A new initiative is confirming a trend to help sportsmen overcome the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The International Fencing Federation (FIE), headed by Alisher Usmanov, has announced a global support plan aimed at national federations amid the COVID-19 crisis.
"Our world has been facing the coronavirus pandemic, which entails huge consequences for physical and mental health, as well as the economy," Usmanov said in a statement released last Friday by the FIE. "Fencers and their federations have had to abruptly halt their activities. In the spirit of solidarity and unity, and to help our fencing family overcome this difficult period, we came up with an unprecedented plan of support, allocating 1 million Swiss francs for this purpose."
According to the plan adopted by its executive committee, the FIE will provide financial aid for its organisations, athletes, and referees, and will freeze membership and organisational fees. It also secures grants for fencers to take part in upcoming championships.
This announcement comes at a crucial moment when the sporting world is stalled by the ongoing suspension of most activities and the rescheduling of events.
Back in May, World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) established a USD $500,000 welfare fund to support professional athletes who have lost a substantial part of their income due to the suspension of international competitions.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe noted that the “resources must be focused on athletes who are likely to be competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year and are now struggling to pay for basic necessities due to a loss of income during the pandemic’’.
The FIE, which comprises a total of 157 federations, is currently planning to resume its competitions by next November. The fencers’ senior Olympic qualification rankings remain frozen as of March 2020, it said.
The FIE was one of the first international federations to release its global support plan, which may now be followed by others.
Given the uncertainty over the end of the coronavirus pandemic, sports organizations need to think about how to provide additional moral and financial support to their athletes. More initiatives should be expected from donors and federations in the near future.
Meanwhile, according to Usmanov, the FIE “is working tirelessly to protect our athletes and entire organisation to ensure future competitions take place safely. As fencers, we face the future together, our heads up and our masks on”.
Usmanov, a former professional fencer, has headed the FIE since 2008 and has put a remarkable CHF80 million (USD $82 million) into the FIE’s balance sheet over three previous Olympic cycles, according to the Inside the Games news website.
Twice re-elected to this post, the Russian spared no effort to help promote fencing and to assist the growing national federations in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world.
He also convinced the IOC, which is headed by the former fencing champion Thomas Bach, to assign the full medal count to fencing during the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
As the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Usmanov and his businesses have been helping to fight its impact with large donations in various countries, notably in Russia and in Uzbekistan.
Sports and sports industries may have been severely hit by COVID-19, but sport is also believed to be the best medicine for diseases. Aristotle used to say that “nothing is as draining and destroying to the human body, as prolonged physical inactivity”.
Hopefully, the FIE's initiative to support fencers in this time of continued turbulence will move us closer to ending the current pause in the world’s sporting life.
Over 40 arrested in biggest-ever crackdown against drug ring smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Europe
In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects.
The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.
This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:
- Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
- South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
- Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security
Results in brief
- 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
- 179 house searches.
- Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
- 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
- 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
- Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.
In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.
The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.
The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.
In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.
Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."
Navalny calls on Europe to follow the money
The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held an exchange of views with representatives of the Russian political opposition and NGOs on the current political and socio-economic situation in Russia.
Among the speakers was Alexei Navalny, who has recently recovered from being poisoned with a nerve agent similar to the one used in the Salisbury attack targeted at Sergei Skirpal and his daughter.
Navalny called on Europe to adopt a new strategy towards Russia, that meets the new developments in Russian state leadership. He said that the forthcoming elections for the State Duma would be an absolutely crucial event and that everyone should be able to participate. If opposition politicians are not allowed to participate he asked the European Parliament and every European politician not to recognize the outcome.
Navalny told MEPs that it was not enough to sanction those responsible for carrying out his poisoning and that there was little sense in sanctioning those who didn’t travel a lot or who didn’t own assets in Europe. Instead, he said the main question that should be asked is who gained financially from Putin’s regime. Navalny pointed to the oligarchs, not just the old ones, but the new ones in Putin’s inner circle, with name-checks for Usmanov and Roman Abramovich. He said that these sanctions would be warmly welcomed by most Russians.
On the various decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that have been ignored by the Russian judiciary, Navalny said it would be very easy to sanction them to prevent them from traveling to Europe and it would be very effective.
Commission approves German scheme to compensate accommodation providers in the field of child and youth education for damages suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak
The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, a German scheme to compensate accommodation providers for child and youth education for the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The public support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will compensate up to 60% of the loss of revenues incurred by eligible beneficiaries in the period between the beginning of the lockdown (which started on different dates across the regional states) and 31 July 2020 when their accommodation facilities had to be closed due to the restrictive measures implemented in Germany.
When calculating the loss of revenue, any reductions in costs resulting from income generated during the lockdown and any possible financial aid granted or actually paid out by the state (and in particular granted under scheme SA.58464) or third parties to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak will be deducted. At the central government level, facilities eligible to apply will have at their disposal a budget of up to €75 million.
However, these funds are not earmarked exclusively for this scheme. In addition, regional authorities (at Länder or local level) may also make use of this scheme from the local budgets. In any event, the scheme ensures that the same eligible costs cannot be compensated twice by different administrative levels. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.
The Commission found that the German scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules.
More information on actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59228 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website.