‘Force of nature’: ex-rugby player Doddie Weir leaves lasting legacy, say admirers | Motor neurone disease

Doddie Weir, the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions rugby union player who died over the weekend from motor neurone disease, leaves “a lasting legacy” and will, admirers said, be remembered as a man who helped transform people’s understanding of the disease.

Weir’s death aged 52 was announced by his family on Saturday. His wife, Kathy, said he was “an inspirational force of nature”.

Princess Anne, the royal patron of MND Scotland, was among those paying tribute. She said: “What a sad day. Doddie Weir will be greatly missed. He was truly larger than life, determined, generous and humble. He transformed people’s understanding of MND and funding for research.”

Weir’s friend Jill Douglas, the broadcaster and chief executive of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, said Weir was someone who always wanted joy, fun and hope to be at the centre of charity’s activities.

“He felt his diagnosis meant there was very little hope and people given his diagnosis were left without hope,” she said. “He felt that was inexcusable.

“He was determined to make a difference and he wanted to shine a light on the fact there was not enough being done for people who are given this diagnosis. His legacy will be to continue to make a difference.”

Weir was part of the successful campaign to get the UK government to invest £50m in targeted MND research.

Douglas said that investment was important. “If you talk to the research community, they believe they are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs. Ten years ago, if you’d asked that same question, you would have had a very different answer.

“People who are at the forefront of this research believe it is within touching distance.”

Weir revealed his MND diagnosis in June 2017. Douglas stressed that it was important to say that MND did not define his life, to remember the importance of family, rugby and farming. “It was the last part of his life and the rest of his life was rich and well lived,” she said.

“But he knew he had an impact. He was impatient for change. He never took the foot off the throttle, he was constantly challenging and pushing and questioning and inspiring … We have a responsibility to take that forward.”

Those sentiments were echoed by MND Scotland, which said Weir’s “tireless efforts to create change will leave a lasting legacy”.

Rachel Maitland, the chief executive of MND Scotland, said: “Doddie Weir was a huge inspiration who will be missed by so many. His bravery in sharing his experience of living with MND helped raise vital awareness across the country and beyond.”

Weir was a part of the United to End MND campaign that led to the government pledge.

Maitland said: “The success of this campaign brings new hope of finding meaningful treatments and a cure sooner. MND does not wait for anyone and now we have another person taken too soon because of this cruel disease.”

Rob Burrow, the former Leeds Rhinos rugby league player who has MND, said Weir was his hero and the money was needed urgently.

He tweeted: “I’m sorry to say, how many more warriors die before this stupid government give the 50m they said they would give. I’m absolutely gutted to see my friendly giraffe die. You are the reason for being so positive RIP.”

Weir was seen recently at Murrayfield, supporting the challenge that former Leeds and England captain Kevin Sinfield set himself to run seven ultramarathons in seven days.

Sinfield said: “I know, on behalf of the whole Ultra 7 in 7 team, it was our ultimate honour that Doddie was at Murrayfield just two weeks ago when we set off on our fundraising challenge.

“With his trademark smile, he insisted that he wanted to be there with his new pink trainers on.”

Sinfield said Weir’s spirit would live on “in all of us knew him. He will always be a champion.”

Tributes were also made to Weir by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and the Prince and Princess of Wales.

‘A historic moment’: Japanese World Cup hopes surge ahead of crucial Costa Rica match | World Cup 2022

After Japan’s stunning victory over Germany in their opening match of the Qatar World Cup, fans of the Samurai Blue are daring to dream their team could reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Their remarkable comeback last week has electrified Japan, where hardcore and casual fans alike stayed up until midnight to watch their victory over the four-time world champions.

“We’re just one game in, but Japan are already exceeding expectations,” said Dan Orlowitz, a sports reporter with the Japan Times. “I would have been more than happy with a draw against Germany, but to actually get the win is phenomenal.”

Japan’s travelling fans have already endeared themselves to their hosts, not least for cleaning up after themselves following the Germany match – a ritual that stretches back decades. That goodwill extends to the team, who left stadium staff gifts of origami paper cranes in their spotless dressing room.

Japan’s players, who are up against Costa Rica today, say they are spearheading an Asian challenge to football royalty from Europe and South America – a mission whose accomplishments include Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina.

“It certainly feels like this could turn out to be a great tournament for Asian countries,” said Jeremy Walker, editor of Sporting Asia, the Olympic Council of Asia’s official magazine. “The wins for Saudi Arabia and Japan were a huge step forward for Asian football, especially in the Middle East,” said Walker, who has reported on Japan at three World Cups and is now based in Kuwait.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu with his players during training
Hajime Moriyasu with his players during training. The Japan coach described his country’s defeat of Germany as a historic moment. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

“The locals here were cheering for Japan, too, so there is a strong feeling of pride that Asian teams have beaten two superpowers in Argentina and Germany. Qatar and Iran were disappointing in their first matches, but Saudi Arabia and Japan have changed the atmosphere. But can an Asian team reach the semi-finals, like South Korea in 2002? That’s going to be very tough.”

Orlowitz agrees the tide has turned for Asian teams after Qatar and Iran lost their opening matches. “I think there was a lot of concern among Asian football watchers early on with Qatar and Iran, but since then Asia has had a very respectable showing. The challenge will be getting into the quarter-finals. It may be too early to start thinking about that, but there’s room for hope.”

Japan’s coach, Hajime Moriyasu, could cement his newfound status as national hero if he achieves his goal of taking Japan to the last eight for the first time since their World Cup debut at France 1998, and four years after they came agonisingly close in Russia.

“I believe it’s a historic moment, a historic victory,” he said after the Germany game. “If I think about the development of Japanese soccer, thinking of the players, for them this was a big surprise.”

While Moriyasu revelled in his players’ heroics, fans back home were awaiting the next appearance by Taiyo, an eight-year-old river otter at an aquarium in Tokyo, which predicted Japan would beat Germany the day before the match.

If they repeat the feat against Costa Rica, they could make the knockout stages irrespective of the result of their final group match against Spain. But as the team’s fans anticipated a second raucous night of celebration this weekend, the players were trying – with little success – to play down their prospects.

“We haven’t changed history yet, but I think it was a historic match, so I celebrated with my teammates,” said Ritsu Doan, who scored Japan’s first goal against Germany. “But from today, I’ve changed my mindset and am preparing for the Costa Rica game. It’s important not to get big-headed.”

Twitter may not cope with World Cup abuse, says Kick It Out chair | Twitter

The chair of the anti-discrimination body Kick It Out has voiced fears that Twitter will be unable to cope with online abuse during the football World Cup, after a wave of job losses at the social media platform.

Sanjay Bhandari said he was deeply concerned by reports of cuts in the trust and safety team at Twitter, as well as the departure of the executive in charge of the department.

“I am deeply concerned that the reduction in the trust and safety team and the departure of the leader of that team will be taken as a bright green light for hate,” said Bhandari. “I fear that industrial-scale levels of hate during the World Cup will go unchecked by Twitter.”

Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, axed approximately 50% of Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce this month. In the wake of the firings, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, said 15% of his team had been let go.

Roth left the company soon after. Last weekend, more than 4,000 Twitter contractors, including people who worked on content moderation, reportedly had their roles terminated.

Overnight, there were reports of widespread resignations among the remaining 3,700 staff at Twitter after Musk set a 10pm GMT deadline for workers to commit to being “extremely hardcore” or else leave with three months’ severance pay.

Bhandari said moderation on Twitter had been “been opaque, inconsistent and understaffed at the best of times”, and he was concerned that the platform would struggle to cope with a rise in user engagement among football fans after the World Cup begins on Sunday.

Before Roth departed, he said, Twitter had been subjected to a coordinated trolling campaign that bombarded the platform with abusive content in an apparent attempt to convince users that it had relaxed content guidelines.

A recent study revealed that more than 300 abusive tweets a day are sent to Premier League footballers, and nearly seven in 10 players receive abuse on Twitter. The research by the Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, found that 60,000 abusive tweets were directed towards Premier League players in the first half of last season.

One of the authors of the report said Twitter’s ability to deal with abuse of footballers could be affected by the jobs cuts.

“We are aware that Twitter are working with a smaller workforce,” said Pica Johansson, a researcher in the online safety team at the institute. “And there might be, for that reason, less ability for them to respond quickly to some of this type of abuse that we do see.”

The institute’s research found that less than 10% of the abusive tweets were identity attacks that referred to a protected characteristic such as race, gender or sexuality. However, Hannah Kirk, an online safety researcher at the institute, said racist or nationality-based abuse might be more prevalent at the World Cup.

“I envisage the big difference between the Premier League and the World Cup is global attention and also heightened awareness of nationalism, which potentially intensifies the stereotypical links between race and nation. We might then see a little bit more racism or nationality-directed abuse than we would in the Premier League,” Kirk said.

Nonetheless, the Football Association is confident it will be able to act if Twitter becomes a focus for abuse of its players, as it did during last year’s European championships.

Football bodies within England established a fast-track reporting system last year, and the FA has confirmed with Twitter that the same support will be available in the coming month and that resources will be made available for moderation.

The FA also uses third-party agencies to monitor for abuse and report on its behalf. This week, Fifa and the international players’ union Fifpro announced a similar scheme, a “social media protection service” (SMPS) that would be available to players in all 32 nations competing at the World Cup.

Allowing for the scanning and reporting of offensive content, the SMPS will also let players with social media accounts automatically hide comments that are judged offensive. This service will apply only to posts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, with Twitter understood to have been excluded from the process owing to technical issues.

Twitter has been approached for comment.