Cristiano Ronaldo Makes Big-Money Move to Saudi Arabian Club

Cristiano Ronaldo completed a lucrative move to Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on Friday in a deal that is a landmark moment for Middle Eastern soccer but will see one of Europe’s biggest stars disappear from the sport’s elite stage.

Al Nassr posted a picture on social media of the five-time Ballon d’Or holding up the team’s jersey after Ronaldo signed a deal until June 2025, with the club hailing the move as “history in the making.”

“This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves,” the club wrote.

It also gives the 37-year-old Ronaldo a massive payday in what could be the final contract of his career. Media reports have claimed the Portugal star could be earning up to $200 million a year from the deal, which would make him the highest-paid soccer player in history.

Ronaldo said in a statement that he was “eager to experience a new football league in a different country.”

“I am fortunate that I have won everything I set out to win in European football and feel now that this is the right moment to share my experience in Asia,” the forward added.

While the signing is a massive boost for Middle Eastern soccer, it will also fuel the debate about Saudi Arabia using so-called “sportswashing” to boost the country’s image internationally. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund owns Premier League team Newcastle, and the country is considering a bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

Ronaldo had been a free agent after his contract was terminated by Manchester United following an explosive TV interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners after having been repeatedly benched and even temporarily suspended by the club.

He is also coming off a disappointing World Cup where he was benched in the knockout rounds and left the field in tears after Portugal lost in the quarterfinals to Morocco.

And after a storied career that saw him win the Champions League with both United and Real Madrid, along with league and cup titles in England, Spain and Italy, he will now seemingly see out the last years of his career far away from the spotlight of top European soccer.

While Saudi Arabia earned its biggest international soccer win ever at the World Cup in Qatar last month when it beat eventual champion Argentina in its first group-stage game, the domestic league has few other stars and is not watched by a major international audience.

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Highlights from the Life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died. Below are highlights from his life.

April 16, 1927: Born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Marktl am Inn, Germany, youngest of three children to Joseph and Maria Ratzinger.

1943-45: Assistant in Germany’s anti-aircraft defense and infantry soldier; imprisoned in 1945 in American POW camp in Neu-Ulm.

June 29, 1951: Ordained along with brother Georg Ratzinger in Freising.

1969-77: Professor at University of Regensburg.

March 25, 1977: Named archbishop of Munich and Freising.

June 27, 1977: Made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.

Nov. 25, 1981: Named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II; takes up post in March 1982.

April 2, 2005: Pope John Paul II dies.

April 8, 2005: As dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger presides over John Paul’s funeral.

April 19, 2005: Elected 265th pope in one of the fastest conclaves in history. Choosing name Benedict XVI, he says he is merely a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

April 24, 2005: Installed as pope with Mass.

Aug. 18-21, 2005: First foreign trip, to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.

Sept. 24, 2005: Meets with dissident theologian Hans Kung at papal summer residence.

Dec. 25, 2005: First encyclical, God is Love, signed. Released Jan. 25, 2006.

May 28, 2006: During trip to Poland, visits Auschwitz concentration camp.

Sept. 12, 2006: During visit to Germany, delivers speech at University of Regensburg that enrages Muslims; quoting a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”

April 16, 2007: First volume of Jesus of Nazareth completed on his 80th birthday. Released April 13.

May 27, 2007: Signs letter to China’s Catholics, urging them to unite under his authority. Published June 30.

July 7, 2007: Removes restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass in major gesture to traditional Catholics.

April 20, 2008: During visit to United States, prays for victims of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks at ground zero.

July 19, 2008: During visit to Australia for World Youth Day, meets with victims of priestly sex abuse and during a Mass apologizes for their suffering.

Jan. 21, 2009: Lifts excommunication of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson and three other ultra-traditionalist bishops of Society of St. Pius X, igniting outrage. Decree released Jan. 24.

March 10, 2009: Acknowledges Vatican mistakes in Williamson affair, says Vatican must make better use of Internet to prevent future controversies. Letter released March 12.

March 17, 2009: En route to Cameroon, tells reporters aboard papal plane that condoms are not the solution to AIDS and can make problem worse, prompting widespread criticism.

May 11, 2009: During visit to the Holy Land, lays wreath at Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, says Holocaust victims “lost their lives but they will never lose their names.”

June 29, 2009: Third encyclical, Charity in Truth, signed. Released July 7, 2009.

July 17, 2009: Breaks right wrist in late-night fall at summer vacation home.

Oct. 20, 2009: Vatican announces pope is making it easier for Anglicans to convert en masse to Catholicism.

March 19, 2010: Rebukes Irish bishops for “grave errors of judgment” in handling clerical sex abuse but makes no mention of Vatican responsibility in letter to Irish faithful. Released March 20.

May 1, 2010: Orders major overhaul of Legion of Christ after Vatican investigation determines founder was a fraud.

Sept. 16-19, 2010: During first state visit by a pope to Britain, meets with Queen Elizabeth II, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and beatifies Anglican convert John Henry Newman.

Nov. 20, 2010: Revises controversial condom-AIDS comments in book and says male prostitutes who use condoms may be taking a first step toward a more responsible sexuality.

March 2, 2011: Issues sweeping exoneration of Jews for the death of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth-Part II. Book released March 10.

May 1, 2011: Beatifies John Paul II before 1.5 million people.

June 28, 2011: Tweets for the first time, announcing launch of Vatican news information portal.

Oct. 6, 2012: Pope’s former butler is convicted on charges he stole the pontiff’s private letters and leaked them to a journalist.

Feb. 11, 2013: Reveals in Latin that he is stepping down Feb. 28 during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators.

Feb. 28, 2013: Departs Vatican City in a helicopter bound for Castel Gandolfo, where he begins his final journey as a “simple pilgrim.”

March 23, 2013: Receives Pope Francis for lunch at Castel Gandolfo; the two men pray side by side and Francis insists “We are brothers.”

April 28, 2014: Joins Francis on altar to canonize St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, the first time a reigning and retired pope celebrate Mass together.

April 11, 2019: In an essay, blames the clergy sex abuse scandal on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and an absence of God.

January 2020: Contributes to a book reaffirming celibacy for priests at a time when Francis was considering an exception, sparking calls for rules governing future “popes emeritus.”

June 18, 2020: Travels to Germany to visit his ailing brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, who dies two weeks later, on July 1.

July 16, 2021: Has his signature relaxation of restrictions on celebration of old Latin Mass reversed by Pope Francis.

Jan. 21, 2022: Is faulted for his handling of four sex abuse cases while bishop of Munich in the 1970s and 1980s by independent report commissioned by German church.

Feb. 8, 2022: Asks forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in handling of Munich priests, but denies personal or specific wrongdoing.

Dec. 28, 2022: Pope Francis announces Benedict is “very ill,” asks for special prayers and visits him at his home.

Dec. 31, 2022: Benedict dies at 9:34 a.m. at his home in the Vatican Gardens at age 95.

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The Pandemic, Rudeness, Crypto Craziness: We’re Over You, 2022

The rudeness pandemic, the actual pandemic, and all things gray. There’s a lot to leave behind when 2022 ends and uncertainty rules around the world.

The health crisis brought on the dawn of slow living, but it crushed many families forced to hustle for their living. Rudeness went on the rise. Crypto currencies tanked. Pete Davidson’s love thing with Kim Kardashian made headlines.

A list of what we’re over as we hope for better times in 2023:

Incivility be gone

The pandemic released a tsunami of overwrought people, but heightened incivility has stretched well beyond their raucous ranks.

Researcher Christine Porath restricted herself to rudeness, disrespect or insensitive behavior when she recently wrote about the subject in Harvard Business Review. The professor of management at Georgetown University found incidents of incivility way up, in line with a steady climb stretching back nearly 20 years.

Particularly hammered this year, Porath wrote, were frontline workers in health care, retail, transportation, hospitality and education. All were declared heroes when the pandemic struck. It didn’t take long for that to become a beat down.

Noting that incivility can and does escalate to physical aggression and other violence, Axios dubbed it the rudeness pandemic.

Crypto craziness

Will the implosion of FTX, the world’s third-largest cryptocurrency exchange, bring on broader chaos in a digital world that millions of people already distrust?

Time will tell as other and otherwise healthy crypto companies face a liquidity crisis. And there’s the philanthropic implications of the FTX bankruptcy collapse here in the real world, since founder Sam Bankman-Fried donated millions to numerous causes in “effective altruism” fashion.

The FTX bankruptcy filing followed a bruising of crypto companies throughout 2022, due in part to rising interest rates and the broader market downturn that has many investors rethinking their lust for risk. That includes mom-and-pop investors along for the ride.

ASMR, pipe down

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It began, innocently enough, as brain tingles brought on by whispering, tapping, brushing or scraping. Then, bam, it took off on social media like a really loud rocket on a mission to annoy.

Today, we’ve got millions of videos filled with people attempting to calm by speaking in low tones, armed with anything they can get their hands on in conjunction with their expensive, ultra-sensitive mics.

Companies are selling beer and chocolate, paint and home goods using ASMR. All the calming — and commerce — is deafening.

Gray, the color

Gray walls, gray floors, gray furniture. Is gray passé? Here’s hoping.

The color spent much of 2022 as a purportedly neutral “it.” The problem was, we were already feeling gray on the inside.

Of course, gray has been around since color itself, but it took over as an alternative to beige and Tuscan brown. Gray took a tumble midyear, but one doesn’t paint or swap out the couch as quickly as trends fade. We’ve been stuck with gray, thanks to TV home shows and social media loops.

“What would your reaction be if I told you that color is disappearing from the world? A graph suggesting that the color gray has become the dominant shade has been circulating on TikTok, and boy does it have folks in a tizzy,” wrote Loney Abrams in Architectural Digest in October.

By that, she explained, the upset folks she mentioned stand firmly behind the notion that a lack of color “spells tragedy.”

Abrams, a Brooklyn artist and pop culture curator, speaks of the fixer-uppers of Chip and Joanna Gaines and the Calabasas compound of Kim Kardashian. And she cites Tash Bradley, a trained color psychologist who works for the U.K. wallpaper and paint brand Lick.

Bradley, Abrams wrote, points to the hustle-bustle of pre-pandemic life as one villain leading to The Great Gray Washing. Bradley, the interior design director for Lick, sees no psychological benefits to gray.

Pete Davidson’s love life

Not the King of Staten Island himself, per se. Look deeply into your hearts and decide for yourselves whether to love him or Ye him.

We’re talking about the vast quantities of air volume his love life has sucked up on a near-hourly basis, especially in 2022, otherwise known as his Kim Kardashian era (which actually started in late 2021 for the obsessives).

Davidson’s love roster has puzzled for years, stretching back to his MTV “Guy Code” days in 2013 while still a teenager, leading to his Carly Aquilino phase.

There were stops along the way with Cazzie David (Larry Davidson’s daughter), Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale (briefly), Kaia Gerber (even more briefly), and others, including his latest: model Emily Ratajkowski.

The “SNL” alum and self-described — in appearance — “crack baby” is a paparazzi, social media, gossip monger magnet. Rather, his love life is.

Movie upchuck madness

The film industry, to state the obvious, has produced decades of genre-spanning grossness, much of it significant and legit to show on camera.

However, there’s one particular cinematic exclamation point we could do without, or at the very least, with significantly less of: The dispensable spew.

Implied vomiting with an urgent rush to a curb, hand to a mouth or turn of a head would sometimes suffice, thanks. Who spread the word in Hollywood that movie watchers actually desire all the nauseating details. The projectile-ness, the color combinations, the chunks.

Well, in some cases, audiences themselves.

That notable dress shop scene in the 2011 smash hit “Bridesmaids” was a gender test of sorts, according to The Daily Beast. Would audiences accept all the spewing and other grand scatology from women in a wedding-themed movie as they do for the bros of producer Judd Apatow’s other comedies?

Apatow and director Paul Feig extensively tested “Bridesmaids” with audiences, and they were fine.

Fast forward to 2022’s notables. There’s the satire “The Triangle of Sadness,” which could hardly do without, but there’s also “Tár,” a far more serious film that wouldn’t make the vomit hall of fame with Lydia Tár’s one fleeting gush. We ask, what’s the point of that? Meaning, the upchuck as aside.

Cate Blanchett’s Tár has far bigger problems, so let’s rein in all the gratuitous spewing.

The ultra hustle

Elon Musk put it thusly in an email to his remaining employees:

“Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

Musk is Musk, but he illustrates a moment: A need to remain in motion, to work harder, climb higher, sweat longer. With the volatile economy, political chaos, extreme weather and wars, it’s no wonder that a blanket of anxiety has kept the ultra-hustle alive.

As if all the slow living and work-life balance talk is meaningless, or more to the point, can’t exist for many.

“We’re hustling to make ends meet, `building our brand,’ ensuring our startup doesn’t tank, or dreaming about the day our side hustle takes off and we can walk into the office and give everyone the bird,” wrote Benjamin Sledge on Medium.

It stands to reason, he said, that “most of us are hustling because we literally have to in order to survive.”

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Pioneering US Television Journalist Barbara Walters Dies at 93

Barbara Walters, one of the most visible women on U.S. television as the first female anchor on an evening news broadcast and one of TV’s most prominent interviewers, has died at age 93, her longtime ABC home network said on Friday.

Walters, who created the popular ABC women’s talk show The View in 1997, died Friday at her home in New York, Robert Iger, chief executive of ABC’s corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co., said on Twitter.

In a broadcast career spanning five decades, Walters interviewed an array of world leaders, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and every U.S. president and first lady since Richard and Pat Nixon.

She earned 12 Emmy awards, 11 of those while at ABC News, the network said.

Walters began her journalism career on NBC’s The Today Show in the 1960s as a writer and segment producer. She made broadcast history as the first woman co-anchor on a U.S. evening newscast, opposite Harry Reasoner.

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What Americans Googled Most in 2022

Web searches reveal what America really cared about this year  

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Brazil Bids Farewell to Its Greatest Football Idol 

Brazil and the world said goodbye Thursday to a man who many consider the greatest football player of the last century. Pele died in São Paulo at the age of 82. Brazilians took to the streets to honor their greatest idol in the country’s most popular sport. For VOA, Edgar Maciel reports from Sao Paulo.

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Vivienne Westwood, Britain’s Provocative Dame of Fashion, Dies at 81

As the person who dressed the Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, who died Thursday at 81, was synonymous with 1970s punk rock, a rebelliousness that remained the hallmark of an unapologetically political designer who became one of British fashion’s biggest names.

“Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London. The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better,” her fashion house said on Twitter.

Climate change, pollution and her support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were all fodder for protest T-shirts or banners carried by her models on the runway.

She dressed up as then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for a magazine cover in 1989 and drove a white tank near the country home of a later British leader, David Cameron, to protest fracking.

The rebel was inducted into Britain’s establishment in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth, who awarded her the Order of the British Empire medal. But, ever keen to shock, Westwood turned up at Buckingham Palace without underwear — a fact she proved to photographers by a revealing twirl of her skirt.

“The only reason I am in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity,'” Westwood said in her 2014 biography. “Nothing is interesting to me unless it’s got that element.”

Instantly recognizable with her orange or white hair, Westwood first made a name for herself in punk fashion in 1970s London, dressing the punk rock band that defined the genre.

Together with the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, she defied the hippie trends of the time to sell rock ‘n’ roll-inspired clothing.

They moved on to torn outfits adorned with chains as well as latex and fetish pieces that they sold at their shop in London’s King’s Road variously called “Let It Rock,” “Sex” and “Seditionaries,” among other names.

They used prints of swastikas, naked breasts and, perhaps most well-known, an image of the queen with a safety pin through her lips. Favorite items included sleeveless black T-shirts, studded, with zips, safety pins or bleached chicken bones.

“There was no punk before me and Malcolm,” Westwood said in the biography. “And the other thing you should know about punk too: it was a total blast.”

‘Buy less’

Born Vivienne Isabel Swire on April 8, 1941, in the English Midlands town of Glossop, Westwood grew up at a time of rationing during and after World War II.

A recycling mentality pervaded her work, and she repeatedly told fashionistas to “choose well” and “buy less.” From the late 1960s, she lived in a small flat in south London for some 30 years and cycled to work.

When she was a teenager, her parents, a greengrocer and a cotton weaver, moved the family to north London where she studied jewelry-making and silversmithing before retraining as a teacher.

While she taught at a primary school, she met her first husband, Derek Westwood, marrying him in a homemade dress. Their son, Ben, was born in 1963, and the couple divorced in 1966.

Now a single mother, Westwood was selling jewelry on London’s Portobello Road when she met art student McLaren, who would go on to be her partner romantically and professionally. They had a son, Joe Corre, co-founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.

After the Sex Pistols split, the two held their first catwalk show in 1981, presenting a “new romantic” look of African-style patterns, buccaneer trousers and sashes.

Westwood, by then in her 40s, began to slowly forge her own path in fashion, eventually separating from McLaren in the early 1980s.

Often looking to history, her influential designs have included corsets, Harris Tweed suits and taffeta ballgowns.

Her 1985 “Mini-Crini” line introduced her short puffed skirt and a more fitted silhouette. Her sky-high platform shoes garnered worldwide attention in 1993 when model Naomi Campbell stumbled on the catwalk in a pair.

“My clothes have a story. They have an identity. They have character and a purpose,” Westwood said.

“That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.”

The Westwood brand flourished in the 1990s, with fashionistas flocking to her runway shows in Paris, and stores opening around the world selling her lines, accessories and perfumes.

She met her second husband, Andreas Kronthaler, teaching fashion in Vienna. They married in 1993, and he later became her creative partner.

Westwood used her public profile to champion issues including nuclear disarmament and to protest anti-terrorism laws and government spending policies that hit the poor. She held a large “climate revolution” banner at the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony in London, and frequently turned her models into catwalk eco-warriors.

“I’ve always had a political agenda,” Westwood told L’Officiel fashion magazine in 2018.

“I’ve used fashion to challenge the status quo.”

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Beloved Brazilian Football Legend Pelé Dies at 82

Brazilian football legend Pelé has died at the age of 82, after battling cancer and cardiac problems the past year. Over the course of his legendary career, the man who led his national team to an unprecedented three World Cup titles became known as one of the sport’s greatest players. VOA’s Robert Raffaele has more on the life of the international icon.

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Pele or Maradona? Debate Will Continue Raging Over Who Was Greater

Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came along, the enduring debate in soccer about who was the greatest player centered on two men: Pele and Diego Maradona.

It was an argument that played out for years on terraces and in bars, on radio and on television.

Brazil’s Pele, a prolific goal scorer who died aged 82 on Thursday in Sao Paulo, won the World Cup an unprecedented three times as a player in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and put the small town of Santos on the map before conquering the United States with the New York Cosmos.

Maradona, who died at the age of 60 in 2020, guided Argentina to the World Cup in 1986 with perhaps the most influential performance ever at a major tournament and lifted Napoli to unparalleled heights in Italy and Europe.

The argument about whose legacy was greater so divided the football world that when Maradona was voted the player of the 20th century in a FIFA internet poll, there was widespread outrage, with many griping that Pele’s earlier career put him at a disadvantage with younger fans.

FIFA held another poll voted on by its own “football family,” won by Pele, allowing the pair to share the glory.

“Here Pele, the striker whose territory was the penalty box, a player who scored goals for fun and became Minister of Sport, more your quiet type of person,” FIFA wrote at the time.

“There Maradona, possibly the most complete player ever, playmaker and goal-scorer, technically brilliant, unpredictable and impulsive, both on and off the field, a player plagued by a variety of problems for many years.”

The cases made on both sides came with a host of subtexts: the Argentine versus the Brazilian, the man of the people versus the establishment figure, the party animal versus the quiet man, the rebel versus the conformist.

Everyone took a side, and the two protagonists were not shy about making their own feelings known.

Pele thought Maradona was gauche and undignified, and Maradona thought Pele was a sellout.

“As a player he was great. … But he thinks politically,” Maradona said, in one of his kinder criticisms.

Pele called the Argentine, who struggled with addiction, “a bad example” and much more besides.

Still, the two South Americans got on well when they met for the first time in 1979, Maradona flying to Rio to meet Pele.

Pele was happy to counsel the budding star, and Maradona excited to be fulfilling his dream of meeting the Brazilian.

But their relationship soured in 1982 after Pele criticized Maradona when he was sent off for stamping on a Brazilian in a World Cup tie in Spain.

From then on, they spent decades criticizing each other and then making up, with the praise as sincere as the insults.

Pele was magnanimous on hearing of Maradona’s death, saying: “I lost a great friend, and the world lost a legend.”

Messi, who strengthened his own claim to sporting immortality by leading Argentina to their third World Cup victory this month, shared a photo of himself with Pele in a terse tribute to the Brazilian star on Instagram, saying: “Rest in peace Pele.”

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, eclipsed by Messi at the Qatar World Cup, was more expansive, calling the Brazilian “King Pelé” and an inspiration to millions. “He will never be forgotten, and his memory will last forever in all of us football lovers,” he said.

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Brazilian Football Legend Pele Dies at 82

Brazilian football legend Pele, who burst onto the world scene as a goal-scoring teenager and led his national team to an unprecedented three World Cup titles, died Thursday at the age of 82.

He was hospitalized in late November, and doctors said in December he was dealing with cancer that had advanced along with kidney and cardiac problems. In September 2021, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.

Widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, Pele dazzled on the World Cup stage for Brazil and in club games and international tours with his team Santos before helping generate a surge of excitement around the sport in the United States with a late-career stint with the New York Cosmos.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940 in Tres Coracoes, about 250 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro, Pele signed with Santos at the age of 15.

By 16, he was part of Brazil’s national team, and in 1958 he made his World Cup debut at age 17, announcing himself on football’s biggest stage with a goal in his first match. He is the youngest player to ever score in the men’s World Cup and the youngest to ever score three goals in one game, which he accomplished in Brazil’s second match of the tournament.

Two more goals in the tournament’s final match helped Pele lead Brazil to the championship. He won two more World Cups with Brazil, in 1962 and 1970.

His international career included 77 goals in 92 matches, and he was named FIFA’s co-player of the 20th century along with Argentina’s Diego Maradona.

After retiring from Santos and international duty, Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975 and played three seasons there.

In his post-football life, Pele served as Brazil’s sports minister and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization appointed him UNESCO Champion for Sport for what it said was his “outstanding commitment to promote sport and help disadvantaged children.”

In 2020, Pele tweeted that he was proud of his relationship with the U.N., as well as his involvement in campaigns to promote breastfeeding in Brazil and eradicate illiteracy.

“Today, I insist on being involved in good causes, both with NGO’s, Public institutions and my sponsors. This is part of my legacy and I applaud other football legends that have also been following this path, using the beautiful game to make the world better,” he posted.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Americans Weigh Pros and Cons as Musk Alters Twitter

Marie Rodriguez of Bountiful, Utah, began using social media when she enlisted in the U.S. Navy. At first, she saw it as a positive thing.

“It helped me to really keep in touch with people at home while I was deployed and living overseas,” she told VOA.

However, in the two months since Tesla CEO Elon Musk acquired Twitter, Rodriguez and many of its hundreds of millions of users have been forced to reevaluate their feelings about the platform and about social media in general.

“I don’t think he’s been positive at all,” Rodriguez said. “He’s allowing all of these previously banned accounts back on the platform, and I’m seeing more offensive Tweets — more anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ hate speech.”

“Some social media platforms over-patrol,” she added, “but Twitter isn’t patrolling enough. The result is more trolling, more bots and more hate. I’ve definitely been using the platform less because of it.”

Musk is a polarizing figure among Americans. In his own self-created poll on the platform, 57.5% of respondents said he should resign as Twitter chief, compared to 42.5% who said he should stay. (Musk has said he will abide by the poll’s results and resign his post as soon as a replacement is hired.)

Independent surveys, however, have shown Musk’s actions to be less unpopular than his Twitter poll indicated. A Quinnipiac University survey from earlier this month, for example, found that Americans’ opinions are more evenly split, with 37% saying they approved of the way he’s operating Twitter, 37% disapproving and 25% offering no opinion.

“I’m generally critical of billionaires,” said Avi Gupta, a neurobiologist in the nation’s capital, “but I’m so far supportive of what Musk has done for Twitter. As far as free speech is concerned, definitely, but also the platform’s just a lot more exciting to follow.”

A new Twitter

Gupta said he became disenchanted with rival social media platform Instagram when he posted a photo of Ukrainian soldiers who appeared to be wearing patches containing Nazi symbols. The post was promptly removed by administrators.

“To me, in that example, what Instagram is saying is that reporting on Nazism is no different than glorifying it,” Gupta explained. “It’s a form of censorship, but it was happening in pre-Musk Twitter, too. They were too quick to suspend accounts when they challenged mainstream thinking — whether it be about the Ukraine war, U.S. military interventions or COVID.”

“Since Musk,” he added, “I don’t have to censor myself as much, and you’re seeing previously banned accounts from politicians and scientists welcomed back. You have to balance that with stopping dangerous hate speech, of course — which I think they’re doing OK with — but overall, I think it’s been a good thing.”

According to University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Professor Damian Radcliffe, Musk arrived at Twitter with an entrepreneurial reputation and a desire to grow the platform that appealed to many users.

Others, however, expressed concerns about what Musk’s commitment to freedom of speech and a scaling back of platform moderation might mean, as well as the implications of users now being able to purchase a verified “blue check” account.

“Those worries seem to have been justified,” Radcliffe told VOA. “I personally have seen a lot of people I follow leave the platform. They’re pointing to a less civil discourse, as well as a greater prevalence of misinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories in their feed as the main reasons they’re departing.”

In the two months since he took over, Musk has reinstated several previously banned Twitter accounts — most notably that of former U.S. President Donald Trump, though Trump eschewed the platform after his reinstatement. Musk has also banned (and sometimes reinstated) the accounts of several journalists.

“It’s been wild to watch as he came in talking about free speech,” said Ron Gubitz, executive director of a New Orleans nonprofit organization. “But then, all of a sudden, he’s suspending journalists’ accounts, banning an account tracking his jet, and — albeit temporarily — saying we couldn’t post links to other social media.”

Gubitz is a self-described “Twitter head,” having been on the platform for more than 14 years. He said he’s been disappointed in how it has operated since Musk’s purchase.

“Initially it was annoying because the discourse was all about Musk,” he said to VOA. “What is Musk saying? What is he going to do? It felt middle-school gossipy.”

“But the user interface has also actually gotten worse since he took over,” Gubitz added. “The platform isn’t updating well for me, it’s not adding enough new tweets, there are ads at the top of the screen every time I refresh and the whole thing just feels less secure. I’m cool with change, but this is going in the wrong direction.”

America’s relationship with social media

“I use Twitter less and less every day and I’ve actually removed the app from my phone,” said Kimm Rogers, a musician from San Diego, California. “I used to see tweets from the people I follow, but now my feed shows me [acquitted Wisconsin shooter] Kyle Rittenhouse, Elon Musk and [Texas Republican Senator] Ted Cruz. There’s a lot more hate especially towards black people, LGBTQ and Jewish people. There’s also more porn showing up in my feed as well as lots of disinformation over vaccines and the war in Ukraine.”

“It’s just hard on my psyche to see the lack of common decency and the cruelty often inflicted on others on this site,” Rogers added, “It diminishes my view of humanity.”

Polls show opinions on the direction of Twitter are often connected to political leanings. Quinnipiac’s December poll showed that 63% of Republican respondents said they viewed Musk favorably, while only 9% of Democrats said the same.

Many left-leaning users have threatened to leave the platform entirely. According to information from the Twitter analytics firm Bot Sentinel, approximately 877,000 accounts were deactivated in the week after Musk purchased Twitter. Nearly 500,000 were temporarily suspended. In total, that’s more than double the usual number and has included prominent celebrities who cited a rise in hate speech and the banning of journalists as their reason for leaving.

More recently, some users have organized “Twitter Walk-out Days” in which they log off for a period of time in protest. Others have threatened to move to other social media platforms that better align with their values.

If those users do move on, Nicole Dahmen, professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, says it won’t be the first time users shifted away from a form of technology.

“Leaving Twitter is the latest iteration of unfriending Facebook a decade ago or killing your television in the 1980s,” Dahmen told VOA. “There are valid reasons to consume and participate with these mediums and there are even more valid reasons to leave them. They’ve ultimately trivialized American discourse, and our political, social and emotional health has suffered.”

But it’s not just Twitter that appears to be experiencing a plateauing of popularity around the world. From 2018 to 2022, average daily social media use increased by only five minutes — from 142 minutes to 147 minutes — according to During the previous four years, average social media use increased by a whopping 38 minutes per day.

Sense of community

“Social media can be a great thing in how it creates a sense of community and allows us to find commonalities,” said Ivory Burnett of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Burnett said she prefers Twitter over other platforms because it encourages what she sees as more authentic, “less cosmetic” interactions.

“When used for good, it’s the megaphone for an entire generation,” she told VOA. “But it also results in bullying, misunderstanding and crowd-thinking that makes it easier to spread hate and harm.”

But, like so many who, despite their frustrations with the platform, say they don’t want to start over elsewhere after dedicating so many years to building a following on Twitter, Burnett said she has no intention of leaving.

“Leave? I’ve never considered leaving,” she said and laughed. “I’ll be here until my login stops working.”

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US House Bans TikTok on Official Devices

The popular Chinese video app TikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administration arm, mimicking a law soon to go into effect banning the app from all U.S. government devices.

The app is considered “high risk due to a number of security issues,” the House’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) said in a message sent on Tuesday to all lawmakers and staff and must be deleted from all devices managed by the House.

The new rule follows a series of moves by U.S. state governments to ban TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, from government devices. As of last week, 19 states have at least partially blocked the app from state-managed devices over concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to track Americans and censor content.

The $1.66 trillion omnibus spending bill, passed last week to fund the U.S. government through September 30, 2023, includes a provision to ban the app on federally managed devices and will take effect once President Joe Biden signs the legislation into law.

“With the passage of the Omnibus that banned TikTok on executive branch devices, the CAO worked with the Committee on House Administration to implement a similar policy for the House,” a spokesperson for the Chief Administrative Officer told Reuters on Tuesday.

The message to staff said anyone with TikTok on their device would be contacted about removing it, and future downloads of the app were prohibited.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new rule.

U.S. lawmakers have put forward a proposal to implement a nationwide ban on the app.

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Djokovic Back in Australia a Year After Being Deported

Former world number one Novak Djokovic arrived in Australia on Tuesday almost one year after he was deported for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, tennis officials said.

The nine-time Australian Open champion was initially banned from the country for three years after losing a high-stakes legal battle in January over his vaccine status. 

Australia has since lifted its requirement for visitors to show proof of vaccination against Covid.

The government confirmed in November that the unvaccinated Serb was no longer barred and had been granted a visa allowing him to play in the opening Grand Slam of the year, which starts next month. 

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said he hoped local fans would embrace Djokovic’s return. 

“We welcome him back to Australia,” he told reporters. 

“I think as we speak, he’s landing in Adelaide, and I think that he is going to be again the player to beat. 

“I have a great deal of confidence in the Australian public. I have a lot of confidence that the fans will react how we hope they will react.”

Tennis Australia confirmed that Djokovic had touched down.

Djokovic, who has won 21 Grand Slams, has been criticized for his part in the saga, which played out as rolling anti-vaccination protests took place in Australia’s major cities. 

He is scheduled to play in the Adelaide International, beginning Sunday, as he warms up for the Open in Melbourne. 

“Over the years I’ve been really fortunate to start very strong in Australia and I love playing there,” the world number five said in Dubai last week after ending 2022 with a record-equaling sixth ATP Tour Finals crown. 

“After obviously what happened earlier this year, hopefully I can have a decent reception there and hopefully that can help me play some good tennis.” 

Djokovic last set foot in Australia nearly a year ago, claiming he had obtained a medical exemption to enter the country without being vaccinated because he had recently recovered from Covid-19.

However, Australian border officials said he did not meet the requirements to be exempted from strict vaccination rules and he was detained for five days while pursuing an ultimately fruitless legal appeal. 

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‘Avatar’ Sequel Sails to 2nd Week Atop the Box Office

“Avatar: The Way of Water” sailed to the top of the box office in its second weekend, bringing in what studios estimate Sunday will be a strong $56 million in North America — a sign that the sequel may stay afloat into the new year and approach the massive expectations that met its release.

James Cameron’s digital extravaganza for 20th Century Studios has made $253.7 million domestically in its first 10 days of release, compared to $212.7 million in the same stretch for 2009’s first “Avatar,” which would go on to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

While Cameron’s films like the “Avatar” original and “Titanic” tend to have serious legs at the box office, sequels tend to open big and decline quickly, complicating guesses on where the film will end up. Its second-weekend drop-off from the $134 million it made in its first was not precipitous, given the way blockbusters open.

“This is James Cameron’s first $100 million opener,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore “For this movie to have opened that big and only dropped 58%, it shows it has staying power.”

Globally, “The Way of Water” is already the third highest-grossing film released in 2022, bringing in $855 million — putting it behind only “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion” — and is a lock to surpass $1 billion.

It’s also clear sailing for the film looking ahead, with more holiday time coming and no comparable competition until February, when Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is released.

Storms across the U.S. could keep people home, however.

“The biggest foe that Avatar is facing at this moment is the weather,” Dergarabedian said.

Universal’s animated Shrek spinoff, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” featuring the voices of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, finished a distant second with $11.35 million in its opening weekend.

Sony’s biopic “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” finished third with $5.3 million.

The weekend’s biggest disappointment was “Babylon,” the epic of early Hollywood from “La La Land” director Damian Chazelle starring Brad Pitt and Margo Robbie. In a nationwide release it brought in just $3.5 million, finishing fourth.

The tepid, $6.5 million opening weekend in October of director David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam,” another film, set in a similar period, that combined prestige, scope, star power and a celebrated auteur, brought industry worries that audiences just weren’t flocking to theaters for such films.

The concerns proved justified, as “Babylon” barely made more than half of the opening of “Amsterdam.”

The coming weeks in theaters, streaming showings and any nominations it may get could help “Babylon” rise above bomb status.

“I would say Babylon is a movie that isn’t about the opening weekend,” Dergarabedian said. “We’ll have to see what it does in the coming weeks then into the new year, particularly if it gets more awards buzz.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore, with Wednesday through Sunday in parentheses. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

"Avatar: The Way of Water," $56 million.
"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," 11.35 million.
"Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody," $5.3 million.
"Babylon," $3.5 million.
"Violent Night," $3.14 million.
"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," $3 million.
"The Whale," $924,000.
"The Menu," $617,000.
"The Fabelmans," $550,000.
"Strange World," $410,000.

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Los Angeles Looking to Get Flying Taxis by 2028 Summer Olympics

Taking to the air could be one solution to help get around traffic jams on city highways. Genia Dulot reports from Los Angeles on plans to get air taxis flying in time for the city’s 2028 Summer Olympics.

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Christian Pilgrims Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem 

The streets of Bethlehem are crowded for Christmas again, after two years of COVID-related restrictions. In the Church of the Nativity, the faithful celebrated Jesus’s birth as the number of Palestinian Christians continues to dwindle.

Christian tourists from around the world have come to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus. While the numbers have not quite reached pre-pandemic levels, hotels and restaurants are almost full bringing an economic boost to the West Bank.

Thousands filled the Church of the Nativity, on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, for the traditional midnight mass which was broadcast around the world.

Palestinian officials including President Mahmoud Abbas attended the service in Bethlehem.

Latin Patriarch Pierbatista Pizzabella said that the world is no longer focusing on the Palestinians, who are still waiting for their right to live in dignity and freedom.

He said that Palestinians are living through difficult challenges, but the message of Christmas is a message of peace. Christmas comes as the Palestinian population in the West Bank has dwindled to less than 1% of the total population.

Hani al-Hayek is the mayor of Beit Sahour, one of the few places in the West Bank that still has a Christian majority. He says he worries the Christian presence could decline even further.

“We are facing big immigration from here to Europe, to United States, especially to United States, we have big immigration from Beit Sahour, Beit Lehem, Beit Jallah, and it’s not good for us,” he said. “We encourage people to stay here, to keep in their homes, their lands, but they need safety, they need security for their children, their future.

He was referring to the ongoing clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, in which 150 Palestinians have been killed according to the Palestinian health ministry. That makes this the deadliest year for Palestinians in 16 years. Twenty Israelis have been killed in the violence.

Israeli officials say most of the Palestinians killed were gunmen who attacked Israeli soldiers when they tried to make arrests; Palestinian officials said some of those killed were not involved in any clashes.


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Year in Tech: What Do Tech Layoffs Say About the Economy?

The end of 2022 saw major layoffs at Twitter, Amazon, Salesforce and Snap. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, had its first layoffs ever, cutting about 13% of its staff. Deana Mitchell looks at what the tech job losses mean for the future.

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Maxi Jazz, of UK Dance Music Band Faithless, Dies at 65

Maxi Jazz, the lead singer of the British electronic band Faithless, has died at the age of 65, the group announced Saturday.

The musician and DJ, whose real name was Maxwell Fraser, passed away at his home in south London, according to the dance music act behind 1990s hits including Insomnia and God is a DJ.

No details were given for the cause of his death.

“We are heartbroken to say Maxi Jazz died peacefully in his sleep last night,” Faithless tweeted, paying tribute to one of its legendary 1995 founding members.

“He was a man who changed our lives in so many ways. He gave proper meaning and a message to our music,” they said. “He was a lovely human being with time for everyone and wisdom that was both profound and accessible.”

Faithless first emerged in the mid-1990s, earning widespread recognition and critical acclaim with their album Insomnia.

They were seen as pioneers of the emerging dance music genre at the time.

The group, whose other core members included Rollo and Sister Bliss, went on to release six more studio albums as well as several compilation albums during their decades-spanning collaboration.

The most recent release was 2020’s All Blessed.

Jazz, who also fronted a band of musicians named Maxi Jazz & The E-Type Boys, will be best remembered for Faithless’ earlier tracks, including the 2001 club classic We Come 1.

The band was also renowned for its live performances and headlined some of the biggest festivals in the world, including on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage in 2002.

Sister Bliss paid tribute to her bandmate by sharing a black and white photo of him on Twitter.

“Sending love to all of you who shared our musical journey,” she wrote in the post. 

Jazz, who hailed from Brixton in south London, was a lifelong supporter of Premier League football team Crystal Palace and was made an associate director of the club in 2012.

Its official Twitter account described him as a “legendary musician” and said the team would walk out to a Faithless track on Monday, a public holiday known as Boxing Day in the U.K., in tribute. 

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Ukrainian Ballerina Finds Temporary Home in US

Back when 2022 started, Kristina Kadashevych surely could not have envisioned ending the year in the city of Richmond, in the U.S. state of Virginia, performing as the sugarplum fairy (and two other roles) in Richmond Ballet’s annual holiday extravaganza, The Nutcracker.

But then, the Ukrainian ballerina never could have imagined the year would turn out the way it has.

Kadashevych arrived for our interview in a second-floor studio at the Richmond Ballet dressed in a leotard, leggings and soft, puffy booties to keep her feet toasty. She started off, apologizing in advance for her English. “My English is not perfect,” she said — but it was really good — and then she told her story.

Last February, on the day before she was supposed to fly to Paris to join the Kyiv City Ballet for a tour as a guest principal dancer, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Instead of boarding a plane for Paris, Kadashevych, her 2-year-old son and her parents had to flee their home in Kharkiv, in the eastern part of Ukraine; crowd onto a train; and evacuate to the presumed safer western reaches of the country.

“It was dangerous,” she said, “and we were scared.”

What did they take with them?

“Just kid stuff,” she said with a smile, “and kid. That’s all.”

More soberingly, she recalled how difficult it was to leave home, not knowing when they would be able to return.

“You don’t know where you’re going. You have nothing. It’s a strange feeling.”

‘You cannot plan anything’

They eventually took refuge at the home of another ballet dancer, and Kadashevych, 33, made the difficult decision to leave her family and go ahead and join the ballet company in Paris.

“I needed to work because I have no practice,” she said. “I was just sitting and losing my profession.”

Artistic director Stoner Winslett explained why Richmond Ballet dancers went to great lengths to keep dancing through the pandemic.

“Dancers are like Olympic athletes; if you lie around your apartment and don’t train, you lose your skill,” she said.

Kadashevych has been dancing since she was 9 and professionally for the past 15 years. She never considered another line of work, saying that dancing brought her interesting experiences, extensive travel and unmatched joy. “Ballet gives you everything.”

She left her family, thinking she would return soon. A month or two. It didn’t work out that way as the war raged on.

“Everything is so — how to explain — you cannot plan anything.”

Kadashevych and the Kyiv City Ballet went on a tour — France, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and later the United States — and were warmly greeted everywhere they went.

“In Europe, our performances were like a charity to help Ukraine,” she said. “Often, a lot of refugees from Ukraine came to those performances, so we felt we were doing important things and helping our country the way we can.

“Here in the U.S., we also have found huge support all over. Here, I also feel that everybody cares about me a lot, and I appreciate that.”

In between the tours, she went home to Ukraine for a month over the summer to visit her son, Lev, who will turn 4 in March.

“It was a very happy time,” she said. “I remember the moment when I come. It was early morning, and my son was sleeping, and I just lay next to him and waited until he woke up, and he could not believe it. ‘Really, Mommy, really?!’ He was so happy.”

‘Unexpected and very interesting’

So, how did Richmond happen?

She shares a common acquaintance with Igor Antonov, another native Ukrainian who was a longtime dancer with the Richmond Ballet and now is an artistic associate with the company and director of Richmond Ballet II. He texted Kadashevych and asked if she’d like to join the Richmond Ballet on a temporary basis. Her answer: Yes.

“It was unexpected and very interesting for me,” said Kadashevych, who came to Richmond while the rest of the Kyiv company returned to Europe.

Kadashevych is temporarily replacing a Richmond Ballet dancer on maternity leave. Winslett said “bringing a ballerina here who is unable to currently dance in her home country would be another way that our organization could further” the ballet’s mission “to awaken, uplift and unite human spirits through the power of dance.”

Kadashevych will remain with the company through February and also will perform in Firebird with Serenade, Feb. 17-19.

For The Nutcracker, Kadashevych danced the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy, the Snow Queen and Mrs. Silberhaus, though not all in the same performances. Kadashevych said she has danced in several versions of Nutcracker, but never one quite like Richmond’s — “It’s absolutely different, so it’s a new Nutcracker for me,” she said — and never three roles in one production.

“For me, it’s unusual … but it’s interesting to try everything because all roles are interesting and beautiful, and I really want to dance them all,” she said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.”

And as for being in Richmond, she said, “I love it. I really love it. The city and the company, as well, because they have really nice dancers, as professionals and as humans. So, I enjoy being here.”

The future? She does not know. She hopes to return to Ukraine soon, perhaps after Christmas, for a short visit. Beyond that, she’s not certain of much of anything, including if the situation will be better at home sooner rather than later.

“We all hope that it will,” she said, “but I’m not sure.”

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Alex Ovechkin Passes Gordie Howe for NHL’s No. 2 All-Time Scorer

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored his 801st and 802nd career goals Friday against the visiting Winnipeg Jets, passing Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL’s all-time list.

Ovechkin, 37, drew within 93 of breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 goals.

Ovechkin’s second tally Friday night came into an empty net with exactly one minute left. The goal, from above the left circle just inside the blue line, capped Washington’s 4-1 win.

“It’s nice to get it done at home in front of our house, family and friends,” Ovechkin said postgame. “It’s a great feeling. It’s a tremendous feeling. We just have to keep going and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

The Capitals played a video on the stadium screen from Mark Howe, Gordie’s son and himself a Hall of Fame hockey player.

Mark Howe said, “I’ve had the opportunity to watch you play so many games as a scout, and you’ve been a pleasure to watch. You’re one of very few people in this game to me to bring a wow factor. You embrace the fans. You’re everything that my mother and father would be very proud of. I know if they were here today they would be at this hockey game. They would be the first ones to congratulate you. Congratulations — job well done. And now it’s time to set new goals for (passing Gretzky).”

With time winding down in a scoreless first period, Dylan Strome entered the offensive zone and left a drop pass for a trailing Ovechkin, whose snap shot beat Winnipeg goalie David Rittich five-hole at the 18:22 mark.

Ovechkin has 22 goals in 36 games this season. He became the third player to reach 800 goals when he notched a hat trick on Dec. 13 in a road win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

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