Canadian home sales retreat in November: CREA

OTTAWA, Ont. – The Canadian Real Estate Association cut its sales forecast for this year and next on Monday as it said slower sales in the wake of tighter lending rules this summer have remained.

The industry association said now expects home sales this year to slip 0.5 per cent compared with 2011 to about 456,300.

That compared with a forecast in September that called for sales this year to rise 1.9 per cent to 466,900 units.

CREA also said it now expects sales next year to drop two per cent to 447,400 compared with earlier expectations for a drop of 1.9 per cent to 457,800 in 2013.

“Annual sales in 2012 reflect a stronger profile prior to recent mortgage rule changes followed by weaker activity following their implementation,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s chief economist.

“By contrast, forecast sales in 2013 reflect an improvement from levels this summer in the immediate wake of mortgage rule changes. Even so, sales in most provinces next year are expected to remain down from levels posted prior to the most recent changes to mortgage regulations.”

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty moved in July to tighten mortgage rules for the fourth time in as many years in order to discourage those most at risk of becoming over-leveraged. Flaherty made mortgage payments more expensive by dropping the maximum amortization period to 25 years.

CREA said the average price for 2012 is expected to be $363,900, up 0.3 per cent compared with a September forecast of $365,000, up 0.6 per cent.

For 2013, CREA said it expects prices to gain 0.3 per cent to average $365,100. That compared with earlier expectations of a drop of one tenth of one per cent to $364,500 in 2013.

The downgrade for the outlook for the year came as home sales edged down 1.7 per cent month over month in November and were back where they stood in August.

The decrease followed a drop of about one-tenth of a per cent in September.

Actual, or non-seasonally adjusted sales, were down 11.9 per cent from November 2011 while the national average home price in November was $356,687, off 0.8 per cent from November 2011.

Sales were down on a year-over-year basis in three of every four of all local markets in November, including most large urban centres. Calgary stood out as an exception, with sales up 10.6 per cent from a year ago.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver contributed most to the small decline at the national level.

A total of 432,861 homes have traded hands over the MLS system so far this year, down 0.2 per cent from levels reported over the first 11 months of 2011 and 0.8 per cent below the 10-year average for the period.

The MLS Home Price Index, which is not affected changes in the mix of sales, showed prices up 3.5 per cent nationally on a year-over-year basis in November.

However, it was the seventh consecutive month in which the year-over-year gain shrank and marked the slowest rate of increase since May 2011.

The MLS HPI rose fastest in Regina, up 11.6 per cent year over year in November, though down from 13 per cent in November.

Among other markets, the HPI was up 4.6 per cent year over year in Toronto, 1.9 per cent in Montreal and 7.1 per cent in Calgary. In Greater Vancouver, the HPI was down 1.7 per cent year over year.

ECB’s Draghi urges leaders to create authority to clean up banks, on top of new watchdog

FRANKFURT – The head of the European Central Bank says EU leaders must move forward and set up an authority to clean up failed banks in a way that doesn’t leave taxpayers stuck with the bill.

Draghi said Monday that’s the next important step after European Union leaders agreed last week to put the ECB in charge of overseeing banks as the bloc’s single supervisor.

The top central banker for the 17 EU countries that use the euro sought to discourage the idea that a bank cleanup fund would itself require a lot of money from taxpayers.

“It’s not a bailout fund,” Draghi said in an appearance before the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee.

Any funding given to the cleanup authority would be to cover “limited, well-defined expenses” that are required to finance a dead bank’s breakup or restructuring.

European leaders are trying to create EU-wide banking supervision and backstops to keep bank failures from wiping out government finances, as happened in bailed-out Ireland and threatened to happen in Spain.

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The link between troubled banks and governments has been a hallmark of Europe’s debt crisis. Governments are tempted to bail out banks, because of their key role in keeping the economy going. But the bailout costs in turn can burden government finances. The mere threat that they might has made it difficult for Spain to borrow money affordably, for example.

As supervisor, the ECB could remove a bank’s license and sanction it for breaking rules. The resolution authority could go further and force losses on bank shareholders and creditors before tapping taxpayers’ money.

“A single resolution mechanism is very important because it allows us to cope with bank failures, which may well happen, in a way that does not force us to use taxpayer money, and at the same time it does not destroy major parts of the payments system,” Draghi said.

The ECB’s role as supervisor must first be approved in the EU parliament; leaders have not agreed on a proposal for a cleanup authority, but are due to take up the issue next year.

5 ways to tackle weight loss resolutions

TORONTO – Hands up everyone who plans to start the new year with a resolution about weight. Yup, that’s a lot of hands.

As everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows, it’s not an easy pledge to fulfil. Time and temptation trip you up regularly. “I’m going to” becomes “I should” becomes “I meant to” with distressingly predictable ease.

Chances are it won’t be less hard this time. There are no magic bullets for weight loss.

But there are a few things you can do to help yourself along. A few low-hanging fruit, as it were, of weight loss or weight control.

With the help of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based weight loss expert, and Dr. Arya Sharma, who holds a chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta, we’re going to tell you about five:

1. Cut the calories you drink. Yes, drink. People routinely forget about the calories in the fluids they imbibe, be it fruit juices, specialty coffees or alcohol, the doctors say. Unlike solid snacks, liquid calories don’t fill you up. They don’t trigger the brain’s impulse to compensate by eating less later.

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“If you drink 300 calories before your meal, you’re not going to eat 300 less calories at your meal,” says Freedhoff, whose book Why Diets Fail And How to Make Yours Work is coming out in April.

Nevertheless, drinks can hold plenty of calories. Look at Starbucks’ non-fat caffe mocha. A tall – oxymoronically one of the smallest servings Starbucks sells – contains 170 calories, and that’s only if you ask them to hold the whipped cream, according to a calorie count on the chain’s website. That’s more than the calories in a five-ounce glass of white wine (sauvignon blanc), according to a nutrient database on the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While we’re on the topic of alcohol, that is also a calorie source people often forget or underestimate, Sharma says. Depending on the serving size and the type of wine, a couple of glasses before dinner could run you 300 to 400 calories, he says: “That’s a whole meal.”

Despite the calories, alcoholic beverages don’t come with nutritional labelling on their containers. “A can of Coke, at least I know what’s in there because it says the number on the can. But when I drink a bottle of wine I have no idea how many calories I’m drinking,” Sharma says.

2. Get more sleep. The scientific evidence is piling up that society’s sleep deficit is contributing to the obesity epidemic. Study after study shows a link between too little sleep and weight gain.

In part it’s an issue of opportunity: A sleeping person can’t eat. Put another way, the more time you are awake, the more opportunity you have to consume calories.

But it goes beyond that, says Freedhoff. Science is still figuring this stuff out, but it looks like having too little sleep has an impact on the production of stress and hunger hormones and the body’s ability to process the sugars in food.

There’s also a vicious cycle thing at play with sleep and weight. If you’re tired, it’s hard to work up the motivation to go for a run or hit the gym.

“Just get an extra hour of sleep everyday and see how your life changes,” Sharma says.

3. Assess the liveability of your approach. Unless you’re a lucky person who only needs to shed a couple of pounds gained on a cruise or over Christmas, if you want to lose weight chances are weight control is going to be an ongoing part of your life.

So going on a drastic diet may shed the excess weight. But if you ease up, it’s going to come back.

“The idea that ‘I’m just going to do something for a couple of weeks and lose weight’ – you’re just setting yourself up for failure. That weight is going to come back,” Sharma says.

So consider whether the plan you’re working on is something you can live with over the long term. “People don’t want to lose for now, they want to lose for good,” says Freedhoff.

4. Set realistic goals. You’re not a runner but you decide your path to your ideal weight is by becoming a marathoner. Or you pledge to spend 90 minutes at the gym every day when you currently get there three or four times a month.

Not going to happen.

Setting a goal you have no hope of reaching sets you up to give up in despair. It’s better to fix your sights on something you can actually do.

“I think people should take small steps that are sustainable. You know, whether it’s 10 minutes, more days than not in the week to start with a program rather than ‘I’m going to start working out an hour three or four times a week’ and of course ultimately giving up that new exercise program that was overdoing it,” Freedhoff says.

5. Focus on behaviours, not pounds. Your weight is where it is because of your habits. Maybe you snack in front of the TV at night or you give yourself a free pass when you eat out – and you eat out a lot.

Grappling with those habits is what you have to do to make inroads on weight control, Sharma says.

He can think of a bunch of habits that may be sabotaging your weight control efforts. Skipping meals – especially breakfast. Letting yourself get hungry. Not getting enough sleep. Being too sedentary.

Sharma suggests replacing these undermining habits with ones that will help you succeed. Wear a pedometer. Keep a food diary – or at least cultivate calorie awareness, so you have a sense of how much you are eating. Eat regularly, and from a smaller plate.

Freedhoff suggests examining your pattern of eating out, and figuring out where you could cut back on these kinds of meals, which can erode your will-power and torpedo your diet.

It’s not that people should cut out eating out altogether, he says. But he suggests finding your laziest convenience meal, and making a commitment to replacing it with a homecooked meal instead.

Five fashionable trends to try in 2013

TORONTO – Sweats? Sweaters? Suits? Or T-shirts and jeans?

Comb through your closet and undoubtedly clues will emerge of which well-worn items stacked in multiples may rank among your fashionable favourites.

A go-to ensemble is not unlike having a stylish daily uniform which offers a sense of comfort and familiarity to the wearer.

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But if it’s on your New Year’s to-do list to shake up your style or you’re merely looking to accentuate a tried-and-true look, you’re in luck: the range of ripped-from-the-runway options is extensive.

Yet for some, the prospect of sifting through a sea of apparel and accessory offerings on store shelves may seem a bit daunting.

Well, fear not, fashionistas. Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction for Holt Renfrew, fashion and media maven Jeanne Beker, LouLou editor-in-chief Julia Cyboran and Hello! Canada fashion and beauty editor Julia Seidl share their suggestions of five fashionable trends worthy of trying in 2013.

1. The tunic. Whether worn with sleeves or without, the loose-fitting garment was featured prominently on runways at home and abroad, perhaps most notably in Milan among the colourful, luxe looks unveiled from Italian fashion house Gucci.

“In the past, it may have looked like a little mini-dress. But today, we’re going to layer it over a skinny legging or that new knee-length bicycle short,” says Atkin. “The tunic is really looking new.”

Atkin says the garment can be paired with a skirt as well – be it a slim pencil silhouette or a flirtier version – and will be seen in soft, easy silks, sheers or even more constructed fabrics like cotton.

2. Transparency. See-through accessories give a whole meaning to the phrase “barely there.”

“It’s anything from the new lucite heel to an actual transparent shoe which is made of PVC or vinyl,” says Atkin of the look which she describes as the “new neutral.” Tote bags and belts are also popping up in PVC fabrications, she notes.

But for those concerned about their valuables being visible within a transparent bag, Atkin suggests purchasing different prints from the fabric store to line the interior. Individuals could also consider placing a small fabric or drawstring bag within the tote or carry-all to discreetly house the contents inside, she adds.

“You can change it up, and that’s such an inexpensive way of doing it.”

Atkin says the transparency trend is apparent in apparel as well, with sheer fabrics and sheer insets being seen in clothing.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Seidl who has seen many dresses with geometric cutouts and flashes of skin in garments for the year ahead that are “sexy but not too revealing.”

“We saw a lot of sheer panelling as well. So we saw a cutout, but we saw a panel of a sheer fabric covering it,” Seidl says. “You got a hint of it without it being too in your face, so that’s kind of a way to pull off the look if you are a bit more conservative.”

3. Headwear. While the young New York socialites of “Gossip Girl” may be heading off the airwaves, fashion fans can still channel their inner Blair Waldorf by sporting a style popularized by the teen soap: headbands.

Seidl says she’s liking mod-style headbands such as those spotted on the spring runway at Louis Vuitton with pretty, bow details. Young starlets like Elle Fanning are also being seen wearing full-wrap, elastic fabric versions of the accessory, she notes.

For those on the hunt for a new topper or looking to try their hand, er, head, at sporting a hat, the fedora may be just the ticket.

At Hedi Slimane’s debut show at Saint Laurent Paris this fall, Atkin says every model was sporting the headpiece. “Literally, the next day in Paris, every woman on the street pulled out their fedora or went looking for one.”

She believes the new incarnation of the felt fedora is a fresh take on a familiar item and one that will “become seasonless.”

“We have seen women wearing fedoras, but not like this, not this really kind of wide brim floppy one. And it’s going to be a really simple, easy one for everyone, (to wear),” she said of the style, which she described as having a “hippy chic feeling to it.”

4. Peplum. It’s prime time to get ruffled. Expect to see plenty more peplum in 2013, as the ruffle or short overskirt which attaches to the waistlines of garments is set to make an even bigger sartorial splash in the new year.

“Peplum has been dominant now for the last few runway seasons and it’s not going away,” says Cyboran. “We saw it again on the spring 2013 runways and it’s something that has finally translated to the market. So we’re seeing them everywhere and we’ve become comfortable with that silhouette – and it’s a silhouette that can really flatter.”

The peplum can add a touch of feminine appeal to a silhouette by cinching at the waist, she noted.

“The peplum is a great piece because it can be dressed up and it can be dressed down,” said Cyboran. “One of my recommendations would be to invest in a peplum, be it a skirt, a dress – even jackets now have a bit of a peplum feel to it.”

5. Go bold. The movement towards embracing richer shades in the wardrobe which was prominent in 2012 will continue in earnest in the new year in an unexpected way: leather.

While black and brown standard in leather looks, new collections from Toronto-based Lucian Matis and New York label Proenza Schouler featured vibrant shades like red and mustard, noted Seidl.

“It’s kind of in this rainbow of colours and also the different textures,” she says, pointing to the use of croc-embossed patterns seen in select leather creations.

For those seeking something similarly striking, Beker suggests opting for a bold or graphic piece to add pop to pre-existing ensembles.

“I think those are the kind of things that can give a lift to your whole wardrobe that is comprised mostly of little black dresses,” she said. “If you have just the right scarf, for example, with a big graphic black and white check, that could sort of elevate it to a whole other level.”

©2012The Canadian Press

Weary Chelsea facing key period in season with plans for world, European domination in ruins

LONDON – With its plans for world and European domination in ruins, weary Chelsea is facing a crucial run of domestic games over the Christmas period that will determine the fate of its imploding campaign.

Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Corinthians in the Club World Cup final in Japan came 12 days after Chelsea’s defence of the Champions League was cut short by an unprecedented elimination at the group stage.

Chelsea also lost 4-1 to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in August and was beaten 3-2 by Manchester City in the Community Shield weeks earlier, meaning four opportunities for silverware have already slipped by.

When the squad returns on a 12-hour, 6,000-mile flight from the Far East, a tough-looking schedule of six matches in 17 days awaits – starting with a League Cup quarterfinal against second-tier Leeds on Wednesday before games in the FA Cup and Premier League.

It promises to be a defining period for the London club and its embattled interim manager Rafael Benitez.

“We now have to go on a run of games in the league to keep ourselves in the hunt and we have the FA Cup and League Cup as well,” Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard said, “so we have to keep pushing on.”

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Chelsea is already 13 points behind Premier League leader Manchester United, so the League Cup may be Benitez’s best chance of silverware in his brief tenure this season.

The team also has the Europa League to contest but after the highs of winning the Champions League in Munich in May, it is some fall from grace.

For an owner as ambitious and demanding as Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, this latest setback – coming in front of a global audience – will hurt.

Chelsea became the first European champions to fail to win the Club World Cup since 2006 after a tired performance against Corinthians, which ended in further misery when Gary Cahill was sent off in the last minute.

“It’s a tough moment, especially for the Chelsea fans that came to Japan,” Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata said.

“I hope we can enjoy good moments and lift more trophies for the club … very soon. We’re still playing to win four trophies and we will give everything we have to success in each of them.”

Benitez is likely to face more criticism from fans this week, particularly if the after-effects of the draining trip to Japan take in a surprise loss to Leeds at Elland Road.

Fernando Torres still looks like a striker lacking confidence, despite scoring five goals in three matches before Sunday’s game, while supporters will wonder why Lampard and Ashley Cole appear set to leave the club in June at the end of their contracts.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Benitez.

Captain John Terry is ready to return from a knee injury that has kept him out since Nov. 11 while the Spanish coach appears to have stumbled upon the best way to utilize the undoubted talent of another centre back, David Luiz.

The mercurial Brazil international looked more at home in centre midfield in the 3-1 win over Monterrey in the Club World Cup semifinal than he did in central defence in the final.

With holding midfielder John Obi Mikel set to miss the match at Leeds and also the league game against Aston Villa on Sunday through suspension, Luiz may have more chances to show his adaptability in a new position.

For now, though, an inconsolable Luiz must recover from losing Sunday’s final to a team from his native country.

“I have a heavy heart,” said Luiz, who left the field in Yokohama in tears. “I am disappointed but I need to look to the future because I have many games ahead. I play for a big club and I need to win big titles.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber treated 2009 cancer scare head on

TORONTO – Several years after undergoing prostate cancer surgery, legendary British theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber says the health scare hasn’t made him more sentimental or inspired a desire to create another legacy project.

“It was just something that was curable and was a bore,” the 64-year-old director and composer said matter-of-factly in an interview to promote his production of “The Wizard of Oz” that begins preview performances at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre on Thursday.

“It just took two months out of my life which I’d have preferred not to have lost. You know, you don’t get back immediately in quite the way you think.

“But it’s gone and it’s one of the lucky things about prostate cancer is if you catch it early, it’s not a problem.”

That was the case for Lloyd Webber, who’s won seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards and an Oscar.

His diagnosis of early stage prostate cancer came in October 2009 after undergoing a blood test he’d requested while at the doctor’s office for something else.

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“There would have been a very strong probability that if I hadn’t just decided myself, ‘I’m going to have this checked,’ that I would be sitting here now with it and not knowing,” Lloyd Webber said in a hotel lounge during a recent stop in Toronto.

When the blood results were abnormal, Lloyd Webber took immediate action.

“I said, ‘I don’t fancy this,’ checked myself straight into the best specialist I knew and within a week he whipped the thing out. So there you go,” he said with a chuckle.

“I just thought, ‘I’ve got a new show coming on next year, it’s containable, get rid of it. Do it,’” added the London-based creator of over a dozen musicals, including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Cats.”

“Some people might have said, ‘Look, let’s go for one of these alternative treatments,’ and there are … things coming along all the time, which means that you don’t necessarily have to lose the prostate and all of that. But at the same time, I just thought … ‘Just get rid of it – next case.’”

Just a few months later, Lloyd Webber was back on the scene, opening the “Phantom” sequel “Love Never Dies” on the West End, and launching the BBC One series “Over the Rainbow” to find a lead for a London production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

He went the same route to find a Canadian Dorothy with CBC-TV’s “Over the Rainbow,” which was won last month by Danielle Wade of La Salle, Ont.

Dorothy in the production “is quite a feisty little girl who is quite desperate to get away from Kansas and break away from home,” said Lloyd Webber.

“So on that level she’s got to have a certain amount of strength.”

Taking inspiration from both the “The Wizard of Oz” 1939 classic film and the “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum, Lloyd Webber and longtime collaborator Tim Rice wrote four new songs for the production. Three of the new tunes are for the witches and the Wizard, who had no songs in the film, and one is to set up Dorothy’s experiences in Kansas.

The ending of the stage show that’s being launched here by Mirvish Productions posits that Oz really does exist, which harkens back to the book rather than the film.

“The book really is about the journey and that (Dorothy) discovers in a way that home is where she really wants to be. But she has an awful lot along the way,” said Lloyd Webber.

“There are so many interpretations of what that book’s all about and the one I really almost prefer is … that there were an awful lot of these strange, mystic people around at the end of the 19th century, and I quite like to feel that the author really, in the end, was talking about a state of mind that Oz was.”

Lloyd Webber said the Toronto production is bit simpler than the one in London, which had a revolving stage.

“But it looks wonderful. The tornado and everything is pretty good stuff.”

The creative team has also streamlined some parts and made a few cuts for the Toronto production.

“Several people have said that when you do something, it’s the second edition that counts,” said Lloyd Webber, who is also busy with a U.K. arena tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that he wants to bring to Canada and the U.S. in fall 2013.

“The only musical that I’ve ever been involved with when not one note was changed from the first preview to the present day is ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ Not one thing – nothing at all.

“But every other show that I’ve been involved with, yes, of course you see things that you want to improve or you want to streamline.”

The tone of the production has its dark moments.

“The flying monkeys are quite scary. I don’t think you can duck that,” said Lloyd Webber.

“But at the same time, it is a show for children, really. You might get a little bit scared when the witch comes flying over the audience but it’s not scary scary.”

Italian worker and 2 others are kidnapped in Syria, Italy says

ROME – Three workers at a Syrian steel plant, including an Italian, have been kidnapped, officials said Monday.

Italy’s foreign ministry did not say where or when the kidnappings occurred but that the plant is located in the regime stronghold of Latakia city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. The ministry statement said the two workers kidnapped with the Italian have other nationalities, but did not identify them.

Italy’s news agency ANSA said the Italian captive works as an engineer at the Hmisho steel plant in Latakia, but that he was abducted near Tartus, the Syrian port that is located about 55 miles (90 kilometres) south of Latakia and contains the only naval base Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.

Sky TG24 TV in Italy said the other two hostages are Russians, but there was no immediate confirmation of that. Interfax, a Russian news agency, quoted Sergei Markov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Syria, as saying it’s looking into reports that two of the three captives are Russian.

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Last summer, two Italian electrical engineers were abducted by militants in Syria and freed after eight days in captivity. They told reporters that they were kidnapped by several masked men as they drove to a Syrian airport. The two Italians were then helped by the Syrian army and returned home in July.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war since it began in March 2011, according to activists. The kidnapping of foreigners has been rare, but as Syria descends further into chaos the abduction of Syrians has become increasingly common across many parts of the country.

Most of those kidnappings appear to have sectarian motives, part of tit-for-tat attacks between rebels and pro-regime gunmen. But there have been many cases of gunmen capturing wealthy people for ransom or settling personal scores. Many Syrians rush to get home before dark, even in government controlled areas where the security situation is quieter, for fear of kidnappings.

On Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said he is closely monitoring the current kidnapping case but that he won’t release any details that could risk the safety of the three hostages.

“In all these cases, the well-being of our fellow countrymen is our absolute priority and it is indispensable to maintain maximum reserve,” he said.


AP correspondents Zeina Karam in Beirut and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

ATP opposes US Open switch to Monday’s men’s final for 2013; unhappy on prize money too

LONDON – The ATP opposes the U.S. Open’s switch to a Monday final in 2013 and is not satisfied with the prize money increase for the tournament.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced last Friday that the women’s final would be moved to Sunday and the men’s championship match to Monday next year.

While the move builds in a rest day ahead of each final for the first time, the ATP said Monday it was against the change and would continue to fight it.

“The ATP and its players have made it clear to the U.S. Open that we do not support a Monday final,” the governing body for men’s tennis said in a statement. “We strongly believe the U.S. Open should keep a similar schedule to the other Grand Slams, with the men’s semifinals completed by Friday and the final on Sunday.

“It is unfortunate the U.S. Open response did not reflect our views on this issue and the ATP and its players will continue to pursue this matter in its discussions with the USTA.”

Rain forced the USTA to postpone the men’s final from its scheduled Sunday slot to Monday each of the past five years.

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Some top male players complained that the U.S. Open was the sport’s only major tournament that put their semifinals and final on consecutive days. The men’s semifinals in New York will stay on Saturday under the new plan.

A decision about 2014 and beyond probably will come after the 2013 tournament.

Wimbledon, the French Open and Australian Open follow another pattern: women’s semifinals Thursday, men’s semifinals Friday, women’s final Saturday, men’s final Sunday.

The USTA also announced Friday that total prize money in 2013 will jump $4 million to a record $29.5 million. The increase is the largest in tournament history, doubling the roughly $2 million hike from 2011 to 2012.

The ATP said the increase was “appreciated” but did not go far enough.

“Over the last nine months the ATP and its players have asked that the U.S. Open fully recognize the fundamental role of the players in driving U.S. Open revenues, which are the largest in our sport,” the statement said.

“The ATP therefore remains committed to continuing discussions on this issue, with the objective of ensuring that the players’ share of the revenues at the U.S. Open truly reflects the value that they generate for the event.”

Pope tells Italy’s Olympic team not to give in to the ‘blind alley’ of doping

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told Italy’s Olympic team on Monday not to be tempted by performance-enhancing drugs, saying doping was a “blind alley” that isn’t worthy of such models of perseverance, sacrifice and human ability.

Benedict held an audience Monday with members of Italy’s Olympic and Paralympic teams in the frescoed Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, congratulating them on their 28 medals, eight of them gold, from the London Olympics.

The 85-year-old German pontiff said sport was beneficial for individuals and society, requiring loyalty, respect and altruism – as well as patience and humility “which is never applauded but is the secret of victory.”

And while victory is a worthy goal, he said, “Pressure to win good results should never prompt you to take shortcuts as happens with doping.”

“Let the same team spirit be a spur to avoid these blind alleys, and also be a support to those who realize they have made mistakes, so that they feel welcomed and helped.”

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One of the most noteworthy doping cases from the 2012 Games was that of Alex Schwazer, the Italian 2008 Olympic race walk champion who was expelled from London after testing positive for the banned blood booster EPO. Schwazer broke down in tears recounting how he hid the banned substance in the home he was sharing with star figure skater Carolina Kostner.

The Vatican has long sought to emphasize the positive role that sports can play in society. Earlier this year, the Vatican’s culture office opened a new “Culture and Sport” department, saying the sporting world was in need of a “cathartic” change to prevent it from spiraling into a profession dominated by money and drugs.

Benedict himself launched the London-based John Paul II Foundation for Sport during his 2010 visit to Britain. The late pope was an avid athlete who loved to ski and hike. Benedict is more scholar than sportsman but he nevertheless said Monday he appreciates the value of sport.

“Sport is both an educational and cultural benefit, able to reveal to man his own self and let him understand the most profound values of his life,” Benedict said.


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Zenit St Petersburg supporters call on club to start fielding all-white, non-gay team

MOSCOW – Fans of two-time defending Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg are calling for non-white and gay players to be excluded from the team, another sign of the racism that is plaguing the country that will host the World Cup in 2018.

Landscrona, the largest Zenit supporters’ club, released a manifesto Monday demanding the club field an all-white, heterosexual team. It added that “dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit’s throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction” and said gay players were “unworthy of our great city.”

The club quickly sought to distance itself from the fans. Without directly referring to their manifesto, Zenit’s Italian head coach, Luciano Spalletti, said on the club’s website that “tolerance for me is most of all the ability to understand and accept differences.”

“Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any kind of stupidity,” he added.

The club, which is owned by state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, also told the R-Sport news agency it picked players on ability alone, insisting that “the team’s policy is aimed at development and integration into the world soccer community, and holds no archaic views.”

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Zenit was the only top-flight Russian team without a black player until this summer, when it acquired Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel for 80 million euros ($105 million). French midfielder Yann M’Vila declined a move to the club in August after receiving death threats.

“I can personally assure you that I will do everything I can to help those who seek to explain to people what tolerance is, and the need to respect other cultures and traditions,” Spalletti said. “I think that Zenit has proven through its work that the club understands what tolerance is, and what it means to have tolerant behaviour. The team has gathered players from different countries and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal, and work well.”

Fans insisted that “we are not racists and for us the absence of black Zenit players is just an important tradition that underlines the team’s identity and nothing more.”

Russia has struggled to deal with racism and violence at its stadiums as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup. Black players are frequently the targets of monkey chants and some, including Anzhi Makhachkala’s Robert Carlos and Christopher Samba, have had bananas thrown at them by fans.

Officials have at times shown little enthusiasm for targeting racism. When Lokomotiv Moscow fans held up a banner in 2010 thanking an English team for signing their black striker Peter Odemwingie with a picture of a banana, the head of Russia’s World Cup bid awkwardly claimed they were referencing a quaint, little-used Russian expression meaning “to fail an exam.”

Zenit’s fans have long been the country’s most problematic. Dick Advocaat, the team’s former Dutch manager, once admitted that “the fans don’t like black players” and that it would be “impossible” for Zenit to sign one.

Several black players have also singled out Zenit’s fans as particularly racist. Former Russian top scorer Vagner Love told a Brazilian newspaper in April that Zenit was “the most racist team in Russia” and the only one whose fans had abused him in his seven years playing for CSKA Moscow.

Five years earlier, Krylya Sovetov Samara’s former Cameroon international Serge Branco told a local newspaper that Zenit’s management were “the real racists” for not combatting the problem, adding that “in a civilized country they’d smack them down to the third division for their fans’ behaviour.”

Zenit’s fans have also come under the spotlight recently after one of them threw a firecracker that injured Dinamo Moscow’s goalkeeper during a match in November. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, himself a Zenit fan, called for violent spectators to be banned for life from attending matches. Parliament has drafted a bill that would ban hooligans for a year.