Weekly sports agenda: Rugby Union, Super Bowl XLIV, Winter Olympic Games

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The Independent Online

Among major upcoming sporting events: The Six Nations rugby union tournament starts and the IRB Sevens series continues, the 44th Super Bowl avoids a clash with the Winter Olympic Games, and there's All-Star Basketball and NASCAR motor racing on Valentine's Day.

Soccer: Africa Cup of Nations Final
January 10-31
Various locations, Angola

Group stages of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations ended on Thursday the 21st and the knockout rounds commenced on Sunday the 24th. Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana and Algeria made it through the quarter finals and are all playing over the weekend, with third place playoffs on Saturday 30 and the final on Sunday 31. Both matches start at 17:00 Ugandan time (16:00 GMT). Throughout the tournament, the official ticket sellers have been the two national banks BPC (Banco de Poupança e Crédito) and BAI (Banco Africano de Investimentos). Prices range from 1040 Kz (€8/$12) for standard seating up to 50,000 Kz (€390/$560) for premium hospitality. Broadcasting is covered by a range of companies including Eurosport, Setanta Sports, and Orange Sport, and online specialists MyAfricanFootball.
http://www.can-angola2010.com

Tennis: Australian Open Finals
January 18-31
Melbourne, Australia

British world number four Andy Murray plays the top ranked Roger Federer in the men's final. Current ladies' number one Serena Williams defends her title against former number one Justine Henin, who entered the Open as an unranked wildcard. There are also similarly high-ranked match-ups in the mens' and ladies' doubles finals. The official tournament website is staying up to date with competitors' Twitter feeds and blogs, match analysis, weather updates, latest scores and interactive draws.
Tickets: AUD $289 (€180/$260)
http://www.australianopen.com

Athletics: Winter World Masters Games
January 25-31
Bled, Slovenia

The World Masters differ from the Olympics in two major ways. Firstly, anyone can register for participation, as long as they are over 25 years old. Secondly, national representation is not permitted: teams must be multinational. The World Masters pull in athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes, and the Winter World Masters are no exception. Seventy-year-old gymnast Miroslav Cerar, alpine skiers Christian Mayer (38) and Jure Košir (37), and pro cyclist Tadej Valjavec (32) are among the Slovenian Olympians supporting the event. They join amateur athletes and fun-lovers alike in a variety of sports such as ice hockey, biathlon, ski-jumping, cross country and alpine skiing.
http://www.2010mastersgames.com

Extreme sports: Winter X Games
January 28-31
Aspen, Colorado, USA

The Winter X Games, a 1997 off-shoot from ESPN's 1995, moves into its 14th year with an event that is free entry to the public. This year it adds the Ski SuperPipe High Air and Snowmobile Knock Out events to a roster that includes the now-standard extreme-style snowboarding and skiing events. Defending SuperPipe snowboard champ Torah Bright has already stated her intention of completing a Double Cork trick, turning a full 900° in an off-axis spin. Meanwhile, last year's snowmobile gold medallist Joe Parsons has combined a breathtaking backwards-landed backflip and 180° spin in a bid to retain his title.
http://espn.go.com/action/xgames/index

Water sports: 14th Annual Polar Bear Plunge
January 30, 12:00 ET
Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, Maryland

The main event at 'Plungapalooza', a family day out of music and entertainment, the Polar Bear Plunge is an annual charity event supported by the Maryland State Police that sees up to 15,000 participants fling themselves into the cold waters of Sandy Point Bay for the greater good. There are three plunges throughout the afternoon: a noon plunge for school teams, and two further co-ordinated plunges at 1PM and 3PM for teams and individual dippers. Proceeds benefit the Maryland Special Olympics, and there are prizes on offer, not only for reaching fundraising targets from $500 to $3500 and beyond, but there is also a competition for the best plunger costume. Plungers are asked for a minimum $50 charity donation.
http://www.plungemd.com

American Football: 2010 Pro Bowl
January 31
Miami, Florida, USA

The Pro Bowl is an all-star game, pulling 89 players from 26 teams to make up the American Football Conference and National Football Conference squads. Usually held a week after the Super Bowl game on the second Sunday in February, but in order to avoid a conflict with the Olympic Winter Games this year the titans clash the weekend before. The venue is same as the Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins' Dolphin Stadium, and tickets are available from $50 (€35) up to $195 (€135) on the sidelines. McDonald's, as one of the event sponsors, is also running a promotional offer for $45 (€30) tickets.
http://www.nfl.com/probowl

Sailing: Extreme40 Sailing Series Asia Final Stage
February 1-5
Muscat, Oman

The coastal capital of the Emirate of Oman hosts the third and final stage of the Extreme Sailing Series. The Extreme40 sail boats are bigger and faster versions of the Olympic standard multi-hulled catamarans, capable of travelling at speeds of 40 knots (45mph, 75kph, or 20 meters per second), and designed by the Frenchman Yves Loday, a 1992 Olympic gold medallist. Muscat will see 18 6-team races between February 1 and 5, and while home team and European series champions Oman Sail Masirah top the series leaderboard going into the final stage, six points for a stage win means that second-placed BT and the third-placed China Team both have an outside chance of nicking the trophy.
http://www.extremesailingseriesasia.com

Rugby Union: IRB Sevens World Series
February 5-6, Wellington, New Zealand
February 13-14, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

New Zealand, having won both previous Sevens World Series legs, host in their homeland for the fourth in an eight-stop schedule that runs through until the end of May. Despite their home advantage, New Zealand has been grouped up with defending champions South Africa as well as the Welsh team in Group A. The Polynesian island of Niue are one of four, and Canada, Papua New Guinea and Tonga also join the 12 core teams. The Series then travels to the United States for the next leg where Guyana, Canada, Chile and Japan guest. Tickets for New Zealand are from $110 NZD (€55/$80) in temporary seeating to $10,950 NZD (€5,570/$7,825) for the top VIP package. Spectators for the USA leg are asked for $35 (€25) for one-day upper seats up to $500 (€355) for two-day premier lounge hospitality.
http://www.irb.com/irbsevens
http://www.nzisevens.co.nz
http://www.usasevens.com

Rugby Union: Six Nations Championship
February 6 - March 20
Six European locations: London, England; Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Rome, Italy; Edinburgh, Scotland; Cardiff, Wales.

Six nations play to contest the trophy in a 15-match, five-weekend tournament of top-level European rugby. As well as the overall Six Nations trophy, there are several other titles up for grabs. England, Ireland, and Scotland all have special trophies awarded to the winners of their matches, and Wales join them in pursuit of the Triple Crown by winning against each of the four traditional Home Nations. France and Italy contest the Guiseppe Garibaldi Trophy, but of course the ultimate in bragging rights comes from achieving a Grand Slam by beating all five opponents. Tickets are available from each host nation Union, linked from the official website's Championship Info section.
http://www.rbs6nations.com

American Football: Super Bowl XLIV
February 7
Miami, Florida, USA

The Super Bowl, a face-off between the champions of USA's American Football Conference and the National Football Conference is the biggest event of the National Football League calendar with mass media coverage and many domestic parties in celebration. It takes place after the league's playoff finals the previous weekend. This year, British rockers The Who have been booked to play a half-time show, and other concerts have also been arranged for the Friday and Saturday nights beforehand. Ticketmaster has an official ticket exchange where unwanted passes are changing hands for upwards of $1,750 (€1,255); hospitality packages start at $2,899 (€2015). In terms of TV coverage, CBS have US rights as part of a rotating deal with two other broadcasters. ESPN America will show the game to European subscribers, and viewers in the UK can watch on BBC One or Sky Sports as well. The match starts at 18:30 Eastern Time (23:30 GMT).
http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/44

Olympics: XXI Olympic Winter Games
February 12-28
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The 21st Winter Olympiad opens on Friday, February 12, and the exact details of the grand opening ceremony at Vancouver's BC Place have been kept a tightly guarded secret by the event's organizers. Tickets can be ordered from the Vancouver 2010 website and are available for $175, $550, $750 or $1100 Canadian dollars ($170, $525, $715, $1045 USD / €120, €375, €510, €745). Gates open at 2 PM with the ceremony itself starting at 6 PM and finishing by 9 PM (02:00-05:00 GMT). Skiing, skating, and sledding events start that weekend, with snowboarding and ice hockey following later in the schedule.
http://www.vancouver2010.com

Basketball: 2010 NBA All-Star Game
February 14
Arlington, Texas, USA

The annual NBA showcase, the All-Star Game, takes place between two teams representing the NBA's Eastern and Western Conference. The starting line-ups were decided by public ballot, with substitutes selected via a vote from the NBA teams' head coaches. Kobe Bryant captains the Western Conference team, and LeBron James is captain for the Eastern. The match is being televised by the TNT network, whilst ESPN have rights for the events planned for Friday, February 12, including the Celebrity Game. Both the Friday and Saturday events are to take place at the American Airlines Center where the Dallas Mavericks play basketball, rather than at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium where the All-Star Game itself will be hosted. Tickets are from $25 (€18) to $500 (€350).
http://www.nba.com/allstar2010

Motorsports: NASCAR 52nd Daytona 500
February 14
Daytona Beach, Florida, USA

The first race of America's most popular spectator sport kicks off in Florida, with the biggest, richest and most prestigious race - the Daytona 500. Forty-three drivers will compete for the Sprint Cup. Two hundred laps of the 2.5 mile circuit at the Daytona International Speedway equate to an overall 500 laps raced for the NASCARS that stay the course until the end of what is usually at least a three-hour event with over $1.5 million (1.07 million euros) up for grabs. Thirty-five of the racers were top finishers at the conclusion of the 2009 NASCAR season with the remainder of the total 43 coming from qualifying races.
http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com

Ball sports: The Royal Shrovetide Football Match
February 16-17
Ashbourne, England

Taking place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the game of Shrovetide Football is closer to medieval predecessors than it is to the modern game: goals are several miles apart, the two teams are made up of unlimited numbers of both locals and visitors, and though the specially constructed match ball can be kicked or carried, just as in rugby or association football, a far more common method of ball transportation is via a massive scrum. While it was HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who started the game recently in 2003, in 2010 it will be local legend John Harrison, who has had the honor of hand-making the Shrovetide balls for the last 20 years.
http://www.ashbourne-town.com/events/football.html

Endurance: Libyan Challenge Master Trek
February 21-23
Ghat, Libya

The Challenge is a 205 km (122 mile) race within the country of Libya, starting out from the city of Ghat and winding through the Akakus mountains. Competitors are issued just a GPS device, a map, and a few liters of water doled out at each checkpoint dotted along the course. Other than that, participants must be self-sufficient with regard to food, clothing and equipment in the harsh conditions of the labyrinthine Akakus mountain range. The Akakus's alternating rocks and dunes ensure the course becomes a disorienting, slow-burn assault through Saharan surroundings. The fastest trekkers are able to complete the race by the 30-hour mark, it's difficult even for past participants to predict who will have the physical and mental fortitude to make it to the end. Competitors' progress can be tracked via the official website as they seek to conquer, or be conquered by, just one small part of the formidable Sahara.
http://www.libyanchallenge.com

Ball sports: 11th French Open Footbag Competition
February 26-28
Stade Pierre de Coubertin, Paris, France

Organised by the RNH Footbag club and taking place a stone's throw from the home of the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team, the French Open is one of the three 2010 footbag events sanctioned by the International Footbag Players' Association. The Open consists of a full singles and doubles Footbag Net schedule, a tournament game which is like volleyball played with a footbag (a small, fist-sized ball) which is kept in play only by use of the feet rather than arms or hands. There are also freestyling competitions and a Circle Kicking tournament.
http://www.footbag.org

Skiing: Vasaloppet Week
February 26 - March 7
Dalarna, Sweden

The annual ski festival in Sweden encompasses a host of short, middle, and long-distance alpine races over various distances, but soon enough all attention turns to the Vasaloppet, a 90 km ski marathon that runs its course between the towns of Sälen and Mora. Competitors must finish the race in less than 12 hours - the average finishing time is 5h30m, and winners usually complete the distance in 4 hours for the men's class, closer to 4h45m for women. There is also a non-competitive 90 km race called the Öppet spår, and a team relay held as part of the week's other diversions.
http://www.vasaloppet.se

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