Maria Sharapova will compete in the main draw of the Aegon Classic in Birmingham next month after the Lawn Tennis Association confirmed it gave her a wild card, according to Stuart Fraser of the LONDON TIMES. The Lawn Tennis Association has given Sharapova "one of the four available" wild cards after her ranking of No. 258 on May 8 was "too low to gain direct entry." In return, Sharapova has also agreed to commit to the '18 tournament. Michael Downey, the outgoing LTA CEO who will leave the organization at the end of June, "was the driving force behind the decision, made to increase ticket sales and boost media interest." The call to "roll out the red carpet for a doping offender" was reportedly "not well received by some key figures at the LTA," and Downey admitted in a statement that it will "prove divisive." Downey said in the statement, "This wasn't a decision we took lightly and we recognise not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high quality tennis" (LONDON TIMES, 5/18).
Events and Attractions
The Volvo Ocean Race will make a €50M ($55.5M) investment in new boats with "foiling" and "flying" technology for future editions "as part of a plan organizers hope will strengthen both its sporting reputation and its commercial appeal for sponsors," according to REUTERS. Organizers used an event at the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg, Sweden, to unveil the design for a foil-assisted 60-foot monohull boat that will be used for "the offshore legs of the round-the-world race for teams." The monohull will be designed by France's Guillaume Verdier and will be a "faster version of the boats that are sailed solo around the world in the Vendee Globe." Race CEO Mark Turner also said that ultra-quick "flying" catamarans of up to 50 feet will be used for inshore harbor racing at each host city. "Flying" catamarans, familiar from the America's Cup, sail "completely out of the water." Turner said that the America’s Cup would "continue to be sailing’s technological pinnacle," but argued that the Volvo Ocean Race would present a "unique challenge in mixing grueling round-the-world sailing and short, fast racing in harbors" (REUTERS, 5/18).
HK YACHT CONFIRMED: In Hong Kong, James Porteous reported Hong Kong will have a yacht in the '17-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. Sun Hung Kai & Co. Exec Chair Lee Seng Huang will run the crew from his "supermaxi Scallywag." Hong Kong will be a host city in the event, held every three years, for the first time early next year. Lee said that he hopes the campaign can "promote competitive sailing in Asia and build a long-lasting youth sailing legacy in the region" (SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, 5/18).
Efforts to raise the number of rounds on the World Rally Championship calendar "look to have run aground after the teams raised cost concerns" about a potential 16-round season, according to David Evans of MOTORSPORT. WRC Promoter Managing Dir Oliver Ciesla "laid out his company’s vision and offset the extra costs involved against the hike in value gained from the extra rallies." However, for the teams, 14 is "as high as they appear prepared to go -- with some speculation that Toyota wants the number to drop to 10." Hyundai Team Manager Alain Penasse was not impressed with the potential increase." Penasse: "We tried running 16 rallies before. It worked, it’s possible. But that was 10 years ago, when the teams had a lot more money than we have now" (MOTORSPORT, 5/18).
Premiership Rugby announced on Wednesday a new four-year deal to stage regular-season games in the U.S., starting with Saracens against Newcastle in Philadelphia on Sept. 16. The game, which will be played out of int'l rugby windows but will "land on an NFL and college football weekend," is a home fixture for Newcastle. The game will be played at Talen Energy Stadium (London GUARDIAN, 5/17).
The "long-rumored bout" between undefeated American boxing champion Floyd Mayweather and MMA champion Conor McGregor is "halfway to becoming a reality" after McGregor signed a deal for the fight. UFC President Dana White broke the news during a TV interview for TNT. White said, "The McGregor side is done, I'm starting to work on the Mayweather side now. I've got one side done. If we can come to a deal (with Mayweather) the fight will happen" (REUTERS, 5/18).
The qualifying tournament for the 2019 Cricket World Cup is "set to be moved to Ireland and Scotland next summer." The countries' joint bid is expected to be ratified at next month's Int'l Cricket Council board meeting, "significantly boosting the prospects of Ireland and Scotland reaching the main tournament." Hosting rights had previously been awarded to Bangladesh (London INDEPENDENT, 5/17).
Changes to the qualification process have been announced for the European Champions Cup rugby competition. Tournament organizer European Professional Club Rugby said that the top seven-ranked Pro12 clubs "this time next year" will qualify for the '18-19 tournament. Those qualifiers will be "regardless of country of origin, replacing the current format which requires that at least one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales is included in the seven qualifiers" (HERALD SCOTLAND, 5/18).
A "secret meeting" has been held to discuss a "potential role" for Queenstown, New Zealand, in Int'l Cricket Council 2018 U19 Cricket World Cup matches. Queenstown Cricket Club Chair Clark Pirie said that the club "supports any steps by council" in getting matches to the resort (STUFF, 5/18).
Ironman announced the acquisition of two mountain bike stage events from Zubini Marketing & Management -- the Cape to Cape in Western Australia and the Port to Port in Newcastle, Australia (Ironman).