certainly help the cause for interim head coach Ryan Saunders in his hopes to be permanent. Consistent elite play from forward Andrew Wiggins to complement All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns would help, too. — Spears


20. Orlando Magic
Record: 27-32 (10th in East)

The Magic are having a season that exceeds expectations across the board. The team was expected to be in full rebuild mode, but instead the strong play of first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic has them entering the break a half game out of the playoffs and on a five-game winning streak. In addition, the deadline deal to bring in 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz gives the Magic three top-five draft picks from the past two drafts (along with Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac) to develop as a potential future core. — Snellings


21. Miami Heat
Record: 26-30 (T-8th in East)

The Heat limped into the All-Star break, having lost six of their past eight games to fall into a tie for the last playoff spot. They remain one of four teams within a game of each other for seeds 7 through 10, though, and have a veteran-laden team that would like to send legend Dwyane Wade into retirement with a playoff berth. — Snellings


22. Washington Wizards
Record: 24-34 (11th in East)

With the franchise clearly being built around Bradley Beal at this point, the next two months should be about establishing which teammates fit best alongside him for the coming years, and doing everything you can to keep Beal healthy for next season. Washington sits three games out of the No. 8 seed, so a late-season charge isn’t out of the question, either. — Herring

So, when’s the lottery?

23. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 26-31 (12th in West)

Rookie sensation Luka Doncic will be pushed to his limits, as he has as much responsibility on his shoulders the rest of the season as anyone but a couple recent MVPs. Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson get extended auditions to prove they’re good fits as role players who complement the kid. — MacMahon


24. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 26-33 (13th in West)

The rest of the season is about managing the Anthony Davis dumpster fire and figuring out who will be the Pelicans’ point man in trade discussions this summer. As coach Alvin Gentry does his best to keep the Pelicans focused amid all the distractions, the league office might need to reconsider whether the franchise has the right to act in its own best interest by putting Davis on the shelf for the rest of the season. — MacMahon


25. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 19-39 (12th in East)

There are some who would argue that the Hawks are doing themselves a disservice by winning games and decreasing their odds in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. But Atlanta will happily take the incremental progress of its young core — Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter most notably — and the cultural foundation being laid down by head coach Lloyd Pierce. It’s an inexperienced group that may still lose a ton of games down the stretch, but the Hawks seem to have recused themselves from the 2019 Tankathon. — Arnovitz


26. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 23-36 (14th in West)

Hey, hey, let’s convey! Not quite an inspiring rally cry, but the Grizzlies’ primary goal is to get rid of the top-eight protected pick they owe the Celtics now, not when it’s top-six protected next year or unprotected in 2021. Mike Conley will surely get shopped again this summer, but he’s helping mentor Jaren Jackson Jr. to be Memphis’ future face of the franchise. — MacMahon


27. Chicago Bulls
Record: 14-44 (14th in East)

The chief curiosity for Chicago heading into the second half should be seeing how Otto Porter Jr. continues to fit alongside Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. The early results have been more than encouraging: In their 110 minutes as a trio, Chicago has outscored opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions. Seeing what that group does once Wendell Carter Jr. returns should be somewhat instructive for next year. — Herring


28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 12-46 (14th in East)

Cleveland has a handful of things to monitor once it resumes play. Can Cedi Osman, who has averaged 20 points per game over the past month or so, become a consistent second scorer going forward? Can Kevin Love, now healthy again, restore his value as a franchise-caliber player? (If not as a legitimate centerpiece, then as trade asset.) But the most important question will come in mid-May, when the Cavs have a chance to win the lottery. — Herring


29. Phoenix Suns
Record: 11-48 (Last in West)

As bad as things seem to be for the Suns, the good news is there finally seems to be some stability. There is no potential change in head coach, general manager or even arena on the horizon and they finally have a point guard, Tyler Johnson. Don’t be surprised if the Suns play the role of spoiler the rest of the regular season. Foes will take the Suns lightly, but with young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton and other budding talent, they can be competitive. — Spears


30. New York Knicks
Record: 11-47 (Last in East)

The Knicks had parlayed an impressive 18-game losing streak into the worst record in the NBA before winning the last pre-break game to move a half-game ahead of the Suns. However, under the new draft lottery rules, the teams with the three worst records share the same chance at the No. 1 overall pick. The Knicks are three full games behind the Bulls for the fourth-worst record in the league, so they have some wiggle room while continuing their season-long youth movement without fear of lowering their lottery odds. — Snellings

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