ManU defender RIO FERDINAND has "defended his controversial decision" to jet to the Middle East to be a TV pundit on England's clash with San Marino. Ferdinand withdrew from England’s upcoming qualifiers to "look after his chronic back problem but has sparked fresh controversy over his marathon trip." Ferdinand boarded an overnight flight to the Middle East -- "sleeping in a bed on the plane before landing early this morning." He will now train at the luxury Aspire Academy in Doha, which is a favorite of ManU for winter breaks, and is "believed to be staying at the Grand Heritage." The EPL leaders spent several days at the Aspire training base in January. After touching down in Qatar, Ferdinand tweeted: "Gonna check into Aspire, state of the art facilities. Nice!" The travel schedule will "hardly help a back problem so delicate" that Ferdinand pulled out of ROY HODGSON’s squad so as not to jeopardize his treatment. And, after all the fuss over his aborted int'l comeback, his decision is "sure to enrage England fans as well as the FA." Ferdinand's recall was the "most debated topic" in the lead-up to Hodgson's announcement of the squad for the qualifiers. But after three days of speculation, including a warning to England over his training regime from club manager ALEX FERGUSON, Ferdinand met with Hodgson on Sunday to say "he would be pulling out of the squad." His chronic back problem, "requiring careful planning and a strict training regime," was cited as the reason for the decision (DAILY MAIL, 3/20). The PA wrote Hodgson was "keen to stress" on Monday that the door remained open to Ferdinand for future matches, and he reaffirmed his desire to play for England again. The defender said: "One thing I made clear was that my passion and commitment to represent my country is as strong as ever" (PA, 3/21).
People and Pop Culture
Former Sportfive media rights chief MATHIEU FICOT has been appointed French professional football league (LFP) economic development director (SPORT, 3/20). ... German Hockey League (DEL) club Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers Nuremberg "have after yet another disappointing season cut ties" with Managing Dir LORENZ FUNK and head coach BENGT-AKE GUSTAFSSON, whose expiring contract will not be extended (NORDBAYERN, 3/21). ... Australian Football League club Geelong will make off-field history next month when it hires the first woman club boss in the AFL. ROSIE KING will take on the CEO's role only in an acting capacity, the man she will temporarily replace, BRIAN COOK, "predicted that a full-time woman chief executive would soon serve at an AFL club" (THE AGE, 3/22).
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Olympic sprint champion from Italy PIETRO MENNEA, who held the world record in the 200m for 17 years, died on Thursday at the age of 60. The Italian Olympic Committee said Mennea died in a Rome clinic, "but no cause of death was given." Mennea won gold in the 200m and bronze in the 4x400m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, plus a bronze in the 200m at the 1972 Munich Games (AP, 3/21). ... British Judo announced medical practitioners tribunal service panellist SARA HAYES will join as non-exec director. She joins MARK PALIOS and CHRIS DANIELS (British Judo). ... Golfer MATTEO MANASSERO, the youngest player to win the 2011 Malaysian Open, spent some time with about 100 children under the Maybank Junior Golf program at a coaching clinic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (STAR ONLINE, 3/21). ... Industry-renowned TV director HAMISH HAMILTON will receive the Bafta Special Award at the British Academy of Television Craft Awards. For his direction of the broadcast of the London 2012 Opening and Closing ceremonies and BEYONCÈ's Beyoncé's Superbowl Half time Show performance in February. Hamilton will be presented with the award on April 28 (London TELEGRAPH, 3/21). ... Former AFL player LIAM JURRAH wants to "rekindle his football career after a jury found him not guilty of assaulting his cousin at a brawl last year." After nearly eight hours of deliberations a jury of seven women and five men told the Alice Springs Supreme Court that they had "unanimously decided the former Melbourne Football Club player was not guilty of the crime," which carried a maximum penalty of 14 years' jail (AAP, 3/21).
BBC's LEE MCKENZIE: "If it's not random enough to stay at a waterpark for the week, we also have an ice rink which is good when it is 30+…" (see picture)
Daily Telegraph's PAUL HAYWARD: "Rio Ferdinand last played for England on June 4, 2011 - but he'll still dominate today's press conferences. The issue that never sleeps."
Press Association's MARTYN ZIEGLER: "FIFA to consider moving 2026 World Cup in Antarctica to the summer. *Why didn't the bloody penguins tells us it was -30*"
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