Belgium exempts gift-bearing St Nicholas from virus measures

BUIZINGEN, Belgium (AP) — To ensure the merriment of millions of children, the government of Belgium is offering a special exemption from the country’s strict coronavirus measures to beloved St. Nicholas, who always delivers bountiful presents on the morning of Dec. 6.

In a tongue-in-cheek letter Thursday, the Belgian health and interior ministers soothed the worries of children fearing they might go without presents this year. The officials said Nicholas wouldn’t have to quarantine after arriving in Belgium from Spain, where he lives, and would be able to walk rooftops to drop gifts into chimneys even during curfew hours.

“Dear Saint, do what you do best: make every child happy. We are counting on you,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said in the joint letter.

For generations, the visit of St. Nicholas at the onset of winter has been a holiday highlight for Belgian kids, much like the work of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is in so many other nations.

With Belgium one of the European countries hit worst by the coronavirus, the government is enforcing a nightly curfew, tough quarantine rules and other measures to curb infections. The resurgence of the virus has started to show signs of abating in the past few days.

Notwithstanding the exemptions, the ministers cautioned St. Nicholas to “always respect distancing, wash hands regularly and wear a face mask,” despite his long white beard.

The saint was supposed to get his annual official welcome Saturday when his ship arrives in the port of Antwerp, but the event, usually attended by several hundred children, has been banned.

Children have not faced as much risk of serious illness or death from the virus, but the pandemic has turned the lives of youngsters upside down by closing schools, canceling sports and keeping grandparents who are more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 out of reach.

Because of that, the ministers asked St. Nicholas to be lenient about reviewing his vast archives to determine whether children have been naughty or nice and using the information to make decisions on presents.

“Every kid here is a hero,” the ministers pleaded in their letter. “So, for once, you don’t have to check it in your big book.”

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2027 Womens World Cup: Netherlands, Belgium, Germany launch bid

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium, Netherlands and Germany have launched a joint bid to host the 2027 Women’s World Cup.

Under the slogan, “Three Nations, One Goal,” the three federations on Monday said they will detail their plans in an official document by the end of the year before starting negotiations with national governments and potential host cities.

A deadline for the bids hasn’t yet been set by FIFA.

“We want the women’s World Cup, the world’s largest women’s sporting event, to take place here in 2027,” Belgian federation chief executive Peter Bossaert said. “In recent years, with the European Championship in the Netherlands in 2017 and the World Cup in France in 2019, we have seen what such an event can bring – great matches, full stadiums, large numbers of TV viewers and visitors from all over the world.”

Two years ago, the Dutch federation had already announced its desire to host the 2027 tournament and the plan received parliamentary backing. The Netherlands hosted the 2017 women’s European championship and Germany organized the continental event twice, in 1989 and 2001. The German federation was also in charge of the 2011 World Cup.

The 2023 tournament will be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

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Belgium, Germany, Netherlands keen to co-host 2027 Women’s World Cup

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands unveiled plans on Monday for a joint bid to host the Women’s World Cup in 2027.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: FILE PHOTO: Women's World Cup Final - United States v Netherlands

FILE PHOTO: Women’s World Cup Final – United States v Netherlands

A statement released by the three countries’ football associations said they had already expressed their intention to bid to world football’s governing body FIFA and that they would put together a formal agreement by the end of the year.

“Women’s football is traditionally known for its strong sense of community, in which all those involved have an eye for the bigger picture, which is namely developing the sport further, both on and off the field,” the statement said.

“The fact that we are tackling this project together as three football competitors, and also good neighbours, ties in very well with this philosophy.

Video: France train ahead of Nations League match against Croatia (Reuters)

France train ahead of Nations League match against Croatia



“Women’s football in our countries is indeed in differing phases of development, but we share the aspiration to give the sport a boost nationally and globally by organising this World Cup.”

The last Women’s World Cup in 2019 was hosted by France and the 2023 tournament was awarded to Australia and New Zealand in June.

Germany previously hosted the tournament 2011 while the Dutch were hosts, and champions, of the last UEFA Women’s Championship in 2017.

It would be the first time for Belgium to host a major women’s tournament.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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