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Postcards from the edge: Snapshots of European football’s return



In the shadows of Germany’s Bundesliga, football is gradually restarting in countries across Europe, in almost all cases behind closed doors, with the exception of Hungary where supporters have been allowed to return.

From plastic fans in Poland, to virtual fans in Denmark, drive-in spectators in the Czech Republic and a title coronation in Serbia, AFP takes a look at a weekend of football in times of the coronavirus.

Fans return in Hungary

Forgotten sounds resonated in grounds across Hungary this weekend as songs, the beating of drums and the sense of excitement which spreads throughout the crowd when the ball nears the goal all returned for the first time since March.

After two months without spectators, sports venues reopened their doors to the public this weekend in Hungary, the first country to welcome supporters back to the stands, on the condition that every other row is left empty and only one in four seats is occupied.

“We will respect the rules because there could be games behind closed doors again if we mess up,” said Richard Kovacs, 36, one of the 2,255 fans at Diosgyor’s match against Mezokovesd.

“All that worries us is knowing if we’re going to win or lose, not the epidemic,” said Gabor Lengyel, 41, suggesting that football, and by extension life for some, is approaching a return to normal.

Poland home to plastic supporters

A man in a protective suit keeps watch before the game between Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw. PHOTO: AFP / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

Poland will follow Hungary’s lead with fans able to attend matches from June 19, although stadiums will be limited to a quarter of capacity.

In the meantime, the league restarted on Friday behind closed doors with noisy, hardcore Polish fans forced to adapt. Supporters of Pogon Szczecin arranged a guard of honour, holding aloft flares every 10 metres on the road leading to the stadium.

Lechia Gdansk relied on some private support on Sunday against Arka Gdynia, with photos of some 200 fans printed onto plastic backgrounds and placed in the stands.

The photos cost 75 zlotys (17 euros, $19) and will eventually be returned to fans taking part in the initiative once signed by their favourite player.

Czech drive-in cinemas

The second weekend of the Czech league since the season’s resumption saw defending champions and leaders Slavia Plague thrash Jablonec 5-0 at an empty Eden Arena on Saturday.

Sparta Prague fans were able to watch the midweek game against Viktoria Plzen at a drive-in cinema. PHOTO: AFP / Michal Cizek

However, it wasn’t totally deserted as the club placed 1,000 plastic photos of players in the stands while giving fans the chance to do likewise for roughly 500 koruna (19 euros, $20), half of which will go to Slavia’s youth teams. Around 500 ‘fans’ made it for kick-off.

To liven up the eerie atmosphere, Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen are pumping out team songs during their games. For Wednesday’s meeting between the two they set up drive-in cinemas in both Prague and Plzen.

“We weren’t able to go to the stadium because of the situation. I saw about this opportunity on social media so my friend and I bought tickets and came. It’s very different, we’re not really screaming and we miss the stadium, it’s impossible to replace,” Sparta fan Petr Svoboda, who watched the 2-1 loss to Plzen, told AFP.

Stankovic’s Red Star champions in Serbia

Red Star Belgrade players celebrate their third Serbian league title in a row. PHOTO: AFP / Andrej ISAKOVIC

Despite their reputation and the clinching of a title — the first in Europe since football’s return — typically boisterous Serbian supporters remained calm as the league resumed Friday behind closed doors.

Rad Belgrade hosted city rivals Red Star in the biggest match, where a 5-0 victory for the visitors secured them a 31st league title.

Anyone expecting a sea of supporters flocking to the streets to celebrate was disappointed. Only a hundred or so hardcore fans gathered outside Red Star’s ground to toast the newly-crowned champions while mobbing the club’s coach, former Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic, outside the Marakana.

Virtual supporters in Denmark

Aarhus set up a series of Zoom calls to create a unique viewing experience for the club’s fans. PHOTO: Ritzau Scanpix/AFP / Henning Bagger

After a near three-month hiatus, the Danish league returned Thursday as AGF took on Randers in Aarhus in a 1-1 draw behind closed doors.

On the eve of the match the Aarhus club had invited eager fans to stick banners, flags and other cardboard cut-outs in the stands, far from the usual ambiance expected for a clash between two Jutland rivals.

Aarhus supporter Liva Hansen, 28, followed the match on TV and via popular videoconferencing platform Zoom along with a group of friends.

All five were part of a virtual audience of 30,000 people, whose images were beamed onto giant screens around the pitch.

“No doubt, that helped,” Aarhus coach David Nielsen told Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “It created a little alternative atmosphere, specific to 2020.”

“It’s a good solution but obviously I would have preferred to be in the stands,” said Hansen. “It was nice to be able to see the other fans and their reactions, during the good moments but also during the less good!”

Reporting and photos: AFP


Hideaway Beach Resort unveils fitness centre upgrade with dedicated yoga space; introduces badminton



Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, renowned for its commitment to providing unparalleled luxury and experiences, has announced its latest enhancements in health and wellness offerings, solidifying its position as a premier destination for those with an active lifestyle seeking a holistic and rejuvenating getaway.

The jewel in the crown of these updates is the comprehensive upgrade to the resort’s Fitness Center. Meticulously designed to cater to the diverse wellness needs of guests, the gym now boasts state-of-the-art equipment and an extension that includes a dedicated yoga space; known as the Wellness Studio. This addition provides an idyllic setting for guests to embark on their wellness journey, offering a serene atmosphere for yoga and meditation practices. The resort has also recently added Indoor Badminton courts to their offerings list so guests can sweat it out in the courts.

Hideaway guests are inspired to cleanse, restore, and energise their body and mind. To enable guests to work out on their own schedule, the Fitness Center is open 24 hours. With a variety of state-of-the-art exercise equipment including free weights, Stairmasters, stationary bicycles, treadmills, and more, guests are spoilt for choice. Additionally, thanks to the well thought out entertainment systems such as cable TV and Audio music systems, guests can keep current with worldwide news and sports or go full blast with their favourite tunes at play.

The new building also houses showers and changing facilities, so you can complete your cooldown routine at the gym without having to return to your villa. The facilities are available for all guests (children under 12 to be accompanied by an adult) to use free of charge, and our team members are on hand to help out and provide introductions to any equipment you may be unfamiliar with.

Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa enhances its fitness offerings with the introduction of diverse group classes like Zumba, Tabatha, and Step Aerobics at their new Wellness Studio. These additions, led by a highly experienced Gym & Wellness Instructor, promise an engaging and comprehensive fitness experience for guests.

Hideaway is not just a retreat; it’s an oasis for sports enthusiasts. In addition to the Fitness Center upgrade, the resort has expanded its array of indoor and outdoor sports facilities. The resort’s Sports Complex also includes 2 tennis courts, 1 padel court, 1 half-basketball court, 1 beach volleyball area, 1 Golf Center which has 2 golf simulators and 1 putting green, the new Badminton Center which has 2 badminton courts, 1 soccer field, and professional assistance for various sports with the help of our Sports Master and some Pro Coaches for select sports at the resort.

Staying fit whilst holidaying at Hideaway doesn’t have to be restricted to the gym. You can jog around the beautiful, scenic island or ride the bicycles that you will be provided with at your villa.

Speaking about this new addition, Christophe Adam, the General Manager of Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, said: “Wellness and fitness travel have come a long way in recent years. Diverse guests now want a variety of benefits from their vacations and they’re looking for programmes and services that are designed to meet their short-term health needs. At Hideaway, we recognise the importance of relaxation and enjoyment. So, we are here to help our valued guests to reconnect to themselves and to prove fitness can be part of a great holiday! We are really excited by the opportunity to create a truly wellness experiences with a wide of sports activities that are seamlessly integrated into a guest’s holiday in the Maldives”.

Hideaway invites guests to immerse themselves in a world of luxury, wellness, and unparalleled hospitality. With these new offerings, the resort continues to set new standards for the ultimate retreat, where guests can rejuvenate their minds, bodies, and spirits.

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Umair Badheeu sets new, national freediving record at AIDA Philippines National Championship



Maldivian freediver Umair Badheeu has achieved a new national record with a dive to a depth of 62 meters in the bi-fin category. His accomplishment was made possible with the support of Kaimoo Resorts and Hotels, a key sponsor and advocate for Umair’s pursuit of excellence in freediving.

Competing among 14 international participants, Umair’s performance not only secured a new national record but also surpassed his previous bi-fin category record of 60 meters by a margin of two meters.

Reflecting on the challenges of transitioning from his training in Egypt to competing in the Philippines, Umair said: “Adapting to reduced buoyancy due to warmer waters and encountering jellyfish were part of the new environment.”

This marks the third national record Umair has achieved. He previously set two national records of 62 and 64 meters in the free immersion category of free diving at the Andrea Zuccari World Cup held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in October. Free immersion freediving is a discipline that requires divers to descend and ascend pulling a rope.

Umair’s switch from training in free immersion in Egypt to the bi-fin category for this tournament demonstrated his adaptability: “It felt like shifting gears, utilising distinct techniques, and returning to a more familiar discipline. This dive marks a confident depth for me, focusing not just on depth but also on refining dive times for a more enjoyable experience,” he remarked.

“Kaimoo’s support has been instrumental, offering me the freedom to train. This support has allowed me to focus on honing my skills and achieving new heights in my freediving,” Umair added.

“Umair’s third record-breaking dive this year is a testament to his exceptional skill and determination. Kaimoo is thrilled to continue supporting Umair’s journey in the world of freediving. His achievements inspire us, and we congratulate him on this impressive feat, looking for-ward to his continued success,” said Mohamed Manih Ahmed, Kaimoo’s Managing Director.

With this record-breaking achievement, Umair now looks forward to a period of rest before gearing up for the upcoming freediving season.

Kaimoo Resorts and Hotels is a leading tourism company in the Maldives that manages five properties across the country. In addition to Embudu Village and Summer Island Maldives, Kaimoo also operates Equator Village in Addu Atoll, and the Mookai Hotel and Mookai Suites in Male’.

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Kuramathi Maldives and Rasdhoo Divers dive into adventure with speciality courses



Kuramathi Maldives, in collaboration with Rasdhoo Divers, is elevating the underwater experience by offering a captivating range of Dive Speciality Courses, tailored for both novices and seasoned divers alike. These courses go beyond the ordinary, immersing participants in topics such as Perfect Buoyancy, Wave, Tides and Currents, Turtle Ecology, Manta Ecology, Marine Ecology, Deep Diver Speciality, and Enriched Air Nitrox Speciality.

Perfect Buoyancy: Master the art of achieving and maintaining perfect buoyancy underwater, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable diving experience.

Wave, Tides, and Currents: Dive enthusiasts can now confidently navigate ocean dynamics, enhancing their skills in diverse underwater conditions.

Turtle Ecology: Gain insights into the captivating world of sea turtles, understanding their behavior, and contributing to their conservation.

Manta Ecology: Delve into the mysterious realm of majestic mantas, exploring their habitat, behavior, and the crucial role they play in marine ecosystems.

Marine Ecology: Discover the delicate balance of marine ecosystems and learn how divers can contribute to their preservation through responsible and sustainable practices.

Deep Diver Speciality: Embark on a thrilling adventure below 18 meters, gaining advanced skills for deep-sea exploration and mastering safe diving techniques and pressure management.

Enriched Air Nitrox Speciality: Unlock the secrets of the deep with Nitrox, ensuring safer and longer dives. Enhance your dive planning, elevate safety, and indulge in extended reef adventures.

These Dive Speciality Courses at Kuramathi Maldives are designed not only to enhance participants’ diving skills but also to instill a sense of environmental awareness and responsibility. As custodians of the pristine underwater environment, Kuramathi Maldives is committed to nurturing a community of conscientious divers dedicated to appreciating and protecting delicate marine ecosystems.

Led by certified dive instructors from Rasdhoo Divers Kuramathi, these courses provide a safe and enjoyable learning experience. Whether you are a beginner eager to explore the underwater wonders or an experienced diver looking to expand your knowledge, Kuramathi Maldives invites you to embark on a journey of discovery beneath the azure waves.

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