All sports events in Italy this weekend were suspended in tribute to Pope John Paul II, who died last night while thousands kept vigil in St. Peter's Square and the faithful around the world reflected on his legacy.
"It was the only decision to be taken," said Gianni Petrucci, president of Italy's Olympic Committee. He had announced the decision hours before the Vatican said the 84-year-old pontiff had died following a long struggle against debilitating illness.
The suspension applies to the country's top soccer league, a playoff deciding the Italian ice hockey title, basketball and volleyball league games and amateur sports. Auto racing was canceled at the Imola circuit.
The committee said it had asked all national federations to immediately suspend all scheduled events over the weekend "in view of the latest medical bulletins reporting. . . . the imminence of the Holy Father end."
The coaches of soccer powers AC Milan and Juventus on Friday had urged that no games be played in view of the pope's worsening condition.
Co-leaders Milan and Juventus and third-place Inter were set to play crucial Italian league games yesterday leading to their Champions League commitments next week. Six Serie A games were scheduled for today.
"It's fair that the sport is stopped. . . . There are more important things than soccer," Cagliari captain Gianfranco Zola said.
SWIMMING: Aaron Peirsol broke his own world record in the 100-meter backstroke last night, swimming a surprising 53.17 seconds in the U.S. trials for this summer's world championships.
Peirsol, who won three Olympic gold medals last year, had a time of just under 55 seconds in the preliminaries in Indianapolis. He said he wasn't thinking of lowering the mark of 53.45 he set at the Athens Games.
"I think it's rare you surprise yourself like that," Peirsol said. "It's good that I still can."
The six-day meet ends on Wednesday.
SOCCER: More soccer violence hit three German stadiums during second division games, leaving one coach hospitalized in another blow to the country 15 months before it hosts the World Cup.
Police arrested 25 people while two police officers and an unknown number of spectators were injured when several hundred violent fans fought with police and each other Friday in Aue, Essen and Aachen. Stadiums and nearby gardens also were vandalized.
Energie Cottbus Coach Petrik Sander collapsed on the field during his team's 2-0 loss in Aue after witnesses heard a loud explosion. He lay there for several minutes before being taken to the hospital. There was no immediate word of the extent of his injury.
A week ago, German hooligans went on a rampage in Slovenia at an exhibition game. Slovenian police arrested 65 people, 45 from Germany, in the worse outbreak of German hooliganism since the 2000 European Championship. That mayhem led to 98 arrests. . . .
Former U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Friedel made several standout saves to help Blackburn hold Manchester United to a 0-0 tie in the English Premier League.
BOXING: In an International Boxing Federation 154-pound title elimination bout, RomanKarmazin (33-2-1), of St. Petersburg, Russia, won a 12-round majority decision over former two-time world champion Keith Holmes (39-4), of the District, in Worcester, Mass. With the win, Karmazin became the mandatory challenger to IBF title holder Kassim Ouma.
In the headliner, Luis Collazo outpointed hometown favorite Jose Antonio Rivera in a 12-round split decision to earn the WBA welterweight championship.
-- From News Services