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COLLEGE WRESTLING

Steveson returning to Gophers, signs with WWE

Gable Steveson can now enjoy the best of both worlds.

Fresh off a gold medal at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, the Apple Valley native will return to the Gophers wrestling program to defend his NCAA championship and also fulfill a dream of competing in WWE.

The new era of student-athletes being able to profit off their name, image and likeness provides an opportunity for Steveson to do both. A Gophers spokesman confirmed to the Pioneer Press that Steveson will compete collegiately and work toward a professional wrestling career.

“Childhood dream accomplished,” Steveson tweeted Thursday. “I have officially signed with the @WWE!!! Thank you for the opportunity!! LETS WORK.” He also tweeted, “Dear @GopherWrestling, I’m Back!”

An ESPN story said WWE will set up a remote training facility near the U campus for Steveson to work with WWE coaches. He also can use the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., where his older brother, Bobby Steveson, trains. After Gable Steveson graduates next spring, his multiyear talent contract with WWE will begin, ESPN said.

SOCCER

Biennial World Cup plan unveiled

NYON, Switzerland — FIFA detailed its plan for reshaping international soccer around playing the men’s World Cup every two years despite European opposition that could lead to a boycott.

Joined by retired greats, FIFA unveiled the proposal Thursday but the pushback from Europe was immediate as UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed it could launch a boycott by its teams which have dominated soccer’s marquee event since Brazil won in 2002.

“We can decide not to play in it,” Ceferin said in an interview with British daily The Times.

About 80 former internationals including World Cup winners went to Qatar for two days of FIFA-hosted talks and emerged with consensus for playing the tournament twice as often.

“We all agreed with the new proposal of the calendar,” said Brazil great Ronaldo, who went to four World Cups and won twice. He described FIFA’s proposal as “just amazing.”

Still, European soccer leader Ceferin said “as far as I know, the South Americans are on the same page” with resisting FIFA’s plan.

“So good luck with a World Cup like that,” Ceferin told The Times in the latest UEFA vs. FIFA fight since 2016 when he and Gianni Infantino were elected to the respective presidencies.

Infantino and his allies have since 2018 floated the idea of a biennial World Cup which European soccer has viewed as a commercial and competitive threat to its club and national team events.

Arsene Wenger has led the project since FIFA hired the former Arsenal coach last year to be its director of global development.

Details floated in recent media interviews and briefings were finally presented Thursday from Qatar in an overall plan to shape the schedule of international games from 2024. The FIFA-managed calendar mandates when clubs must release players to national teams.

More top-level tournaments and fewer qualifying games are the priority with a biennial men’s World Cup the key takeaway.

Wenger said his priorities were less travel for players and less disruption for their clubs plus giving young talent worldwide “a chance to shine” by also playing more meaningful games.

The current system — that typically sees players based in Europe taking long-haul flights home throughout the season in short breaks for national-team games — could be replaced by a single block of fewer qualifying games in October.

International tournaments would occupy June each year, with players proposed to get a mandatory 25-day vacation in July before rejoining their clubs.

Wenger said the balance of players having 20% of their games for national teams and 80% for clubs would stay, though “in a more efficient way.”

GOLF

Rose boosts Ryder Cup hopes

VIRGINIA WATER, England — Justin Rose needs to win the BMW PGA Championship to qualify automatically for a fifth straight appearance at the Ryder Cup.

The Englishman is off to a strong start in that quest.

Rose shot a bogey-free, 5-under 67 and was three shots off the first-round lead shared by Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout, two players for whom the specter of Ryder Cup qualification does not matter this week.

The European Tour’s flagship event at its headquarters at Wentworth, southwest of London, marks the final chance for Ryder Cup hopefuls to earn points to get into the final places on offer for the match against United States at Whistling Straits this month.

Rose, ranked No. 45, is most likely relying on a captain’s pick by Padraig Harrington and he did his cause no harm by making three birdies in his first six holes and also picking up a shot on the par-5 18th. He was tied for fourth place.

“Plan A is obviously to win,” Rose said. “Plan B is just to play well enough to give Padraig something to think about. I covered both of those bases today.”

Rose went round the West Course with his manager, Paul McDonnell, on the bag after his regular caddie tested positive for the coronavirus.

Former top-ranked player Adam Scott played in the same group as Rose and shot 65, placing him alone in third place. The Australian is contesting the event for the first time since 2006.

Scott missed a short putt to win a six-man playoff in the Wyndham Championship last month, and an early exit from the first FedEx Cup playoff event then brought an end to his PGA Tour season.

“I’ve been feeling like I’ve been playing well and that’s one of the reasons why I came here this week,” the 2013 Masters champion said.

“I didn’t have anything to play in the last couple of weeks so I felt like this was a great opportunity to come and play a really good event and bring back good memories from early days in my career.”

Aphibarnrat, who secured his PGA Tour card for next season via the Korn Ferry Tour last week, made eight birdies in his final 12 holes. A birdie on the last would have seen the 32-year-old Thai cover the back nine in just 29 but after failing to escape from a fairway bunker at the first attempt, he had to hole from 20 feet to save par.

Bezuidenhout also finished strongly, with four birdies in his final six holes, to have the best score of the afternoon starters.

Bernd Wiesberger needs a top-50 finish to potentially move into the automatic qualifying places for the Ryder Cup, maybe at the expense of Shane Lowry in ninth place, and he was 3 over after six holes. However, he birdied the 11th and 17th, before rolling in a long eagle putt at the last for a 1-under 71.

Wiesberger would have been in the automatic places with a win in the Omega European Masters last month, but double-bogeyed the final hole to lose by one shot.

Lowry birdied the last for a 70. If he is edged to an automatic qualifying spot by Wiesberger, the 2019 Open champion might be up against Rose and Henrik Stenson for one of Harrington’s three captain’s picks.

Harrington strongly hinted this week that Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia would get two of the picks, leaving one up for grabs.

Stenson has come into form at the perfect time with two top-five finishes and a tie for 15th in his last three starts on the European Tour, and the Swede opened at Wentworth by shooting 69 after birdies at Nos. 17 and 18.

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