Sports to provide diversion for Yanks

PHOENIX (Arizona): Sport will continue to provide a diversion but not an escape for anxious Americans during the war against Iraq, with games played under heightened security at the nation's arenas and ball parks. 

As the US began hitting selected targets in the outskirts of Baghdad, the NBA and NHL plan to go ahead with a full schedule of games, while MLB continued to prepare for the start of a new season with Spring training in Florida and Arizona. 

Next week's world figure skating championships in Washington DC., the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament in New Orleans, and the Nasdaq-100 Open tennis tournament in Miami are going ahead without disruption. 

However, due to threats from President Saddam Hussein that Iraq is prepared to fight the United States anywhere in the world, MLB reluctantly cancelled plans to open the regular season with a two-game series in Tokyo between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics on March 25-26. 

While the MLB is preparing to start its season, the NHL and NBA are entering the playoffs and have no plans to disrupt their schedules, both leagues confident in the heightened security measures put in place since September 11. 

“Our two biggest assets are our fans and our players and we want to make sure everyone remains safe,” NBA spokesperson Tim Frank said.  

“Whether any games would be cancelled is something that would have to be dealt with at the appropriate time but right now that is premature.” 

A prolonged conflict could, however, affect the NBA's push back into the international arena. 

In the aftermath of September 11, the NBA has not ventured beyond the North American borders, only recently announcing plans to stage exhibition games overseas later this year. 

“We are looking at scheduling preseason games in Europe, Asia and Latin America and we'll continue forward with those plans,” Frank said. “But if we need to say, 'that's not a good idea right now and we won't do that then we will'. 

“We've proven in the past that we're not afraid to make that decision.” 

While the war has yet to trigger any interruptions on the domestic sports front, it has had an impact on American athletes competing internationally. 

The world's number one golfer Tiger Woods decided not to play in Dubai, while the United States and Canada supported the decision by FIFA, world soccer's governing body, to postpone the World Youth Championship, scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates from March 25. 

“It's just not a safe environment over there right now,” Woods said, giving up a us$2 million appearance fee to play in Dubai. “Going overseas, especially in that part of the world, is a little tough for me. You've got to be realistic.” 

Woods' next overseas appearance is not expected to be until May, when he is due to defend his title at the TPC of Europe in Hamburg, Germany. 

Lance Armstrong has maintained that war would not prevent him from chasing a record fifth Tour de France crown in July, but the 31-year-old American admitted some concern for his safety in a race taking place across much of France. 

“If the world is at war it won't stop me riding in the Tour, but obviously it will weigh heavily on my mind,” said Armstrong. – Reuters  

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