French investigators said that the skiing accident that left former F1 driver MICHAEL SCHUMACHER "fighting for his life occurred when he left an authorised piste, clipped a rock and fell headlong into a second rock," according to Adam Sage of the LONDON TIMES. In their first public comments on the crash, gendarmes suggested that Schumacher "could blame no one but himself for the crash." Their comments came after watching a two-minute film taken by a GoPro camera fixed to Schumacher’s helmet, which "showed the run-up to the accident and his fall." The film "laid to rest claims by Schumacher’s press officer that he had lost his balance whilst helping a child who had slipped in the snow." Gendarmes also denied that he had been skiing at an “excessive speed.” Gendarmerie Detective Squad Head Lt. Col. BENOÎT VINNEMANN said, "He was going at a normal speed for a confirmed skier on this type of terrain" (LONDON TIMES, 1/8).
'EXHAUSTIVE' INVESTIGATION: FOX SPORTS reported French authorities said the investigation is "exhaustive and 'progressing well.'" Lead investigator PATRICK QUINCY said, "We've had a number of hearings from the emergency services on the spot -- people that rented the skiis, witnesses. We also examined the film." Quincy said that "it was difficult to evaluate Schumacher's speed before he fell but it was 'not important' and that 'only at the end of the investigation' will the question of culpability be addressed." Quincy said that the standards of sign-posting on the slopes "were in accordance with regulations" (FOX SPORTS, 1/8). In London, Peter Allen reported accident defense lawyer EDOUARD BOURGIN ''was among those who had suggested that the resort had been at fault, and huge fines, compensation, and a prison sentence of up to three years could result." However, Quincy said that ''all rules'' governing signalling ''had been respected'' by those responsible for the area where Schumacher fell, "between a clearly marked red and blue run." He said that Schumacher had ''deliberately chosen'' to go into this potentially dangerous area while skiing with his 14-year-old son, MICK, and a group of friends (DAILY MAIL, 1/8).
Former NBA player DENNIS RODMAN "led an auditorium of North Koreans in singing 'Happy Birthday' to their leader on Wednesday," a day after he "sparked controversy by appearing to suggest a Korean-American was to blame for his captivity in North Korea," according to Sam Webb of the London DAILY MAIL. A tour guide who watched the game in Pyongyang said of Rodman's singing, "It started out as surreal, then people joined in and it sort of faded a bit, but it seemed pretty heartfelt from Rodman's side. It was unexpected, and probably unplanned. KIM JONG UN appeared to smile, but he didn't appear to expect it." SIMON COCKERELL said the audience "had stood and cheered Kim for up to six minutes when he appeared with his wife." Cockerell: "Dennis Rodman gave a charmingly shambolic speech where he thanked Kim Jong Un and his wife for showing up, along with the other players for being brave enough to come with him and join in his 'engagement effort.'" Rodman "raised an outcry at home" when, in a TV interview on Tuesday, he "appeared to suggest" that Korean-American missionary KENNETH BAE "was to blame for his captivity." During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his trip, Rodman "seemed to say Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 and convicted in May on charges of crimes against the state, was responsible for his situation." Rodman said, "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?" Bae's sister, TERRI CHUNG, said her family was ''outraged'' by his comments and he could ''do a lot of good'' by using his access to the North Korea leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than "hurl outrageous accusations" at her brother. Chung: "He is playing games with my brother's life." Asked about Rodman's comments, White House spokesperson JAY CARNEY told reporters, ''I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response," emphasizing that the trip was private travel that "was not endorsed by the U.S. government" (DAILY MAIL, 1/8).
EXPRESSING REGRET: Former NBA player CHARLES D. SMITH said he "feels remorse for coming to Pyongyang" with Rodman for a game on the North Korean leader's birthday because the event "has been dwarfed by politics and tainted by Rodman's own comments." Smith and other former NBA players played with Rodman against a team of North Koreans on Wednesday "that organizers say leader Kim Jong Un is expected to attend." Many of the players on Tuesday "privately expressed second thoughts about going ahead because of an outpouring of criticism back home in the United States." Smith: "What we are doing is positive, but it is getting dwarfed by the other circumstances around it. Apparently our message is not being conveyed properly due to the circumstances that are much bigger than us, and I think that has to do with politics and government. We're not skilled in those particular areas. Dennis is definitely not skilled in those particular areas" (AP, 1/7).
NBA BACKS OFF: WANT CHINA TIMES reported the NBA "has distanced itself" from Rodman. NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "Dennis will be Dennis, but I think there is a lot at stake here in terms of a ... very dangerous country" (WANT CHINA TIMES, 1/8).
Brazilian side Atlético Paranaense "has made official" its hiring of Spanish coach MIGUEL ANGEL PORTUGAL. Bolivian club Bolivar released Portugal as its coach on Jan. 2 (AS, 1/8). ... Former Atlético Madrid handball coach TALANT DUJSHEBAEV has been hired to coach Polish handball club Vive Targi Kielce (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 1/8). ... Serie A side Bologna has named DAVIDE BALLARDINI as its new coach after Tuesday's dismissal of STEFANO PIOLI. Ballardini has signed a contract until June 30 (FOOTBALL ITALIA, 1/8). ... South African Premier Soccer League club Maritzburg United has "snapped up" STEVE KOMPHELA as its new coach, with the former Free State Stars tactician holding his first training session on Monday. Komphela's agent TIM SUKAZI confirmed that the 46-year-old "signed a two-and-a-half-year contract" with the team (SOWETAN LIVE, 1/7). ... Brasileiro side Corinthians has appointed IZAEL SINEM JUNIOR as its new marketing director. Izael has more than 31 years of "experience in the marketing industry." Prior to joining Corinthians, he "served as the director of communications and marketing for Nestlé Brazil." He has also "worked as a director at the Young & Rubican advertising agency" (SOCCEREX, 1/7).
Former German national football team player THOMAS HITZLSPERGER "has come out as Germany's first openly gay professional football player." Hitzlsperger "ended his professional football career in September" (HANDELSBLATT, 1/8). ... Bundesliga club Schalke 04 has acquired German national team player SIDNEY SAM from league rival Bayer Leverkusen. The 25-year-old midfielder "will join Schalke during the summer." He will receive a contract through June 30, 2018. The transfer fee is reportedly around €2.5M ($3.4M) (DPA, 1/6). ... Olympic Bronze Medalist CHARLINE VAN SNICK "is to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over her two-year suspension for failing a drug test." Van Snick "tested positive for cocaine at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro last August, after another bronze medal, but has always vehemently denied taking the drug" (AFP, 1/7). ... England cricketers MATT PRIOR and STUART BROAD "helped to rescue a distressed man who was preparing to jump off a bridge near the team hotel in Sydney." Wicketkeeper Prior "helped to pull the man off the railing of the 19-metre Pyrmont Bridge in Darling Harbour when the man made a sudden movement as if to jump." Prior "calmed the unknown man and chatted to him along with fast bowler Broad for almost an hour before police arrived on the scene" (AFP, 1/9). ... Italian footballer MARIO BALOTELLI "refuted rumors about his impending departure from AC Milan." He told weekly magazine Chi that "he doesn’t want to switch clubs before this summer’s FIFA World Cup" (NESN, 1/7). ... Boxer FLOYD "MONEY" MAYWEATHER JR. "will arrive in South Africa next Wednesday for a number of boxing clinics around the country in a five-day stay." South African Sports Minister FIKILE MBALULA confirmed Mayweather's visit and said that he was "doing this out of the reservoir of goodwill" (SOWETAN LIVE, 1/8). ... The Singapore Badminton Association on Wednesday announced changes to its coaching staff, with chief singles coach LUAN CHING and chief doubles coach YOO YONG SUNG both replaced. LI QINGDONG, who was "formally in charge" of the National Intermediate Squad, will take over as chief coach on Feb. 1. He will be assisted by LIU FAN (singles), former Singapore national player JIANG YANMEI (doubles) and DING CHAO (NIS) (STRAITS TIMES, 1/8).