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Saturday Sports: World Series game six; NBA controversy; FIFA World Cup wants apolitical players

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The World Series returns with Houston just a win away. Kyrie Irving and his antisemitic post, and FIFA urges players to leave politics aside in the World Cup. Can you do that in Qatar? NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Game 6 in the series tonight. The Houston Astros lead the Phillies 3 to 2. Has that magnificent, well-muscled, sharp-eyed Philly lineup forgotten how to hit?

GOLDMAN: And if anyone knows well-muscled, it's you. Phillies bats definitely have cooled of late, a combination of them missing pitches and the Astros making pitches, especially in that dazzling Game 4 combined no-hitter by Houston's pitchers. Phillies' strength is offense. If they don't rediscover it tonight, we're going to be talking dynasty, Scott, with Houston winning a second World Series title since 2017 and being the complete team - great on offense, defense, pitching - that we've seen for much of the last six years.

SIMON: A sad and outrageous story this week. We live in a time with rising antisemitism. Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets added to it when he posted a link to an antisemitic film. He's been suspended for at least five games without pay. That's pocket change to somebody on an NBA contract. His apology has been dubious. Why does it seem like the league and the team had to be dragged into doing something?

GOLDMAN: ESPN did an autopsy on the week, and it says the league was waiting for Nets owner Joe Tsai to act. He reportedly tried patience first, trying to educate Irving about antisemitism. But Kyrie apparently wasn't a willing participant while making evasive and even defiant comments in public. And then when he wouldn't answer no to a reporter's question Thursday about if he had antisemitic beliefs, that was the last straw - the suspension by the Nets last night; Nike suspended its relationship with Irving. Scott, it's been a debacle for the NBA with all these parties' delayed reactions, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. And in the meantime, the film in question, which Irving brought to the world's attention, which includes statements like the Holocaust never happened, as of yesterday afternoon, it was the top-selling documentary on Amazon.

SIMON: Oh, my. A little publicity goes a long way.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: World Cup kicks off in two weeks. FIFA's president sent a letter to national teams and players urging them to, quote, "let football take center stage, keep politics on the sidelines." Is that possible when they're playing in Qatar?

GOLDMAN: Well, sure, there's already been a lot of attention on Qatar's anti-LGBTQ policies, although the country's leaders say all fans will be welcomed without discrimination, and attention on the treatment of migrant workers who've helped build the stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup. But it is important to remember FIFA is part of this process, too. It chose Qatar as the host with the bidding process allegedly rife with corruption and bribery. And if we're to believe a high-ranking FIFA official, FIFA chose this and other controversial sites in the past willingly. In 2013, then-FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said at a symposium less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup. When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, that's easier for us organizers than a country where you have to negotiate at different levels.

SIMON: World Cup players are their own multimillion-dollar enterprises, and they have to worry about their home fans, too, don't they - right? - back in Britain and France.

GOLDMAN: Well, they do. It's a good point. These men are very wealthy from their club contracts, but we're already hearing from several World Cup teams that players will take a stand. So despite the FIFA president's plea, athletes may not keep politics on the sidelines.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much, Tom. Talk to you soon, my friend.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.