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European ‘Super League’ Plans Set Off Battle for Future of Football

The governing bodies of world football have threatened to ban any club or player taking part in the new European Super League from playing in their competitions, raising the prospect that some of the world’s biggest stars could be banned from representing their countries in the FIFA World Cup. Battle lines are being drawn for the future of football, after a dozen top European clubs signed up to the breakaway competition, which critics say will destroy the traditional structure of the game. On both sides, powerful forces are squaring up for a fight that could decide the future of the global game. Six clubs from Britain — Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea; three from Spain — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid; and three from Italy — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — originally signed up for the breakaway European Super League, whose formation was announced Monday. However, just hours after that announcement, Manchester City confirmed Tuesday they would no longer take part in the competition. It was reported that Chelsea also plans to drop out. The European Super League organizers say the new competition would rival but not replace existing domestic leagues and European tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions League. The founding members would never face relegation. A further five clubs would be admitted through seasonal qualification. A Chelsea fan walks past banners outside the stadium after reports suggest they are set to pull out of the European Super League, London, Britain, April 20, 2021.Sports finance analyst Borja Garcia of Britain’s Loughborough University said the primary motivation for the new league is money. “Football has never been a very good business for club owners until a few years ago. But now, of course, comes the pandemic. Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid — almost every club in Europe and around the world — are in massive debt. But the big clubs are in more debt because they have more salaries to pay. They depend more on audiences,” Garcia told VOA. “So, if I had to pick one (reason), I think it is indeed the level of debt that the pandemic has created in European football. But probably it is fair to say that that is not the cause of everything, but rather, an accelerator,” he said.  U.S. investment bank J.P. Morgan will provide the finance, with each founding club gaining a share of $4.2 billion. Florentino Perez, European Super League chairman and current president of Real Madrid, defended the plans on national television Tuesday, warning that the top clubs had lost a total of $6 billion in the past season because of the pandemic. “At this time, we are doing this to save football, which is at a critical moment,” Perez said. “Soccer has to evolve, like life, like companies, people, mentalities, do. Social media has changed behavior, and football has to change and adapt to the times we live in.” Perez claimed that interest in football was declining among young people, although he did not provide evidence.  “Why are they not interested in football? Well, because there are too many matches of poor quality, and they aren’t interested. They have other platforms to entertain themselves with. That is the reality.  “Viewership declines. The rights were also declining. So, something had to be done, and the pandemic told us we had to do it with urgency. We are all broke. Soccer is global — it’s the only global sport in the world — and these 12 teams and some others have fans all over the world. Therefore, television is what needs to change so that we can adapt to the times,” Perez said. Opposition Plans for the European Super League have united a broad coalition of opponents. One poll suggested that almost 80% of British football fans are against the idea. “I think it is more despicable, it is more of a greedy power grab than we ever expected,” said Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe. “And they claim that they do it in the interest of football. They claim that they do it in the interests of everyone. They even claim that this is a response to the challenges of the pandemic. What they only really do is endanger the economic model of football and put every single club in Europe in danger.”  Chelsea fans protest the planned European Super League outside the stadium, in London, Britain, April 20, 2021.Sports historian Philip Barker told VOA the proposals for the European Super League go against centuries of competition. “The dream of actually coming up through the four divisions, doing what Wimbledon did many, many years ago — they came up from non-league football. We’ve seen it with (the) Wycombe Wanderers this past season — they got up to the championship. That dream of ascending through the levels of the pyramid was still there. But with this European Super League, there appears to be no promotion and relegations. It’s effectively a closed shop for the giants of the game,” Barker said. He added, “There is a school of thought that says that this is not actually for certain, but it’s a bargaining chip, because the big clubs were not happy with how UEFA was looking to expand the Champions League.”  Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, the managers of Liverpool and Manchester City respectively — both signatories of the European Super League — have voiced their opposition, as well. Critics have called the European Super League a “closed shop” that will destroy smaller clubs. “The European model of sport is supposed to be … a model where the whole football pyramid is linked together, so the top of the pyramid has a duty of care for the bottom of the pyramid,” Garcia of Loughborough University said. The European Union and the British government say it’s vital to preserve that model. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday at a press conference he would “look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead.” He said, “Football was invented and codified in this country. It is one of the great glories of this country’s cultural heritage. These clubs, these names originate from famous towns and cities in our country. And I don’t think (it’s) right that they should be somehow dislocated from their hometowns, home cities, taken and turned into national brands and commodities, just circulate the planet propelled by the billions of banks, without any reference to fans and those who’ve loved them all their lives.”  Bans and consequences UEFA, which governs European football, and FIFA, which oversees world football, have threatened to ban all clubs and players taking part in the European Super League from participating in their competitions, including the World Cup. Speaking at the FIFA Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, Tuesday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned the participating clubs that there would be consequences. “If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice. They are responsible for their choice. Concretely, this means either you’re in or you’re out. You cannot be half in or half out. Think about it. Everyone has to think about it, and this has to be absolutely, absolutely clear. We can see that there is a lot to throw away for maybe a short-term financial gain of some, and people need to think very carefully,” he said. New fans, markets The European Super League is designed to appeal to fans outside of Europe and to take advantage of new markets. Some fans in Asia expressed support. “I’m mostly interested in watching these amazing matches and stiff competition. This could have a lot more appeal,” said Kevin Wang, an Inter Milan fan from Beijing. Dalad Suriyo, a Manchester United fan from Bangkok, shares that view. “I agree with the breakaway, as the football players can build up their strengths in the league,” Suriyo said. Some fans in Europe also support the changes. “I think the level of these clubs (involved in the European Super League) would improve, and it would create better matches for the audience. That would not fit very much with UEFA for economic reasons, and that’s why they are against it,” said Madrid student Andres Cruz. 
 

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New Vaccine Center For Broadway Workers Opens in NYC

In an effort to bring Broadway back in the spotlight, New York City opened a new COVID-19 vaccination center for Broadway stage and screen workers on Times Square. Evgeny Maslov has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.Camera: Michael Eckels     
 

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UEFA President Urges Super League Owners to Reverse Decision

In a direct appeal to the owners of the English clubs in the Super League project, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin urged them Tuesday to change their minds out of respect for soccer fans.
Ceferin both cajoled and criticized the six-club English group — made up of American billionaires, Middle East royalty and a Russian oligarch — less than 48 hours after the Super League was launched in alliance with three clubs from each of Italy and Spain.
“Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” Ceferin said in a speech to European soccer leaders at the UEFA annual meeting. “Some will say it is greed, others (will say) disdain arrogance, flippancy or complete ignorance of England’s football culture. It does not matter.
“What does matter is that there is still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Ceferin urged them to turn back out of respect for fans in England, aiming another barb at what he earlier called “a few selfish people.”
“Come to your senses,” he said. “Not out of love for football because I imagine some of you don’t have much of that.”
Ceferin also lavished praise on UEFA executive committee colleague Nasser al-Khelaifi, the president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain. PSG has so far resisted offers to be one of the 15 founding Super League members. Bayern Minich and Borussia Dortmund have also stayed out.
“Nasser, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You showed that you are a great man,” Ceferin told the Qatari official before also citing Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
The UEFA president also spoke about an email he received from a fan of Tottenham, one of the six rebel clubs from the Premier League.
“If you read the email you would be close to crying,” Ceferin said of the fan he identified only as Trevor, whom he had given two tickets to the 2019 Champions League final, when Tottenham lost to Liverpool.
Ceferin said fans and governments have supported UEFA in resisting the proposed 20-team Super League, which threatens to directly challenge the Champions League and damage the historic pyramid structure of European soccer.
“We cannot lose this match,” said Ceferin, a Slovenian lawyer.
The clubs have not said when their planned breakaway league, underwritten by American bank JP Morgan Chase, would kick off.
On Monday, Ceferin said he wanted Super League clubs and their players banned from all UEFA competitions “as soon as possible.”
It is unclear if UEFA’s legal statutes and Champions League rules will allow that before Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City play in the semifinals next week. Manchester United and Arsenal also play next week in the Europa League semifinals.
Earlier Tuesday in a speech that seemed to blame the club owners and absolve players, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he can only “strongly disapprove” of the Super League.
“If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice,” Infantino said. “They are responsible for their choice.”

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‘Downton Abbey’ Cast Returns for Sequel Opening in December

The original principal cast of “Downton Abbey” are returning for a second film that will arrive in theaters December 22 this year, Focus Features announced Monday.
 
“Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes has written the sequel’s screenplay, and Simon Curtis (“My Week With Marilyn”) is directing. Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and 86-year-old Maggie Smith will all be back, along with some new faces, including Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye and Dominic West.  
Production began last week on “Downton Abbey 2.”
 
“After a very challenging year with so many of us separated from family and friends, it is a huge comfort to think that better times are ahead and that next Christmas we will be re-united with the much beloved characters of ‘Downton Abbey,'” said producer Gareth Neame.  
The 2019 film, coming three years after the series ending, made $194.3 million on a modest budget of less than $20 million.

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‘Ultimate Betrayal’ – Premier League Fan Groups Unite to Condemn Super League

Fans of the Premier League clubs named as part of the breakaway Super League launched on Sunday have joined forces to condemn the move with Chelsea’s Supporters’ Trust describing it as the “ultimate betrayal.”
 
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said it was “deeply concerned” at their club’s involvement while Arsenal’s Supporters’ Trust described it on Twitter as “the death of the club as a sporting institution.”
 
Manchester United’s Supporters’ Trust (MUST) also stood firm against the Super League which would have the club’s co-chairman, American Joel Glazer, as it’s vice-chairman.
 
“These proposals are completely unacceptable and will shock Manchester United fans, as well as those of many other clubs,” it said in a statement.
 
“When Sir Matt Busby led us into the European Cup in the 1950s, the modern Manchester United was founded in the tragedy and then triumph that followed. To even contemplate walking away from that competition would be a betrayal of everything this club has ever stood for.”
 
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham were named as six of the 12 founders of the Super League which has been widely condemned across the game and beyond and is likely to spark a bitter battle for control of the game in Europe.
 
In statement the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) said: “Our members and football supporters across the world have experienced the ultimate betrayal.
 
“This is a decision of greed to line the pockets of those at the top and it has been made with no consideration for the loyal supporters, our history, our future and the future of football in this country.
 
“This is unforgivable. Enough is enough.”
 
Unlike Chelsea, Tottenham’s record of winning silverware has been lamentable over the past few decades and they have not won the English title since 1961.
 
Their last trophy was in 2008 and while they have a state-of-the-art 60,000-seater stadium regarded as one of the best in Europe, they are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League next season. On Monday they sacked manager Jose Mourinho.
 
“The Board of Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust is deeply concerned by rapidly escalating reports linking Tottenham Hotspur Football Club with a breakaway European Super League: a concept driven by avarice and self-interest at the expense of the intrinsic values of the game we hold so dear,” a statement on the THST website said.
 
“Along with fan groups at Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, we wholeheartedly oppose the move to create a closed shop for Europe’s elite.”
 
“We call on (owners) ENIC, the temporary custodians of our great club, to distance themselves from any rebel group and to consider the implications fully before making decisions that will fundamentally change the course of history for Tottenham Hotspur forever,” it said.
 
“The future of our Club is at stake.”
 
Manchester City Official Supporter’s Club (OSC) also voiced its opposition.
 
“This proposed new competition has no sporting merit and would seem to be motivated by greed,” it said. “Those involved have zero regard for the game’s traditions.”
 
Responding to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust post on Twitter, Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly group replied: “Solidarity needed now more than ever.”
 
In a further Tweet SOS said: “Embarrassing as fan representatives we are appalled & completely oppose this decision. (Owners) Fenway Sports Group have ignored fans in their relentless and greedy pursuit of money.”

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Luke Bryan Wins Top ACM Award, but Female Acts Own the Night

Carrie Underwood brought the Academy of Country Music Awards to church. Maren Morris won two honors, including song of the year. Miranda Lambert performed three times and held on to her record as the most decorated winner in ACM history. And Mickey Guyton, the first Black woman to host the awards show, gave a powerful, top-notch vocal performance. Though female country stars didn’t compete for the night’s top prize – Luke Bryan was named entertainer of the year – they owned Sunday’s ACM Awards. Underwood’s performance stood out the most. She was joined by gospel legend CeCe Winans and the dynamic duo blended their voices like angels onstage. Underwood performed songs from her recent gospel hymns album “My Savior,” kicking off the set with “Amazing Grace” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Then Winans joined in, matching her strong vocal performance.Carrie Underwood, left, and CeCe Winans perform at the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on 17, 2021, at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.Lambert performed three times, first alongside rock-pop singer Elle King for a fun, energetic performance of their new duet “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” Lambert, who founded pet shelter nonprofit MuttNation, also performed alongside album of the year winner Chris Stapleton for “Maggie’s Song,” a tribute to Stapleton’s dog who died 2019. Her final performance was with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. The performances that aired Sunday were pre-taped at various locations in Nashville, Tennessee, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe. Winners, wearing masks, accepted awards in real time in front of small audiences made up of medical and health care workers. Bryan was set to perform Sunday but backed out of the show because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. “I’m so sorry I could not be there,” he said from Los Angeles. “And to all my fans out there and country radio, we miss touring. We’ve missed being on the road with everybody that makes me an entertainer. My bus drivers, my band, my crew, what a challenging year. But to all the fans and everybody we’ll be back out on the road doing what we love.” Morris spoke about the taxing year without live music when she won female artist of the year. “Really just happy to be in a category with women that were not able to tour this year, but brought so much heat to the game to country music this year. You’ve inspired me so much to no end, and even in a year where no one’s gotten to play shows, I have heard some of the best music out of all of you this past year. So thank you so much for inspiring me,” she said. Collaborating onstage was the theme of the awards show, and Morris and hubby Ryan Hurd sang together, ending with a kiss. A teary-eyed Morris won song of the year for her Grammy-nominated hit “The Bones,” which topped the country music charts for months last year. Morris lost single of the year, where all of the nominated songs were performed by female artists. Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s platinum duet, “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” won the prize.Lee Brice, left, and Carly Pearce perform at the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 18, 2021, at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.“We wrote this song about my story and I guess it resonated with everybody,” Pearce said onstage, also thanking busbee, who produced the song and died in late 2019. “This is the last song that my producer worked on.” Another tender moment came when Blanco Brown presented Old Dominion with group of the year. It marked Brown’s first public appearance after suffering significant injuries in a head-on vehicle collision last year. But the entire three-hour show didn’t go smoothly. The Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay performed their latest hit, “Glad You Exist,” but the pre-taped moment aired out of sync. “Apparently there was an audio/video sync issue on the television broadcast,” the duo tweeted. “We’re bummed about it, but it happens, especially when performances are happening in multiple locations.” Another mishap occurred when Martina McBride announced the winner of single of the year. McBride correctly announced “I Hope You’re Happy Now” though “I Hope” by Gabby Barrett appeared on the TV screen. Pearce and Brice’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now” also won musical event of the year, while Barrett was named new female artist of the year. Rhett won male artist of the year and Jimmie Allen was named new male artist of the year. Those acts performed Sunday, as did Alan Jackson, Lady A, Blake Shelton, Ashley McBryde, Brothers Osborne and Guyton, who gave an all-star performance of “Hold On” during the show, which she hosted with Keith Urban. She recently had her first child and became the first Black solo woman nominated for a Grammy in the country category this year. Little Big Town also performed — but as a threesome. The Grammy winners sang “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” without band member Phillip Sweet since he recently tested positive for COVID-19. Sweet and Bryan weren’t the only country stars missing from the show. Morgan Wallen, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year. 

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Theater Producer Rudin Will ‘Step Back’ After Allegations of Bullying

Amid mounting anger over allegations of bullying, Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin broke his silence Saturday, saying he was profoundly sorry'' and would step back from his theater work.After a period of reflection, I’ve made the decision to step back from active participation on our Broadway productions, effective immediately. My roles will be filled by others from the Broadway community and in a number of cases, from the roster of participants already in place on those shows,” Rudin said in a statement.The move came more than a week after The Hollywood Reporter’s cover story on Rudin contained accounts of the producing heavyweight throwing glass bowls, staples and baked potatoes at former employees. In his statement Saturday, he did not deny the allegations.Much has been written about my history of troubling interactions with colleagues, and I am profoundly sorry for the pain my behavior caused to individuals, directly and indirectly. I am now taking steps that I should have taken years ago to address this behavior,'' he said.The revelations in the Reporter also prompted the performers' unions SAG-AFTRA, Actors' Equity and the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 to come together to condemn harassment of entertainment employees.The revelations also prompted Tony Award-winner Karen Olivo to pull out of returning toMoulin Rouge! The Musical” once it reopens. There are also plans for a protest March on Broadway on Wednesday, with stops at both Rudin’s office, as well as the Winter Garden Theatre, where Rudin is producing the Broadway revival of The Music Man." There's also a campaign to persuade Actors' Equity to add Rudin to a Do Not Work list. 
 
In his statement, Rudin mentioned the upcoming reopening of Broadway after the pandemic shuttered theaters for more than a year. He said he did not want to
interrupt” the work ahead.“My passionate hope and expectation is that Broadway will reopen successfully very soon, and that the many talented artists associated with it will once again begin to thrive and share their artistry with the world. I do not want any controversy associated with me to interrupt Broadway’s well-deserved return, or specifically, the return of the 1,500 people working on these shows.”

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Celebrities Make a Stand for COVID-19 Vaccines on TV Special

President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and a slew of celebrities including Billy Crystal, Jennifer Hudson and Lin-Manuel Miranda are part of a special aimed at boosting COVID-19 vaccination rates.”Roll Up Your Sleeves,” airing at 7 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBC, will feature Matthew McConaughey interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci to help separate “fact from fiction” about the vaccines, the network said.Biden will make a direct appeal in support of the effort, while Obama will be joined by basketball greats Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal to reinforce the role of vaccines in allowing Americans to get their lives back on track.Former first lady Michelle Obama will team with Miranda, Faith Hill and Jennifer Lopez in support of shots during the hour-long special hosted by spouses Russell Wilson, the NFL quarterback, and actor-singer Ciara.Other announced highlights include comedy from Billy Crystal and Wanda Sykes and appearances by TV doctors Eric Dane, Ryan Eggold, Ellen Pompeo, Jane Seymour and Ken Jeong, who’s also a real M.D. Also set to appear are Sterling K. Brown, Lana Condor, Jennifer Hudson, Dale Jarrett, Joe Jonas, Eva Longoria, Demi Lovato, Joel McHale, Kumail Nanjiani and Amanda Seyfried. 

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Traditional Cambodian Silk Ikat at Risk of Extinction

A handmade pictorial Cambodian silk ikat that uses all-natural silk and dyes takes nearly a year to produce and can sell for thousands of dollars. But this traditional handicraft, which is being preserved by fewer than a dozen small nonprofits in the country, is at risk of disappearing. VOA’s Bopha Phorn tells the story in this report narrated by Chetra Chap.

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Coronavirus Hug Image Named World Press Photo of the Year

A photo of an 85-year-old Brazilian woman getting her first embrace in five months from a nurse through a transparent “hug curtain” was named the World Press Photo of the Year on Thursday.It was the second time the Danish photographer who shot the image has won the prestigious award.That the winning photo would portray the global pandemic was almost inevitable for the contest, which covered a year in which news around the globe was dominated by the virus that has killed nearly 3 million people, including more than 360,000 in hard-hit Brazil.The image by Mads Nissen captured the moment Rosa Luzia Lunardi was hugged by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza at the Viva Bem care home in Sao Paulo on Aug. 5.A curtain of clear plastic — its yellow edges folded into a shape resembling a pair of butterfly wings — offers protection, as does the nurse’s face mask.”This iconic image of COVID-19 memorializes the most extraordinary moment of our lives, everywhere,” jury member Kevin WY Lee said of the hug image. “I read vulnerability, loved ones, loss and separation, demise, but, importantly, also survival — all rolled into one graphic image. If you look at the image long enough, you’ll see wings: a symbol of flight and hope.”The image taken by Nissen for the Panos Pictures agency and the Danish daily Politiken also won first prize in the contest’s General News Singles category. Nissen also won World Press Photo of the Year in 2015 with an intimate photo of a gay couple in Russia.”The main message of this image is empathy. It’s love and compassion,” Nissen said in a comment released by contest organizers.”It’s a really, really hard, grim situation, and then in that horror, in that suffering, I think this picture also brings some light,” Nissen said at an online awards ceremony, after being told he had won the award and the 5,000-euro ($6,000) prize that goes with it.The body of a suspected coronavirus victim is seen in this image released by World Press Photo, April 15, 2021, by Joshua Irwandi, which won the second prize in the General News Singles category.Second place in the category was a far more grim COVID-19 image — the body of a suspected coronavirus victim tightly wrapped in plastic in a hospital in Indonesia on April 18 by Indonesian photographer Joshua Irwandi.The pandemic even reached the Environment Singles category, with U.S. photographer Ralph Pace winning for his image of a curious California sea lion swimming toward a face mask drifting underwater at the Breakwater dive site in Monterey.A curious California sea lion swims toward a face mask in this image released by World Press Photo, April 15, 2021, by Ralph Pace, which won the first prize in the Environment Singles category.Judges looked at 74,470 photographs by 4,315 photographers before selecting winners in eight categories, including general news, sports, the environment and portraits.The World Press Photo Story of the Year was awarded to Italian documentary photographer Antonio Faccilongo, working for Getty Reportage, for a series titled “Habibi” about Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons who smuggle their semen out of detention facilities in the hopes of raising a family.Winner in the Spot News Singles category was an image embodying the debate on race in the United States. The photo by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post shows a white man and a Black woman disagreeing about the removal of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C., which depicts a freed slave kneeling at Abraham Lincoln’s feet.Two people disagree on removal of the Emancipation Memorial, in Lincoln Park, Washington, in this image released by World Press Photo, April 15, 2021, by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post, which placed first in the Spot News Singles category.The Black Lives Matter movement was also featured, with Associated Press photographer John Minchillo’s series about the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd taking third prize in the Spot News Stories category. The category was won by Italian Lorenzo Tugnoli, working for Contrasto, for a series of images documenting the devastating port blast in Beirut.The Contemporary Issues Story category was won by Russian photographer Alexey Vasilyev with a series about the film industry in the northeast Russian region of Sakha. Associated Press photographer Maya Alleruzzo took second place in the category with a story about the Islamic State group enslaving Yazidi women in Iraq.

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