Caught in an "impassioned swirl of weeping fans, earnest schoolchildren and nervous-looking officials," DAVID BECKHAM arrived Wednesday in Beijing as the country’s first global football ambassador, according to Leo Lewis of the LONDON TIMES. His arrival by private jet began a four-day tour of the world’s most populous nation -- "a country where his skill as a midfielder and as a vigorously successful salesman of his own brand are both held in awe." Beckham "played down reports" that he was earning huge sums from this and two future planned visits to China (LONDON TIMES, 3/20). The AFP wrote Beckham played down expectations he can improve the "battered image of the Chinese game." The former England captain's new role has been "widely seen as an ambitious attempt by the Chinese Super League to recover from years of match-fixing and corruption involving players, referees and officials." But the 37-year-old said that his focus was on developing the sport at grassroots level. Beckham: "What has gone on in the past? I am not a politician so I have nothing to do with it" (AFP, 3/20).
TOUGH TASK: The BBC opined Beckham "has his work cut out." In a nation of 1.3 billion people some estimates suggest that "fewer than 100,000 youths play any form of organised football." In terms of TV viewers China has plenty of fans, "but many prefer to watch foreign games over the tarnished domestic league" (BBC, 3/20). The AFP also wrote Beckham raised the prospect of "one last stop" on his global football journey, refusing to rule out playing in China after his contract with Paris St. Germain ends. Beckham said, "I am continuing to play now. So if I continue to stay fit, if I continue to progress as a player because I still feel that I can learn from playing the game, who knows?" (AFP, 3/20).
Britain's golden summer of sport "helped the BBC run away with the plaudits at this year's Royal Television Society programme awards, including a win in the best presenter category" for CLARE BALDING, according to Josh Halliday of the London GUARDIAN. The corporation "swept the board with 18 of the 28 awards, including best live event for its coverage of the London Olympics." Balding, the face of the London Games, "took to the stage to a rare standing ovation" from a packed room of TV execs at the Grosvenor hotel in London on Tuesday night. Balding said, "I'm particularly proud as a sports presenter to be nominated alongside an artists and an arts broadcaster because I think it's easy to think of sports being just about sweaty jockstraps and balls. Sport is about so much more than that. It is art, it is history, it is science, it is finance, it is news, it is drama and above all it is entertainment." The prestigious judges' awards went to DANNY BOYLE for his fearless Olympic Opening Ceremony and Channel 4 for its Paralympics coverage. DAVE GORDON, the BBC's behind-the-scenes matermind of London 2012, "was given the lifetime achievement award" (BBC, 3/19).
Lithuanian Basketball League club Lietuvos Rytal Vilnius "has appointed former German basketball national team coach" DIRK BAUERMANN as its head coach. The 55-year-old "signed a contract until the end of the season with an options for next season" (DPA, 3/20). ... Brazilian club Palmeiras has appointed PAULO GREGORACI as its marketing director and MARCELO GIANNUBILO as chief marketing officer (MAQUINA DO ESPORTE, 3/18). ... Former India Football captain BHAICHUNG BHUTIA has been appointed chairman of the All India Football Federation’s technical committee. The 36-year-old’s appointment had been finalized at the last exec committee meeting of the organization. Bhutia’s appointment means former India int'l MOHAMMAD HABIB would be removed as head of the technical committee (PTI, 3/20). ... League One Stevenage football club has sacked manager GARY SMITH after Tuesday night's 2-0 defeat to struggling Bury, and handed temporary charge to the captain MARK ROBERTS (PA, 3/20).
British tennis player HEATHER WATSON "intends to take a break from tennis after losing in the first round for the second tournament in succession" (BBC, 3/19). ... Former Australian cricket captain RICKY PONTING was Wednesday "voted Sheffield Shield player of the year for his sizzling form since quitting international cricket" (AFP, 3/20). ... South Korean basketball player SEO JANG-HOON said Tuesday that "he should have achieved more," as Korea's all-time leading scorer bid a tearful adieu to basketball fans. Seo said, "I have lingering regrets over every moment. I think I should have done better" (KOREA JOONGANG DAILY, 3/20). ... The Qatar Olympic Committee and the Qatar-based Int'l Center for Sport Security honored Spanish athlete IVAN ANAYA with the inaugural Save the Dream award at the Securing Sport 2013 conference in Doha (GULF TIMES, 3/19).
Mercedes F1 driver NICO ROSBERG: "wow! visited kids heart surgery hospital in KL today. one doc is doing 1300 surgeries per year."
Real Madrid's SERGIO RAMOS: "Felicito a un gran amigo que aunque no está aquí, siempre se le echa de menos. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!" ... ("I want to congratulate a great friend who is not here, missing him lots... Happy birthday!!"
Manchester Evening News' MIKE KEEGAN: "Looks like Stockport County have pressed the reset button on their game of Football Manager. #scfc"