Former NBA player DENNIS RODMAN "brought his basketball skills and flamboyant style -- tattoos, nose studs and all -- on Tuesday to a country with possibly the world's strictest dress code: North Korea," according to Jean H. Lee of the AP. Arriving in Pyongyang, the American athlete and showman known as "The Worm" "became an unlikely ambassador for sports diplomacy at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea." Lee wrote, "Or maybe not so unlikely: Young leader KIM JONG UN is said to have been a fan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s..." Before the group’s departure from Beijing, Vice Media founder SHANE SMITH told the AP that "Rodman is joining three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for a Vice Media production to air on HBO in early April." Smith said that "the Americans hope to engage in a little 'basketball diplomacy' by running a basketball camp for children and playing pickup games with locals, and by competing alongside top athletes" of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Smith, who will host the upcoming series, said: "Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes. But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing." After seeing a photo of "snarling Rodman, piercings dangling from his lower lip and two massive tattoos emblazoned on his chest," one North Korean in Pyongyang exclaimed, "He looks like a monster!" A senior administration official for the U.S. State Department said that it "hasn’t been contacted about travel to North Korea by this group." The official requested anonymity to comment before any trip had been made public and said that "the department does not vet U.S. citizens’ private travel to North Korea and urges U.S. citizens contemplating travel there to review a travel warning on its website" (AP 2/26).
DOING IT FOR THE KIDS: Reuters reported Rodman, "who sports trademark tattoos and piercings" told North Korea's KCNA, "I think most of guys are first time here so hopefully everything is OK and hopefully kids have a good time for the game." Vice "hinted that Kim may attend one of its events, but that could not be independently verified." Kim, the third member of his family to rule North Korea "appears to have a penchant for American culture apart from basketball." On coming to office he "staged a spectacular featuring a host of Disney characters" and "has been pictured at theme parks." While there is no U.S.-government connection to Rodman's trip, "there have been a variety of attempts at sports diplomacy with North Korea, ranging from wrestling to judo and basketball" (REUTERS 2/26).
Indonesian badminton player GREYSIA POLII "might haven fallen from grace when a scandal disqualified her from the London Olympic Games," but is hoping to represent professional shuttlers by becoming a member of the Badminton World Federation Athletes Commission. Polii is "vying for one out of three spots" (THE JAKARTA GLOBE, 2/26). ... FIFA executive committee member WORAWI MAKUDI "is a candidate to replace disgraced" MOHAMED BIN HAMMAM as Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president. Makudi, "a longtime bin Hammam ally," could face four rivals: Interim AFC President ZHANG JILONG of China, Bahrain's Sheikh SALMAN BIN IBRAHIM AL KHALIFA, United Arab Emirates FA Chief YOUSUF AL SERKAL, and Saudi Professional League Chair HAFEZ EL MEDLEJ (CHINA DAILY, 2/26).
COACHES/MANAGERS: Former New Zealand defender RICKI HERBERT has resigned as coach of A-League club Wellington Phoenix "to focus on steering New Zealand to a second consecutive World Cup finals appearance." Herbert will be replaced by assistant coach CHRIS GREENACRE "for the final games of the season but remain as a technical advisor" (REUTERS 2/26). ... Former England Manager STEVE MCCLAREN has left his role as coach of FC Twente the day after holding talks with Chair JOOP MUNSTERMAN. The Enschede side has not won a league match since Dec. 21 and is fifth in the Dutch league, six points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven (BBC, 2/26).
Spanish tennis player RAFAEL NADAL has opted to pull out of the ATP Indian Wells and Miami Masters 1000 events as he continues to recover from a knee injury. In the last couple weeks Nadal played in Viña del Mar and Sao Paulo tournament on clay. Nadal said, "The knee continues to bother me." The Spaniard "does not want to risk the European clay court season where he has the most to lose" (MARCA, 2/26). ... The NBA Houston Rockets "have signed German center TIM OHLBRECHT to a two-and-a-half year contract." Ohlbrecht, who left Germany in November to play for the Rio Grand Valley Viper in the NBA D-League, "will joinDallas Mavericks DIRK NOWITZKI and CHRIS KAMAN as the third German player in the NBA" (DPA, 2/26). ... Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) club Artland Dragons "have signed Serbian player BRANISLAV RATKOVICA." The 27-year-old guard, who most recently played for Turkish club Olin Edirne, "signed a contract until the end of the season" (SID, 2/25).
TIME TO WALK AWAY: Former German football national team player TORSTEN FRINGS "has retired from the sport." The 36-year-old, who played last season for Major League Soccer side Toronto FC, "has ended his 18-year career" (BILD, 2/26). ... Former Argentina and Napoli striker DIEGO MARADONA has returned to Naples to "plead his innocence" over a €40M ($52M) tax bill issued to him by the Italian justice system. Hundreds of supporters greeted the 52-year-old on his arrival at Naples airport on Monday "but he declined to speak to the press about claims he owes the Italian state millions of euros in unpaid taxes" until Tuesday's press conference (THE INDEPENDENT, 2/26). ... Ligue 1 Paris St. Germain Coach CARLO ANCELOTTI said that DAVID BECKHAM "will be in the starting line-up" when the club takes on Ligue 1 Olympique Marseille in a French Cup last-16 tie on Wednesday (REUTERS 2/26). ... Six-time Olympic champion USAIN BOLT will race over 200 meters at the Paris Golden League meeting on July 6 "as part of his buildup" for the World Championships in Moscow next month (REUTERS, 2/26). ... Harlequins Dir of Rugby CONOR O'SHEA "has ruled himself out of the running to become Ireland's next coach and intends to continue" in his current position (SKY SPORTS, 2/26).
HAIL THE WINNERS: Qatar Olympic Committee Secretary General SHEIKH SAOUD BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL-THANI honored the Qatar Paralympic team "in recognition of their success" in the GCC Paralympic Championship 2013 held in Khalifa International Stadium (GULF TIMES, 2/25). ... Former Fulham and West Ham defender JOHN PAINTSIL "has been rushed to hospital in Ghana after collapsing at home." The footballer, who was arrested last week on charges of assault, "isn't said to be seriously ill" (London DAILY MAIL, 2/26). ... Surrey batsman TOM MAYNARD, who was expected to be selected for England, had been using cocaine daily for months and was four times over the drink-drive limit when he was killed on a rail track (LONDON TIMES, 2/26). ... GARY LINEKER is "close to finalizing" a new deal with the BBC that will see him stay for at least another four years. One of the terms under discussion is that the former England striker is "given the opportunity to switch from hosting the Saturday to the Sunday Match of the Day, depending on the strength of the fixtures" (London DAILY MAIL, 2/25).
Ferrari driver FERNANDO ALONSO: "Nuevos productos en Ferrari, pon un piloto en tu armario.. New products in Ferrari, put a driver in your closet.." (see picture)
Sky Sport News HD's ALEXANDER BONENGEL: "Tim Ohlbrecht schafft den Sprung in die #NBA zu den Houston Rockets! #SSHND ... ("Tim Ohlbrech has managed to move into the #NBA to the Houston Rockest! #SSHND")
FC Barcelona's DANI ALVES: "Ola mi gente dia grand e especial el de hoy, energias positivas para todos!! #Deusnocomandosempre" ... ("Hello my people big and special day today, positive energies to everybody!! #Godalwaysleadsus")
The London Times' MATT DICKINSON: "Great Sky footage of Maradona being mobbed on return to Naples. Wild guy, wild city. Perfect partnership"