FIFA launches 1st ever digital World Cup sticker book for Russia 2018

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Iconic sticker giant Panini, together with FIFA, have launched their first ever official digital sticker album for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where football-mad fans can download sticker images online to complete their booklets.

First introduced for the 1970 Mexico tournament, collecting World Cup stickers of players, country emblems, and team photos of all 32 competing nations and compiling them in booklets has become a tradition for fans.

For the Russia 2018 tournament, Panini’s 13th edition, collectors for the first time ever will also be invited to download the 682 stickers through the Panini Digital Sticker Album app, through which they can swap duplicate stickers online.

The company launched the digital version on Wednesday with the hashtag #GotGotNeed, a phrase made famous by zealous sticker traders reviewing stickers missing from their own collection.

Booklets have already been dispatched to some of the 32 teams competing in Russia this summer, including World Cup first-timers Peru.

Official World Cup stickers will hit shops in the UK – where the pastime is equally popular among adults as well as children – on Thursday.

But British sticker fans have been left sore at the prospective price of packets of actual stickers, which will set you back 80p – just over USD$ 1 – per pack of five. Fans have begun tweeting the company in a bid to get them to lower the prices.

Alongside the stickers, Panini also launched Adrenalyn XL trading cards, which feature 468 stickers with graphics of the tournament’s top players.

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In Salisbury, where ex-spy & daughter were allegedly poisoned, people own stake in Russian assets

By ethan / March 21, 2018

While the UK government angrily accuses Russia of poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter, a regional British pension fund continues investing in Russian bonds and shares of state-run Sberbank.

The Wiltshire County Council pension fund had 10.6 percent of its cash invested in emerging markets through a fund operated by the Investec Asset Management. The latter held Russian obligations along with shares in Russia’s state-owned banking major as of January, as data revealed by Bloomberg shows. Notably, the town of Salisbury, where the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were allegedly poisoned earlier this month, is located in the region of Wiltshire.

“It raises a broader question about what investment funds do with their money,” Richard Connolly, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham focusing on Russian political economy, told the agency. “If the yield is good, the money will find its way there. It’s such a difficult question for anyone to address legislatively.”

According to analysts, emerging markets have recently seen enormous demand from investors. Despite the Skripal case which is ramping up international tensions, investors do not reject Russian equities. Russia is reportedly the fourth-largest country holding in the Bloomberg Barclays emerging-market dollar bond index.

“Russia is a major part of emerging market benchmarks and I’m sure that most institutional clients are well aware of that,” said Grant Webster, who oversees $ 18 billion in emerging market debt at Investec, as quoted by Bloomberg. “We should to the extent that we can be pressuring all governments into trying to change. We don’t treat Russia any differently.”

Combining investments is part of a long-term plan, aimed at eliminating risks and reducing the fund’s deficit, according to a spokesman at the Wiltshire County Council pension fund.

“Our committee has very strong ethics and governance policies that set out our responsibilities of how and where we invest. We will wait with interest on any decisions the government make on this matter,” the Wiltshire fund said in an email. “We use a third-party fund manager to oversee the investments based on the direction of our strategy and their professional judgement.”

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Putin order examination of Sobchak’s request to pardon alleged ‘political prisoners’

By ethan / March 21, 2018

A Russian presidential spokesman has told reporters that Vladimir Putin received a request to pardon 16 alleged political prisoners from election rival Ksenia Sobchak. He has ordered his administration to look into it.

This is true, this list made by Sobchak has been passed to the president. The president received it and charged his administration with the task of working through it,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday. “At present, I cannot tell you anything else,” he added.

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Ksenia Sobchak speaks at her elections HQ in Moscow © Maksim Blinov

Ksenia Sobchak has been a Russian celebrity for some time, but her foray into politics started only recently, when she participated in this year’s presidential election. She styled herself as a “none of the above” candidate for those who wished to protest against the establishment but were disinclined to support any of the other candidates. The strategy proved relatively successful as Sobchak finished fourth and got more votes than other liberal candidates (albeit a mere 1.67 percent).

At the end of the elections, Sobchak moved to secure her political position and announced that she was launching a new political party with ex-MP and relentless critic of the Russian authorities, Dmitry Gudkov. She also attempted to attract another celebrity, anti-corruption blogger turned political activist Aleksey Navalny into the coalition, but Navalny refused, publicly accusing Sobchak of working for the Kremlin in exchange for some “huge sum of money.”

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Aleksey Navalny (left) in talks with Ksenia Sobchak (right) source: Aleksey Navalny's Youtube channel

Earlier this week, a senior member of Ksenia Sobchak’s elections headquarters, Marina Litvinovich, wrote that her boss had met with President Putin and passed him a list of 16 persons who Litvinovich called “political prisoners,” together with a request to look into possibility of releasing these people through presidential pardon or amnesty.

The list includes people convicted for setting up extremist communities, applying violence to police officers during illegal rallies, as well as terrorism offenses. One of these people is Aleksey Navalny’s brother Oleg, who was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in late 2014 for embezzling over $ 500,000 from the international cosmetics company Yves Rocher. Another person on the list is Aleksey Pichugin, a former head of security in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s oil company Yukos, who is currently serving a life sentence for masterminding multiple murders and attempted murders in the interests of his boss.

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‘Sex sells’: Australian surfing legend criticizes ban on filming bikini-wearing athletes

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Legendary Australian surfer Layne Beachley has criticized the World Surf League (WSL) decision to urge cameramen filming surfing events not to shoot close-ups of female competitors wearing bikini swimsuits.

I respect the fact women can choose the bikinis they wish to surf in based on comfort or practicality,” Beachley told Brisbane’s 97.3 radio.

It’s up to them to choose how they want to present themselves. I think it’s a step in the wrong direction as far as telling cameramen that they can’t film girls duck-diving or doing bottom turns, because that’s a natural part of surfing,” she added.

Last week, the WSL members met during the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast event in Queensland, Australia to discuss a set of issues, with sexual harassment at the top of the agenda.

Following the meeting, the body instructed cinematographers not to zoom in on the bottoms of bikini-wearing surfers during bottom turns or duck dives. Wide shots are expected to be used for competitors in ‘skimpy swimwear,’ while female surfers wearing boardshorts will have more close-up scenes during live broadcast.

READ MORE: Formula 1 to replace ‘grid girls’ with ‘Grid Kids’ initiative

The decision was made as part of guidelines on preventing potential cases of sexual harassment on the tour, despite no incidents have been registered in the sport. “We hold our staff, content, and organization to high standards across the board,” the WSL told

Beachley, who has won seven surfing world titles, criticized the decision which she thinks would hamper the surfers’ attempts to attract sponsors and promote surfing. “I’ve always been a proponent of ‘sex sells,’ and that was a part of the generation that I came through, and we just struggled to get any attention and recognition, let alone sponsorships,” she said.

We’ve broken down those barriers and now the women are actually embracing there femininity, their beauty, their style, their grace and their sexiness. And if that’s helping them sell the sport and improve their chances of being supported throughout their careers, then good luck to them.”

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Ukraine severs economic agreement with its biggest trade partner Russia

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Kiev announced the cancellation of its economic cooperation agreement with Moscow on Wednesday. The deal was signed in 2011 before the Maidan revolution, and was to be implemented by 2020.

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“It was adopted unanimously,” Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman said. Kiev explained the move by saying it was putting the “national interests of the country” first.

Earlier, Groisman told the local Channel 112 that Ukraine “will do everything to ensure that the aggressor country (meaning Russia) pays a high price for aggression in Ukraine.”

Russia and Ukraine signed a program of economic cooperation in 2011. The document, which was planned for implementation by 2020, provides for enlarging free trade and mutual protection of investments, creating a system of payment and settlement operations, and ensuring free movement of citizens.

Despite calling Russia an aggressor and signing a free-trade agreement with Europe, Moscow remains Ukraine’s largest trading partner. According to data quoted by RIA Novosti, the volume of trade between the two countries grew significantly last year. Ukraine sold 140 percent more goods to Russia, and imported 110 percent more compared to the year before.

Russia has a 9.4 percent share of Ukrainian trade, second only to the European Union as a whole. After relations between the countries deteriorated, Ukraine gradually lost half of its Gross Domestic Product, which shrank from $ 183 billion in 2013 to $ 93 billion in 2016. The Ukrainian hryvnia has depreciated more than three times against the dollar and more than two times against the Russian ruble over the period.

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Electric storm at 30,000ft: Airplane passenger captures astounding pyrotechnics (PHOTO, VIDEOS)

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Alabama was subjected to hurricane-force winds and tornados as an extremely powerful weather system descended on the state. One resident managed to capture some spectacular atmospheric pyrotechnics through her plane window.

Martha Hart Mulligan was traveling home from North Carolina on Monday as the tempest hit. The pilot of American Airlines pilot flight 5566 reportedly took the long way around to avoid the storm system but it proved too big to escape as the footage shows. No-one on board was injured and the flight landed safely that evening.

“We were trying to fly south of the storm to avoid some turbulence. This is the impressive lightning we encountered, and we’re happy to report that it did not ‘encounter’ us,” Hart Mulligan wrote on Facebook.

“There has been significant damage tonight in parts of Alabama,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement late Monday. “We are sending state resources to those affected areas, especially to Jacksonville and Calhoun County. We will continue to monitor and respond to needs in other areas as needed.”

Strong storms battered the southeastern US on March 19 but Alabama experienced hurricanes, tornadoes and baseball-sized hailstones which caused widespread property damage, killing one person. Buildings were shredded, trees and powerlines felled and people were left trapped beneath the debris.

“This is the Long track #tornado that caused extensive damage in Jacksonville AL- fire reporting injuries- AL troopers say it’s a war zone- JSU coliseum roof took major damage. Additional law enforcement on the way,” Lt. Andy Norris wrote of the devastation on Twitter.

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On the brink of history: Zagitova seeks world championship after Olympic triumph

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Russian Winter Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is one step away from becoming the first figure skater ever to win all major titles in a senior season debut, as the World Figure Skating Championships kicks off on Wednesday.

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© Aris Messinis

The 15-year-old, who triumphed at the European and Olympic tournaments this season, will now go for the gold in the world championships – the only trophy missing in her impressive collection of awards.

In the absence of reigning world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, who was forced to withdraw from the upcoming event due to a recurring leg injury, Zagitova has become the favorite to win the world title in Milan, Italy.

Zagitova’s senior debut was sensational, as she immediately ascended to the figure skating pinnacle by winning all local and international events she took part in. She was victorious in season-opening Grand Prix events where even a poorly performed short program did not prevent her from taking the overall crown.

She went on to dominate in the national championships and the Grand Prix Final which, however, took place without one of her main rivals – training partner Medvedeva, who was recovering from a broken leg.

The highly-anticipated clash between the two finally took place at the pre-Olympic European tournament in Moscow, where Zagitova unexpectedly eclipsed defending title-holder Medvedeva to grab her first continental crown.

READ MORE: Russian figure skater Medvedeva out of world champs due to recurring leg injury

Zagitova also bested her more experienced teammate at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Both skaters delivered outstanding performances in South Korea, but Zagitova’s immaculately executed technical elements could not be matched.

Despite finishing second in the free program, she claimed overall victory due to her record-breaking performance in the short program, where she received a jaw-dropping score of 82.92 points.

READ MORE: Russian figure skating star Zagitova breaks Medvedeva’s newly-set world record in short program

She is the only skater in the world to put all of her jumps in the second part of the program, which gives her an advantage in points under the current scoring system. She also includes a rarely seen triple Lutz triple loop combination in her routines, the most technically complicated combination in women’s figure skating.

While competing in South Korea, Zagitova drew caustic criticism from American pundits, including figure skater Ashley Wagner and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who lambasted her for performing all of her jumps in the last two minutes of her free program routine.

READ MORE: ‘Why is she not penalized?’: US columnist attacks ‘strategic’ Russian skater Zagitova

Zagitova, however, responded to the criticism with her remarkable performance which brought her the most prestigious title in figure skating.

The 2018 ISU World Figure Skating Championships will run from March 19 to 25 in Italy. Along with Zagitova, the Russian team will also be represented by Olympian Maria Sotskova and rookie Stanislava Konstantinova, who replaced the injured Medvedeva.

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Church of England gives blessing to Apple Pay

By ethan / March 21, 2018

UK churchgoers have been offered a faster way to donate – through contactless transactions and Apple or Google Pay. Terminals will be made available in more than 16,000 churches, cathedrals and other religious sites.

The new payment system introduced by the Church of England will offer services for events including weddings, christenings, and fetes. Congregations will also be able to donate via text message.

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Choristers from St. Paul's Cathedral choir sing at the Quire inside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Britain. © Dylan Martinez

Contactless payments have been on trial in 40 Anglican churches since last summer. The readers, which were tested during the trial, are capable of supporting 500 transactions without recharging. Each reader, which is supported by London-based fintech company SumUp, requires a “merchant” to input every transaction.

“There is a clear need for our parishes to introduce card and contactless facilities and we are excited to make this available,” said John Preston, national stewardship officer at the Church of England.

“How we pay for things is changing fast, especially for younger churchgoers who no longer carry cash, and we want all generations to be able to make the most of their place of worship,” he added.

The Church of England receives around £580 million ($ 816 million) a year in donations. Most of them are from standing orders and fees rather than cash given in church. The Church said it expects the majority of regular donations will still be made by standing order.

“Our parishioners can occasionally find themselves strapped for physical cash, so it’s fantastic to be able to offer an alternative which is quick and convenient,” said Alison Davie, church secretary at St. George’s Church Hub, in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

“We hope this is a step forward for St. George’s and many other churches like it, in staying ahead in the modern era,” she added.

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Sweet 16: Teen tennis sensation Anisimova making waves in Miami

By ethan / March 21, 2018

Teenager Amanda Anisimova continues to make waves on the international tennis stage, resoundingly dumping China’s Wang Qiang out of the Miami Open on Tuesday to follow up an impressive Indian Wells debut.

Sixteen-year-old wild card Anisimova, whose parents are both from Russia, bested world no.53 Qiang (6-3, 1-6, 6-2) in Miami despite sitting 77 places below her opponent at no.130. Her victory set up a second round clash with Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza.


Публикация от Amanda (@amandaanisimova)

Anisimova broke Qiang five times during a 98-minute match in which she committed six double faults to meet Wimbledon champion Muguruza in a tough clash for her next match on Thursday at Key Biscayne.

The youngster initially grabbed headlines by knocking out two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova at Indian Wells at the beginning of March, to which she was also given wild card.

“I was so excited, I just threw my racket and I was just like: ‘oh my God, did this just really happen?’ So it was just crazy, I couldn’t believe it and I was shaking for like 20 minutes after that,” she said of her win over Kvitova.

The New Jersey native, who has a US Open junior title to her name, had never won a WTA main-draw match until Indian Wells, where she reached the fourth round.

That tournament was also notable for another giant killing, as 20-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina reached the final by dispatching four top-20 opponents before coming up just short against Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

“Dasha is a giant killer: One gets the feeling we’re going to be seeing a whole lot of Daria Kasatkina in the coming years,” Richard Osborn wrote on the tournament’s official website. Kasatkina’s success meant she has beaten all four grand slam holders since September.

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US threatens to sanction European firms involved in Russian gas project

By ethan / March 21, 2018

The US State Department has issued a warning over probable penalties against corporations engaged in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, claiming that the Russian project undermines energy security in Europe.

“As many people know, we oppose the Nord Stream 2 project, the US government does,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a news briefing. “We believe that the Nord Stream 2 project would undermine Europe’s overall energy security and stability. It would provide Russia [with] another tool to pressure European countries, especially countries such as Ukraine.”

The pipeline project was started in 2015 as a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom and its European partners, including France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV, German Uniper and Wintershall, as well as British-Dutch multinational Royal Dutch Shell. The pipeline, running from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, is set to double the existing pipeline’s capacity of 55 billion cubic meters per year.

The spokesperson said that Washington could introduce punitive measures against the participants of the energy project. The measure could be implemented by means of a provision in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“At the State Department, we have spent a lot of time speaking with our partners and allies overseas to explain to them the ramifications of CAATSA and how an individual or a company or a country can run afoul against CAATSA and fall into sanctions,” she said. “We don’t tend to comment on sanctions actions but we’ve been clear that firm steps against the Russian energy export pipeline sector could – if they engage in that kind of business – they could expose themselves to sanctions under CAATSA.” 

Germany, along with the other EU nations, has repeatedly expressed an interest in implementing the Nord Stream 2 project. However, the pipeline has been fiercely opposed by the minor members of the bloc, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Hungary. At the same time, the Ukrainian authorities stand firmly against the project, as the future pipeline would bypass Ukraine and deprive its budget of transit fees.

Earlier this week, 28 Senate Republicans and 11 Democrats signed a letter, urging the White House to use all tools at its disposal to prevent the construction of Nord Stream 2.

This gives Washington an extra tool to identify and sanction US and foreign entities that support Russian companies, the letter said. The CAATSA law, approved last summer, was deployed to impose new penalties against 19 Russian individuals and five Russian entities.

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