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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Last Asteroid Flyby Before Heading Home

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NASA’s ambitious Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) has been in orbit of the asteroid Bennu since 2018, but it’s getting ready to call it a day and head home. NASA reports that OSIRIS-REx has completed a last-minute addition to its mission profile: one final flyby of Bennu to see how its activities changed the surface of the object. 

OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in late 2018, but NASA spent almost two years studying the space rock before OSIRIS-REx got down to business. The spacecraft’s Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) allowed it to drift down and tap the asteroid, discharging a burst of compressed nitrogen. OSIRIS-REx did just that in late 2020, scooping up what could be more than two pounds of regolith. NASA would have considered the mission a success at just 2.1 ounces (60 grams). 

NASA says OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu on May 10th. The long wait is mostly thanks to orbital mechanics — if the spacecraft waits until May to leave orbit, it will use less fuel to get back to Earth. This also gave the team time to plan the now-complete final tour, which happened early on April 7th. 

OSIRIS-REx spent almost six hours taking images of Bennu during the pre-programmed maneuver. It covered more than a full rotation of the asteroid, but the area around the “Nightingale” sample site will be the most interesting. “By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid,” said Dr. Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona. 

With the flyby done, all NASA has to do now is download the data. That’s easier said than done, though. At a distance of 185 million miles (297 million kilometers), the Deep Space Network can only manage a data rate of 412 kilobits per second. Plus, OSIRIS-REx has to share time on the network with NASA’s other space missions. With just a few hours of downloading per day, NASA expects it will take another week to get the multiple gigabytes of data OSIRIS-REx collected. 

After getting underway on May 10th, it will take OSIRIS-REx two years to return home. The sample container with pristine samples of an ancient asteroid should land in the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.

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Suez Canal backlog officially over as last stranded ships pass through

The last ships stranded by the grounding of a giant container vessel in the Suez Canal passed through the waterway on Saturday, according to the canal authority, which said an investigation into the incident would report its findings soon.

The Suez Canal Authority said the last of 422 ships stranded by the grounding of the giant container ship Ever Given made their way through the canal by Saturday, ending the backlog caused by the blockage.

International supply chains were thrown into disarray when the 400-metre-long Ever Given ran aground in the vital trade artery on March 23, with specialist rescue teams taking almost a week to free her after extensive dredging and repeated tugging operations.

The massive container vessel was finally dislodged on Monday, thus ending the backlog of shipping that built up during the crisis.

An SCA investigation began on Wednesday into what caused the vessel to run aground in the Suez Canal and block the waterway for six days, Rabie told the MBC Masr private TV late on Friday.

“The investigation is going well and will take two more days, then we will announce the results,” he added.

WATCH | High tide, tugboats help free ship stuck in Suez Canal:

The gigantic container ship Ever Given has been freed from a sandy bank in Egypt’s Suez Canal after a team of tugboats helped pull its heavy bow from the shore and send it on its way. 0:56

The Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal about six kilometres north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.

That forced some ships to take the long, alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a 5,000-kilometre detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs. Others waited in place for the blockage to be over.

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Biden, Trump make last pitches to Georgia voters ahead of run-off elections

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Monday told Georgia Democrats they had the power to “chart the course” for a generation as President Donald Trump rehashed old grievances over his November loss in final pleas ahead of run-off elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Trump made his final-hours pitch to voters at a nighttime rally in north Georgia, where Republicans were banking on strong voter turnout on Tuesday to reelect Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and hold control of the chamber.

Earlier, Biden campaigned with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Atlanta, hoping he could recreate the coalition that secured him a narrow victory in the presidential race in November.

“Folks, this is it. This is it. It’s a new year, and tomorrow can be a new day for Atlanta, for Georgia and for America,” Biden said at a drive-in rally. “Unlike any time in my career, one state — one state — can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation.”

The stakes have drawn hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign spending to a once solidly Republican state that now finds itself as the nation’s premier battleground. Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of five million cast in November, though Trump continues pushing false assertions of widespread fraud that even his now-former attorney general and Georgia’s Republican secretary of state — along with a litany of state and federal judges — have said did not happen.

Trump’s call refuted

The president’s trip Monday came a day after disclosure of a remarkable telephone call he made to the Georgia secretary of state over the weekend. Trump pressured Republican Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Georgia’s election results ahead of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress that will certify Biden’s electoral college victory. The call highlighted how Trump has used the Georgia campaign to make clear his continued hold on Republican politics.

WATCH | Trump asks Georgia officials to ‘find’ the votes he needs to win:

The U.S. president is heard pleading with Georgia’s election chief to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state, according to audio clips obtained by The Washington Post. 1:30

On Monday, a top election official from Georgia offered a point-by-point refutation of many of Trump’s allegations on the Saturday phone call. 

Gabriel Sterling, the voting systems administration manager, said the election was not stolen and mass voter fraud did not occur in his state. But he said the best way to counter that would be to vote in Tuesday’s Senate run-off election. 

“If that’s what you genuinely in your heart of hearts believe, turn out and vote. There are people who fought and died and marched and prayed and voted to get the right to vote. Throwing it away because you have some feeling that it may not matter is self-destructive, ultimately, and a self-fulfilling prophecy in the end.”

WATCH | Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state met with outrage:

Democrats and Republicans are both expressing outrage about U.S. President Donald Trump’s weekend phone call to Georgia’s secretary of state, pressuring him to “find” thousands of votes in his favour to overturn the state’s results in the presidential election. It all comes ahead of state run-off votes for Senate seats. 2:47

‘Swamp’ the polls

Angry after the Raffensperger call, Trump floated the idea of pulling out of the rally but was persuaded to go ahead with it so he will have a chance to reiterate his claims of election fraud. Republicans are wary as to whether Trump will focus only on himself and fail to promote the two Republican candidates.

Trump, at a rally in Dalton, Ga., again pressed false claims that the November election was “rigged” and urged Republicans to “swamp” the polls Tuesday.

“The Democrats are trying to steal the White House, you cannot let them,” Trump said. “You just can’t let them steal the U.S. Senate, you can’t let it happen.”

Biden on Monday took aim at Trump’s scheme by declaring that “politicians cannot assert, take or seize power” by undermining legitimate elections.

Biden said he needs a Senate majority to pass legislation to combat the coronavirus, and he blasted Perdue and Loeffler as obstructionist Trump loyalists. Loeffler says she will join other Republican lawmakers in objecting to the electoral college certification of Biden’s victory by Congress on Wednesday.

“You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not the United States Constitution,” Biden said.

WATCH | A visibly exasperated Sterling on Trump’s allegations about the Georgia election:

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, accuses the legal team of U.S. President Donald Trump of intentionally misleading the public. 2:51

Ossoff and Warnock have campaigned with warnings that a Republican Senate will stymie Biden’s administration, especially on pandemic relief.

Warnock pushed back at the deluge of Loeffler television ads casting him as a socialist. “Have you noticed she hasn’t even bothered to make a case, Georgia, for why you should keep her in that seat?” Warnock said, speaking ahead of Biden. “That’s because she has no case to make.”

More than three million Georgians already have voted. Monday’s push is focused on getting voters to the polls Tuesday. Democrats ran up a wide margin among 3.6 million early votes in the fall, but Republicans countered with an election day surge, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Even with Biden’s statewide win, Perdue led Ossoff by 88,000 votes in November, giving the Republican confidence in the run-off. The run-offs were required because none of the candidates reached a majority vote, as required by Georgia law. Despite Perdue’s initial advantage, early voting figures suggest Democrats have had a stronger turnout heading into Tuesday, and leading Republicans have expressed concerns about the pressure that puts on their turnout operation.

The four candidates in Tuesday’s Senate run-off in Georgia. Top row: Republican candidates David Perdue, left, and Kelly Loeffler. Below: Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (Justin Sullivan, Dustin Chambers, Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

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U.K., EU on cusp of striking Brexit trade deal at last

Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and right into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day.

After resolving the remaining fair-competition and almost all fisheries issues on Wednesday, negotiators combed through hundreds of pages of legal text that should become the blueprint for a post-Brexit relationship.

As during much of the nine-month negotiations, the issue of EU fleets in British waters proved the most intractable and divisive, with negotiators still haggling over quotas for some individual species as dawn came.

Sources on both sides said the long and difficult negotiations were on the cusp of being wrapped up as negotiators, holed up at EU headquarters in Brussels with a stack of pizzas, worked to deliver the text to their leaders on Thursday.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said there appeared to be “some sort of last-minute hitch” over fish, but that it was not surprising. He said he expected announcements of a deal from London and Brussels “later on today.”

Everyone awaited early morning appearances by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to announce the deal. The agreement then goes to the 27 EU nations seeking unanimous approval, as well as the blessing of the EU and British parliaments.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are seen here in London in this January 2020 photo. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Despite the breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain. But it leaves the mutually dependent but often fractious U.K.-EU relationship on a much more solid footing than a disruptive no-deal split.

Johnson will now claim to have delivered on the promise that won him a resounding election victory a year ago: “Get Brexit Done.”

Even with a deal, trade between Britain and the EU will face customs checks and some other barriers on Jan. 1, when the U.K. leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union. A trade deal would avert the imposition of tariffs and duties that could cost both sides billions in trade and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Britain withdrew from the EU on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31.

‘Prosper mightily’

Johnson has always insisted the U.K. will “prosper mightily” even if no deal is reached and the U.K. has to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms from Jan. 1.

But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. exports, including 10% on cars and more than 40% on lamb, battering the U.K. economy as it struggles to rebound from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past few days, Johnson and von der Leyen have been drawn more and more into the talks, speaking by phone in a bid to unblock negotiations that have dragged on for months, hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and by the two sides’ opposing views of what Brexit entails.

Rumours of a pre-Christmas trade deal surfaced in recent days based on progress on the main outstanding issues: fair competition, resolution of future disputes and fishing.

The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules to be able to gain an unfair edge with its exports to the EU. Britain has said that having to meet EU rules would undercut its sovereignty.

Compromise was finally reached on those “level playing field” issues, leaving the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish came to be the final sticking point. Maritime EU nations are seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished, but Britain has been insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”

A huge gap between the two sides on fishing was gradually narrowed until it appeared, at last, bridgeable.

Johnson’s large Conservative majority in Parliament should ensure that the Brexit trade agreement passes, but any compromises will be criticized by hard-line Brexit supporters in his party. The party’s euroskeptic European Research Group said it would carefully scrutinize any deal “to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom after we exit the transition period at the end of this year.”

The European Parliament has warned it’s now too late for it to approve the deal before Jan. 1, but an agreement could provisionally be put in place and approved by EU legislators in January.

Businesses on both sides are clamouring for a deal that would save tens of billions in costs.

While both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think Britain would take a greater hit, because it is smaller and more reliant on trade with the EU than the other way around.

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COVID-19 has now killed more Albertans than last 10 flu seasons combined

COVID-19 has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined, the province’s top public health doctor says.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued that stark reminder during her update on the pandemic, which has now killed 760 people since March.

“It is a sobering statistic that in less than 10 months, more Albertans have now died from COVID-19 than have died from influenza in the last 10 years combined,” Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday at a  news conference.

“Today I want to remind anyone who is in the 20 to 40 age range that this virus also impacts you,” she said.

“In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19. More than 380 of them have been hospitalized, and sadly, eight of these have died.

“To put this in perspective, if you gathered every Albertan between the ages of 20 and 39 who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they would fill the Saddledome in Calgary, the Centrium in Red Deer and the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.”

Virus does not discriminate

The coronavirus does not discriminate, and can have long-term and potentially devastating impact for anyone who contracts the illness, she said, urging people of all ages not to take COVID-19 lightly. 

“For everyone of any age, including those between the ages of 20 and 39, it is vital to avoid in-person interactions whenever possible,” Hinshaw said.

“This includes not having holiday parties or other gatherings in our homes. Instead, we must all look for ways to connect virtually.”

WATCH | Dr. Hinshaw says COVID-19 vaccine is effective and safe:

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that the new vaccination against COVID-19 is safe and it works. 1:54

Hinshaw said Alberta Health Services continues to take steps to increase hospital capacity and expand the number of acute-care and ICU beds. Some are new beds and, in some cases, existing beds will be made available as patients are moved into continuing-care centres.

AHS is also working with the Canadian Red Cross to set up an alternate care centre at the Butterdome on the University of Alberta’s campus, she said.

“It will take a few weeks to set up the care centre, which could add an additional 100 inpatient beds,” Hinshaw said. “There is no plan to staff these beds unless they are needed. This is a purely precautionary measure for use if needed in the future.”

Vaccine rollout still being developed

The first phase of the province’s vaccine program, which provided its initial doses on Tuesday, will target people who are at the highest risk of severe outcomes and those who care for them, Hinshaw said.

During the first quarter of 2021, she said the vaccine will be given to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75. 

“What we’re seeing as our Phase 2 would include priority groups who are more of those first-responders and front-line professionals, and that is set to roll out … at this time, we anticipate in April of 2021,” she said.

Decisions haven’t yet been made about which of the first-responder groups or front-line workers would be prioritized first, and Hinshaw said those discussions will happen early in the new year. 

“We don’t know yet exactly how much vaccine we will have. We continue to work with the federal government to make sure that we are getting updates.

“And as more vaccine is available, and as potentially new vaccines are licensed, we may be able to move those dates, if things move more quickly than anticipated. But at this point that is our anticipated timeline.”

Latest numbers

More than nine months into the worst pandemic in a century, Albertans have become accustomed to watching the daily numbers — new cases, active cases, hospitalizations, test numbers, outbreaks in schools, even something called the R value — essentially the number of people infected by each infected person. And the saddest number of all, deaths.

Here’s where things sat as of Wednesday’s update:

  • 1,270 new cases.
  • 20,169 active cases.
  • 749 people in hospital, including 139 in ICU.
  • 17,569 tests, a total of 1,587,574 people tested.
  • A positivity rate of 7.3 per cent.
  • 16 more deaths, for a total of 760.

The provincial R value from Dec. 7-13 was 0.98. (An R-value of one means each person with the illness only infects one other person.)

  • Edmonton Zone – 1.00.
  • Calgary Zone – 0.92.
  • Rest of Alberta – 1.01.

More than 84,000 Albertans have contracted the disease since the pandemic began, with 63,668 now listed as recovered.

The regional breakdown of cases on Wednesday was:

  • Edmonton zone: 9,715
  • Calgary zone: 7,122
  • Central zone: 1,496
  • North zone: 1,245
  • South zone: 553
  • Unknown: 76  

Health Minister Tyler Shandro is expected to provide an update on the next phase of rapid testing at a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday.

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Pandemic leads to biggest drop ever in global emissions, but trend not expected to last

A locked-down pandemic-struck world cut its carbon dioxide emissions this year by seven per cent, the biggest drop ever, new preliminary figures show.

The Global Carbon Project, an authoritative group of dozens of international scientists who track emissions, calculated that the world will have put 34 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in the air in 2020. That’s down from 36.4 billion metric tonnes in 2019, according a study published Thursday in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Scientists say this drop is chiefly because people are staying home, travelling less by car and plane, and that emissions are expected to jump back up after the pandemic ends. Ground transportation makes up about one-fifth of emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made heat-trapping gas.

“Of course, lockdown is absolutely not the way to tackle climate change,” said study co-author Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

The same group of scientists months ago predicted emission drops of four to seven per cent, depending on the progression of COVID-19. A second coronavirus wave and continued travel reductions pushed the decrease to seven per cent, LeQuere said.

I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.– Chris Field, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Emissions dropped 12 per cent in the United States and 11 per cent in Europe, but only 1.7 per cent in China. That’s because China had an earlier lockdown with less of a second wave. Also China’s emissions are more industrial based than other countries and its industry was less affected than transportation, LeQuere said.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant that produces carbon black, an ingredient in steel manufacturing, in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province in November 2019. (Sam McNeil/The Associated Press)

Canada’s emissions were not part of the study. 

The calculations — based on reports detailing energy use, industrial production and daily mobility counts — were praised as accurate by outside scientists.

Even with the drop in 2020, the world on average put 1,075 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every second.

Final figures for 2019 published in the same study show that from 2018 to 2019 emissions of the main man-made heat-trapping gas increased only 0.1 per cent, much smaller than annual jumps of around three per cent a decade or two ago. Even with emissions expected to rise after the pandemic, scientists are wondering if 2019 be the peak of carbon pollution, LeQuere said.

“We are certainly very close to an emissions peak, if we can keep the global community together,” said United Nations Development Director Achim Steiner.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, thinks emissions will increase after the pandemic, but said “I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.”

“For example,” he added, “as people get good at telecommuting a couple of days a week or realize they don’t need quite so many business trips, we might see behaviour-related future emissions decreases.”

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SpaceX Cancels Starship High-Altitude Test at Last Second

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SpaceX aims to send its upcoming Starship rocket to the moon, Mars, and beyond, but it’s a long way from those exotic destinations right now. The company’s long-awaited high-altitude test was scrubbed at literally the last second yesterday. SpaceX says the cancellation was due to abnormal readings from one of the rocket’s three Raptor engines. There are more potential launch windows coming up, but it’s unclear what went wrong and how long it’ll take to fix. 

SpaceX has gone through several prototype versions of the steel rocket once known as the Big Falcon Rocket. The renamed Starship currently exists as the SN8 (serial number 8), a vessel that previously aced a static fire test last month. Previous versions of the rocket have managed low-altitude flights before setting down on the launchpad, but the SN8 is set to be the first to rise to about 50,000 feet during its test flight. 

CEO Elon Musk expressed great confidence in the latest Starship prototype after the static fire test, noting that the company would attempt the test flight in a matter of days. When the time came yesterday (December 8th), the launch countdown was automatically aborted with about a second left. The error was apparently with one of the vessel’s three Raptor engines — the SN8 is the first version of the Starship with more than a single engine. The final version will have six Raptor engines. 

An earlier version of the Starship hovering above the ground before landing.

SpaceX has been mum on the exact cause of the abort, but there’s still a chance the Starship could take flight this week. There are possible launch windows today and tomorrow (December 9 and 10). However, if the issue proves too complex, SpaceX might need to push the test flight out to a later date. This is a necessary step on the way to orbital flight, so we expect the SN8 will eventually complete this “big hop” test. All previous Starship prototypes were either tethered to the ground or flew just a few hundred feet in the air before setting back down. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been talking a big game when it comes to the Starship’s future. He hopes to use this vessel to fly a Japanese billionaire around the moon in a couple of years, and he’s claimed the company could transport people to Mars in as little as four years. That seems very optimistic, and that would still be the case even without yesterday’s launch cancellation.

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Leylah Annie Fernandez is Canada’s last hope at the French Open

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Canada is down to its last singles player at the French Open

Genie Bouchard lost her third-round match today to Iga Swiatek. The rising Polish teenager was simply on another level, dominating Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 to reach the round of 16 for the second time in three Grand Slams this year. Swiatek has yet to lose a set at this year’s French Open and could be a tough out for top seed Simona Halep in the next round.

Bouchard, who’s ranked 168th in the world, got a wild-card invitation to Paris, where she benefited from a favourable draw. She knocked off the 788th and 108th-ranked players in the world before meeting her first truly tough opponent in the 54th-ranked Swiatek. Bouchard also faced a pretty easy slate during her recent trip to a final in Istanbul. She beat 33rd-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, who’s 35 years old, but didn’t have to face anyone else who’s currently higher than 59th.

Still, this is an encouraging run for Bouchard, who climbed as high as No. 5 in the world in 2014 but had fallen all the way to 224th at the end of last year. She reached the third round of a Slam for the first time in three years and is now up to 140th in the “live” rankings.

The only Canadian left in the French Open singles draws is the youngest one: 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez. Her French Open debut is already a success. Ranked 100th in the world (and climbing), Fernandez has beaten 36th-ranked Magda Linette and 47th-ranked Polona Hercog for her second and third career Slam wins.

But she’s stepping up in class now to face No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova. The 30-year-old Czech was ranked second in the world as recently as January 2019, owns a pair of Wimbledon titles and has banked more than $ 32 million US in prize money in her career. Clay isn’t her best surface, though: she’s made it to the fourth round of the French Open only once in her last six tries. The Kvitova-Fernandez match is Saturday.

Canada also has two players remaining in the doubles draws. Gabriela Dabrowski and her Latvian teammate Jelena Ostapenko reached the women’s third round today, while Vasek Pospisil and American Jack Sock are into the men’s second round.

WATCH | Genie Bouchard swept out of Franch Open in 3rd round:

Wild-card entry Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., fell to 19-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-3, 6-2 in the third round of the French Open. 2:14


The WNBA Finals tip off tonight. The best-of-five series is a matchup between the top team from the shortened regular season — the Las Vegas Aces — and the second-place squad — the Seattle Storm. Both finished with 18-4 records, but Vegas won their two head-to-head meetings. There’s plenty of star power. The Aces are led by freshly crowned league MVP A’Ja Wilson, while the Storm have 2018 regular-season and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time all-star Sue Bird, who turns 40 in a couple of weeks. There are no Canadian players in the series, but Seattle has a guard named Jordin Canada. She averaged 7.9 points this season. Read more about the Finals matchup here.

Kia Nurse is taking a break. Like many WNBA players, the Canadian guard usually heads overseas to keep playing (and making money) during the off-season. Nurse was the MVP of the Australian women’s league a year ago. But this year, she’s decided to take some time off after a trying WNBA season. Nurse hurt her ankle in the first game, then saw her star New York Liberty teammate Sabrina Ionescu lost for the season with her own ankle injury two games later. Forced to carry a weak squad, Nurse shot just 27 per cent and the Liberty finished dead last with a 2-20 record. There was also the frustration of seeing a Kentucky grand jury decline to bring charges against the police who killed Breonna Taylor (WNBA players have centred their protests against police brutality and racial injustice around that case). So instead of Australia, Nurse is working out of her Hamilton, Ont., home as a WNBA and NBA analyst for TSN. Read more about how Nurse is moving on from her toughest season in this piece by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.

The second round of the American League playoffs is set. It’s top-seeded Tampa Bay vs. the No. 5 New York Yankees, and No. 2 Oakland vs. No. 6 Houston. Those five-game series will take place in neutral-site bubbles in, respectively, San Diego and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. But first, the National League’s first round needs to wrap up. The top-seeded Dodgers and No. 2 Atlanta are already through. Miami can sweep the Chicago Cubs today, while St. Louis and San Diego play their deciding game tonight. The NL’s second round will be played in Houston and Arlington, Tex.

Doc Rivers wasn’t unemployed long. Just a few days after mutually (if you believe that) parting ways with the Los Angeles Clippers, the big-name head coach was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers. Rivers goes from one underachieving team to another. The Clippers were supposed to be title contenders after landing stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer, but they lost in the second round to Denver after no-showing Game 7. Rivers took the fall for that. Now he takes over a 76ers team that has failed to get out of the second round despite having two (supposed) superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Read more about Doc’s new gig here.

The Canadian women’s soccer team still doesn’t have a head coach. It’s been without one since Kenneth Heiner-Møller officially left at the end of August. Even though the Olympics are (hopefully) less than 10 months away, the vacancy isn’t as problematic as it may sound. Canada has already qualified, international friendlies are on hold indefinitely because of the pandemic, and most Canadian players are staying sharp with their pro clubs in different parts of the world. So there’s no real rush. But a decision will have to be made soon on who will guide Canada’s quest for a third consecutive Olympic medal. Read about the top candidates in this piece by CBC Sports’ Signa Butler.

And finally…

As you may have heard, an important person tested positive for COVID-19. We’re talking, of course, about Tennessee Titans rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton. He was a key member of the LSU team that won the college football national championship last season, and he’s helped the Titans to a 3-0 start with a sack and a 44-yard interception return. Tennessee placed Fulton on its reserve/COVID-19 list as it copes with an outbreak that has now resulted in 13 team members testing positive — including seven players. This Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh was postponed, and the NFL announced day that it’ll be played on Oct. 25 instead. There’s also concern that next Sunday’s game vs. Buffalo could be in jeopardy if the virus continues to spread. Read more about the latest on the Titans’ outbreak here.

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Sidelined: For many Black coaches, the last step up the ladder can seem insurmountable

During his eight years as men’s basketball coach at Red Deer College in Alberta from 2011-19, Clayton Pottinger compiled a record that would be enviable at any level.

His teams had an overall win-loss record of 137-41, with two Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championships and silver at the 2014 national championships, the same year he was named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association coach of the year.

Winning wasn’t new to Pottinger. In the early 1990s, he captained the Alberta Golden Bears men’s team that won the school’s first U Sports championship. 

He thought he had ticked all of the boxes needed to move to the next level and earn a head coaching job with a university.

But over all that time, it never happened.

“It got to a point where I just didn’t think it was going to happen. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was,” Pottinger said.

(Illustration by Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

He can’t say for sure it’s because he’s Black, but he doesn’t discount it as a factor, he said.

“I had the master’s degree in coaching. I had the coaching levels I have. I developed the track record of winning and success. And still sometimes I wouldn’t even get an interview,” said the 49-year-old.

Pottinger’s abilities were finally recognized last year when the University of British Columbia Okanagan hired him as head coach of its men’s team, making him one of just a handful of Black head coaches at the Canadian university level.

The lack of diversity in key leadership positions in Canadian university sport is an extension of the wider Canadian and global sports landscape.

A visual audit done by CBC Sports examined hundreds of key positions at all 56 Canadian universities that compete under the U Sports umbrella, including each school’s athletic director and head coaches of football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, soccer and track.

WATCH | Road to U Sports wasn’t easy for Clayton Pottinger:

CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin spoke with UBC Okanagan head coach Clayton Pottinger, and why it seemingly took so long to break into the U Sports coaching ranks. 1:13

Of the nearly 400 positions examined, only about 10 per cent were held by Black, Indigenous or persons of colour (BIPOC). Only one school in U Sports has a non-white athletic director, the top leadership position in athletics at Canadian universities.

According to the 2016 Canadian census, nearly one-quarter of citizens identified as BIPOC.

“There’s always this idea that Canada is better than the U.S. today. And maybe in some regards it is, but that’s kind of setting the bar a little bit low,” Pottinger said.

“I think we still have a lot of work here in Canada. We can’t just simply rest on our laurels and think that we’re better than the nation next to us. There’s still a lot of racism here, there’s still a lot of bias here, and there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Pottinger says it’s important for athletes to have people who look like them in positions of leadership. (Courtesy UBC Okanagan Athletics)

The CBC spoke to a number of Black head coaches across a variety of sports and leagues about their struggles to reach the highest level of their chosen profession.

Novel Thomas has been the head coach of women’s basketball at Brandon University since 2012.

Even while ascending Canada’s basketball and academic ladder, each step had to be carefully navigated, he said.

Thomas had a successful collegiate playing career at Simon Fraser University and also represented Canada internationally on various teams, including the senior national team.

He then went on to play professionally in both North America and Europe, and after a stint working for the Electronic Arts (EA Sports) video game company, landed the job at Brandon University.

(Illustration by Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

Despite achieving success at nearly every stop, Thomas said he feels he’s always been held to a higher standard behind the bench because of the colour of his skin.

He points to the advice he once gave a Black player he coached.

“You’ve got to be twice as good as someone that isn’t of colour in order to stand out,” Thomas said he told the young player. “My parents told me that exact same thing and I’ve told my kids the exact same thing.”

Thomas says it can be an “exhausting” way to live.

“I hear my mom’s voice saying, ‘You have to be twice as good and work twice as hard.’ And that’s the norm,” Thomas said. “That paranoia that was ingrained in me helped me get to this level. Those messages from my parents have driven me to be great.”

Montreal Alouettes head coach Khari Jones understands the pressure to never trip up or fail.

He was a star quarterback in the CFL and spent more than a decade as an assistant coach before getting the job in Montreal in 2019.

Khari Jones spent 10 years working on CFL coaching staffs before getting his first shot as head coach with the Montreal Alouettes in 2019. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Jones said he feels Black coaches are evaluated differently and often face more pressure to win.

For example, he said, when a team fires a Black coach, they rarely, if ever, hire another one.

“I remember going for a job that a Black coach had gotten fired from. I remember thinking, ‘You know what, it’s going to be hard to get this job,’ because in their minds they just went with a Black coach, so we can’t go with another one. That doesn’t happen in the same way with other coaches,” Jones said.

WATCH | Canadian sport organizations say more must be done to address leadership inequality:

Canadian universities and national sports groups say they have to do more to diversify their coaching staff and leadership, after CBC Sports carried out a visual audit and found the vast majority of those positions are held by people who are white. 2:10

Coaches who spoke with CBC Sports said even once they reach the highest level, the issue of race often lingers in the background.

“They can feel that there are people who look at them as being hired because they’re a person of colour or promoted because they’re a person of colour,” said Richard Lapchick, founder and director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) based at the University of Central Florida. The organization was the first to begin compiling racial breakdowns of hiring practices in sports in the U.S.

“The issue of race is ever-present for them, which white staff members don’t even have to think about.”

Paul Jerrard has always tried to let his work behind the bench do all of the talking.

Jerrard, who had a long professional career as a hockey player, including five games in the NHL, remains the only Black man to ever work behind the bench as an NHL coach. He served as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames. He is now an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“It’s just that everybody kind of is looking at you in a different light,” Jerrard said of the microaggressions he often encountered, including people sometimes mistaking him for lower-ranked staff. “But I’m just the guy that was part of a coaching staff that’s trying to do well and win. 

“At times, people would make a bigger deal of it than I actually thought it was. People that hired me looked past what colour I was.”

Jerrard recognizes there are fewer opportunities for Black people to coach at hockey’s highest levels, primarily because the pool of former players is limited in a sport played predominantly by white athletes. But he and others say it’s possible for the next generation of Black coaches and leaders to have an easier time achieving their dreams.

Paul Jerrard, top right, is the only Black person to work behind the bench as an NHL coach. He served as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, above in 2018, and with Colorado and Dallas before that. (Associated Press)

“It’s great to see more players of colour getting the opportunity [to coach],” Jerrard said of hockey. “I think as we grow the game’s diversity level, [and] you get more people of colour playing the game, I think you’ll get good candidates to fill coaching and managerial positions in the game.”

Concerted effort needed

Thomas says he thinks a more concerted push is needed in order to create a playing field that is truly equal. He says changing current hiring practices and increasing opportunities require more than just talk.

“Unfortunately, we’re at a point where we accept it as being the norm,” he said. “We’re having this conversation now, which is great, and hopefully we can start to provide opportunities for people of colour to pursue sport and coaching and administration positions.”

He points to the efforts to promote and elevate more women into key positions in university sport.

“There are [financial] grants that encourage females to get into coaching and administration in sport. There must be something similar for people of colour. That would be a start,” he said.

“And not to take away from the women’s movement in coaching, but to me, they’re very, very similar. Sparking that interest and showing there is a place for people of colour in coaching.”

Pottinger says developing and actually hiring more Black coaches will have a profound effect on everyone involved in university sport, especially Black athletes.

“I think for a lot of Black athletes in basketball in Canada at university, your coach, your coaching staff are just older white people,” he said. “You’re one of the few minorities, and certainly not with a minority or a person of colour in any sort of leadership position.

“I think you just kind of figure out ways to navigate those situations as a person of colour. Much like we do every day out on the streets.”

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