20221229-top Sports 2022
CNN  — 

From a World Cup like no other in Qatar to Ukrainian athletes returning home to fight in the war against Russia, CNN Sport has picked out the must-read stories from the last 12 months.

Major interviews and CNN exclusives

Gay Australian footballer Josh Cavall reflects on life-changing year

It has been more than a year since Josh Cavallo announced he is gay, but even now he still struggles to comprehend the far-reaching impact his announcement has had.

Since making that life-changing decision in October 2021, Cavallo has become one of the most recognizable names and faces in world football, as well as becoming something of an icon.

“I’m walking in the streets of London and getting stopped,” Cavallo told CNN in October.

“I’ve only been to London twice now and I’m like: ‘Wow, I’m all the way from Australia and what I did was via social media,’ and to see the impact it’s had from people on the other side of the globe is absolutely phenomenal.”

Josh Cavallo has become one of football's most recognizable faces since coming out as gay.

Exclusive: World Cup soccer fans stopped by security officials for wearing rainbow-colored items

During the World Cup in Qatar, two German soccer fans told CNN’s Ben Church that they were asked by security officials at Qatar 2022 to remove the rainbow-colored items that they were wearing as they made their way to watch the match between France and Denmark.

CNN witnessed the conclusion to the incident at the Msheireb Metro Station, in Doha, as Bengt Kunkel, who was wearing a rainbow-colored sweatband and his friend – sporting a similarly colored armband – refused to hand over the items.

After taking the Germans to one side, a group of security guards eventually let them go – on condition that they put the rainbow-colored items in their pockets, according to Kunkel.

“Out of nowhere. They took my friend quite aggressively on the arm and pushed him away from the crowd and told him to take it [the armband] off,” Kunkel told CNN,

German fan Bengt Kunkel wearing a rainbow-colored arm and wristband outside Stadium 974 on Saturday, November 26.

Exclusive – ‘This is not saving, this is destruction’: Ukrainian MMA champion Yaroslav Amosov recounts the horrors of war

After Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a number of high-profile Ukrainian athletes chose to return to their home country and help in the war efforts.

Among them was Yaroslav Amosov, a reigning welterweight world champion in the MMA championship Bellator.

On May 13, he should have been defending his world title at Bellator’s event at Wembley Arena in London. Instead, Amosov returned to his hometown of Irpin and joined the territorial defense to aid civilians in and around the town.

“It’s hard to look at your city that was once full of happiness, life,” Amosov told CNN’s Matias Grez in an exclusive interview back in May.

Yaroslav Amosov missed his world title fight to return to Ukraine.

Remembrance Sunday: For one dissenting voice, this is his most dangerous day

For footballer James McClean, Remembrance Sunday is arguably his most difficult day of the year.

Since he first refused to wear the poppy in 2012, McClean and his family have been subjected to abuse both in football stadiums across England and online.

The Republic of Ireland international, who was born in Northern Ireland, has been outspoken about what the poppy and Remembrance Sunday mean to his community and its relationship to the British military.

James McClean has been regularly abused for his stance on the poppy.

YouTubers, doping and greed: It’s been a tough year for boxing

Simiso Buthelezi, Miracle Amaeze and Luis Quiñones are some of the talented boxers who have died this year as they pursued their sporting careers and chased dreams of world titles.

It’s an accepted risk of the profession. A database first compiled by anti-boxing activist Manuel Velazquez and updated in the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences estimated 1,604 boxers died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the ring between 1890 and 2011 – an average of 13 deaths a year.

That’s a shocking statistic for a professional sport, but perhaps not altogether that surprising. As Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa, director of Hartford Healthcare’s sports neurology program, points out, it’s a boxer’s objective in a fight “to neurologically impair the opponent.”

2022 has been a tough year for the sport of boxing.

Longform storytelling

‘Our dreams never came true.’ These men helped build Qatar’s World Cup, now they are struggling to survive

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar was a dark cloud that marred what should have been the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet.

For all the incredible action on the pitch, including arguably the greatest World Cup final in history, tournament organizers could not escape accusations that the workers who helped build the stadiums were subjected to awful conditions, which contributed to the deaths of migrant workers.

Ahead of the World Cup, CNN spoke to Kamal, a Nepali worker in Qatar, who recounted his experience of being arrested without explanation and kept in a Qatari jail for a week.

Describing the conditions in the cell he shared with 24 other Nepali migrant workers, he says he was provided with a blanket and a pillow, but the mattress on the floor he had to sleep on was riddled with bed bugs.

“Inside the jail, there were people from Sri Lanka, Kerala (India), Pakistan, Sudan, Nepal, African, Philippines. There were around 14-15 units. In one jail, there were around 250-300 people. Around 24-25 people per room,” he says.

The treatment of migrant workers was a major talking point throughout the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

‘Straight up child abuse’: Canadian gymnast quit at the age of 13 due to what she alleges was a horrific and abusive environment

Amelia Cline can still remember what she loved about gymnastics; the 32-year-old Canadian says it was the chance to explore the limits of gravity.

At the age of two, Cline says that her interest was obvious to her parents by the way she’d be pulling “little baby chin-ups,” at the kitchen counter. By the time she was nine or 10, Cline had outgrown her local coaches and was now travelling an hour from home to train at an elite club.

For a while, her love of the sport continued, but Cline says everything changed when Vladimir Lashin and his wife Svetlana arrived as the new coaching team. Cline says that the mood in the gym quickly darkened.

“Immediately, it was verbally abusive,” she recalled. “If you made any mistakes, they would scream and humiliate you.” According to Cline, it wasn’t long before the coaches resorted to physical abuse, too.

Amelia Cline spoke to CNN about the alleged abusive training regime.

How has this World Cup affected the ‘brands’ associated with it?

Traditionally billions of viewers watch the World Cup, and as they concentrate on what is happening on the pitch, the names of some of the world’s biggest companies flash behind the players on a rolling, technicolored loop – Budweiser, Visa, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, Adidas, McDonalds, Wanda, Vivo, Hyundai Kia.

But Qatar 2022 is different. Many of these brands, particularly those with Western world roots, have become caught in the geopolitical crosshairs of this tournament, balancing their sponsorship with criticisms levelled at FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and Qatar, the host, notably around human rights issues.

Not that it is affecting FIFA’s bottom line.

Several 'brands' have become associated with the Qatar World Cup.

Fearing torture and possible execution, Iranian powerlifter Amir Assadollahzadeh quit team in Norway and ran for his life

Athletes who are good enough to compete in the world championships are among the very best in their field. They dedicate their lives to the pursuit of their craft, they are proud to represent their countries, and they all dream of returning home with medals around their necks.

But at the IPF World Powerlifting Championships held in November, one athlete wasn’t competing for glory; Iranian Amir Assadollahzadeh says he found himself quite literally running for his life.

The 31-year-old Iranian lifter told CNN that in the middle of the tournament, he felt compelled to abandon his team and flee from his teammates.

He had agonized over a decision that would forever change his life, but at around 3.30 a.m., he had made up his mind and slipped out of his hotel in the Norwegian city of Stavanger, on the North Sea Coast.

“I took what I needed for my journey and left,” Assadollahzadeh recalled. “I quickly ran towards the bus station, but I arrived five minutes too late.”

He was one of Iran's top athletes. Then his life unraveled.

Camille Herron put her ‘heart and soul’ into breaking the 100-mile world record. But officials now say the course was too short

Camille Herron has called it a “unicorn moment” for the sport of ultrarunning – a performance that expanded the notion of what women can achieve in endurance events.

When Herron crossed the finish line at Jackpot Ultra Running Festival’s 100-mile race in Henderson, Nevada in February, she did so as the outright winner – even beating all the male competitors – and in world record time.

But her efforts now appear to be in vain, at least as far as the record books are concerned.

Capturing Lionel Messi’s viral moment: The story behind the most liked photo on Instagram, told by the photographer who took it

Lionel Messi vs. an ordinary brown egg was the clash that nobody expected in 2022.

But the photo that Messi chose to upload to his Instagram page to celebrate winning the World Cup smashed the app’s previous record – held by said egg – for the most liked post ever.

It was captured by Getty photographer Shaun Botterill, who had a front row seat to one of the most iconic moments in sports history.

This is his story on how he captured the most liked photo of all time.


The blind skateboarder challenging misconceptions about sight and sport

Dan Mancina is a skateboarder whose jaw-dropping videos have racked up hundreds of thousands of views.

Mancina also happens to be blind and videos of him using his white cane as he skates inspire curiosity and admiration.

20221019-sports-dan mancina
The blind skateboarder challenging misconceptions about sight and sport
03:06 - Source: CNN

‘Didn’t see ourselves represented’: This figure skating pair is ditching the gender norms rooted in their sport

US figure skaters Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc bring a different story to the ice – one based on equality.

The pair stands out in their discipline, one rooted in traditional gender norms, through their performances and skating style.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 08: Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc pose on the medals podium after winning the Pairs competition during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena on January 08, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
'Didn't see ourselves represented': This figure skating pair is ditching the gender norms rooted in their sport
04:51 - Source: CNN