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As Euro 2016 kicks off on June 10, many European countries will rely on African stars to help lift the trophy.

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The 2016 European Championship is set to light up the northern hemisphere summer as the continent’s best battle for what is the second biggest prize in world football.

A new, expanded format will see the number of teams compete in France raised from 16 to 24, providing more football for the watching world and more opportunities for players with African roots to shine.

It is a great irony that at the highest level of European football, many teams will rely heavily on players of African descent for success.

Some were born in Africa, while others have ties to the continent through their immigrant parents, but have decided to wear the colors of the country in which they were raised.

Many were cast into European life when their families fled violence, poverty and famine, and have little or no feeling towards a continent that they have not lived in. But this is not the case for all.

The reality for many players is that the chances of being successful in a World Cup are greater with a European nation, and the financial rewards far outweigh those of competing for an African team.

It has not been an easy decision for many players and some have faced prejudice for it in the land of their birth.

Such has been the success of players of African descent in France that in 2011 reports emerged that a quota of no more than 30% black players would be allowed in academies feeding into the national team. This caused outrage, and was denied by the French Football Federation, but shows the influence of the African player on the European game.

France’s strong ties to West and North Africa make it an obvious leader in this arena, but players of African descent are popping up in the national teams of Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Veteran French defender Patrice Evra will likely have his international swansong at the Championships on home soil, despite being born in Dakar to a Senegalese father and Cape Verdean mother. He reveals how his decision to play for France, where he spent much of his formative years, made him a target back in Senegal.

“I grew up amid a Senegalese culture at home,” he told reporters. “But we became westernized very quickly and when I had to choose between playing for Senegal or France my father told me to follow my heart.”

“I opted for France, as that was where I had grown up, but I then came in for lots of abuse in Senegal. I was called a monkey who grovels before the white man and labelled a money-obsessed traitor to the nation. But my parents helped me get through it.”

His national teammate, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, was born in Kinshasa but turned his back on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to play for France.

That, ironically, allowed his brother Parfait, who was born in France and is also a goalkeeper, to play international football for the DRC.

Stade Rennes winger Paul-Georges Ntep is part of the latest generation, seen as a rising star of French football but was born in Cameroon. He moved to Paris at the age of eight to live with an aunt and turned down numerous overtures from the Indomitable Lions to play for them before he was awarded his first French cap last year.

Another player also chased for a long time was Leicester City midfielder N’Golo Kanté, who was born in Paris to Malian parents. He admits he chose France purely for the opportunity to play in the European Championships.

“It’s a chance to play the Euro in France,” he said. “Regarding Mali, for a while, it’s true they contacted me. It was not necessarily an easy choice to make. But I chose the France team.”

It is likely that as much as 60% of France’s squad at Euro 2016 will be made up of players either born in, or with parents from, Africa.

Belgium, who are perhaps the most open of all European nations to immigrants, have seen their national team briefly perched on top of the FIFA World Rankings this year with a meteoric rise on the back of, it’s fair to say, their players of African descent.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku was born in Belgium where his father Roger, a Zaire international, was playing. His brother Jordan also plays for Belgium.

Lukaku’s major rival for a starting place in the Belgium line-up is Christian Benteke, who was born in Kinshasa but whose family fled to Belgium during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The same can be said for the parents of Vincent Kompany, who, injury-willing, will be leading Belgium at the finals, while Divock Origi, like Benteke a forward at Liverpool, was born in Belgium where his father Mike, a Kenyan international, was playing for KV Oostende.

Origi had seriously considered a future with Kenya even as his star was on the rise in Europe, but in the end a mixture of factors drove him towards playing for Belgium.

“I remember at that time there was some stand-off between the league and federation. He read about that stuff and it really put him off,” his father Mike told journalists.

“But obviously there were other issues, like playing at the Euros or World Cup for a big national team in Europe.”

“Nevertheless, Divock is a Kenyan with a Belgium passport. He speaks fluent Kiswahili, comes to Kenya often and enjoys Kenyan food the most.”

Tottenham Hotspur youngster Dele Alli, the toast of English football, has a Nigerian father Kenny, who claims his son is actually a prince in the Yoruba tribe that makes up about 20% of the country’s population.

Another young English star, Ross Barkley of Everton, has a Nigerian grandfather and was courted by that country before pinning his colours to the England mast.

Experienced Swiss international Johan Djourou, born in the Ivory Coast, says he feels lucky to have “escaped” playing for an African nation, even if he feels strong roots in the land of his birth.

“When you are in Africa there are a lot more difficulties and I was lucky enough to escape that. Other players like [Ivory Coast internationals] Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré have made it through there but when you are European you have more options.”

Not all players born in Europe have opted to represent countries from that continent though. The likes of Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Yannick Bolasie (DRC) and the toast of European football, Leicester City playmaker Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), have all chosen to represent the land of their parents despite being born outside of those countries.

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Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics Officially Postponed Due To Coronavirus

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Toplines: After a slew of calls to postpone due to the risks of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, Japan and the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday announced it would delay the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics until 2021, making it the first time the Games have been moved outside of World War I and II.

  • Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he had agreed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to delay the world’s biggest sporting event until next year. “I proposed to postpone for about a year and IOC president Thomas Bach responded with 100% agreement,” Abe said.
  • Speculation that the Olympics would be postponed escalated on Monday after Abe said, “If it is difficult to hold the games in such a way, we have to decide to postpone them, giving top priority to the well-being of the athletes.”
  • Senior IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today that “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided… The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”
  • It’s a move that was widely expected given the hundreds of conferences, festivals and sporting events affected by the pandemic across the globe, as well as mounting criticism levied at the IOC and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by players and fans, the latter of which voted overwhelmingly in a public poll conducted by Kyodo News to delay the Games.
  • Much of the criticism wasn’t focused on the possible safety of the event itself, which was set to begin on July 24 until August 9, but the risk to athletes presently as they attempted to train for the Games while adhering to lockdowns and social distancing practices in their home countries.
  • On March 18, the IOC held a conference call with 200 athlete representatives that caused further ire, with Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco saying there would be unfair competition given the training gym shut downs in certain countries, and U.S. table tennis player Han Xiao saying, “Regardless of their intentions, their first priority is not the public health aspect of it,” according to the New York Times.
  • Adding fuel to the fire this month: Kozo Tashima, the vice chairman of Japan’s Olympic Committee and the head of the Japan Football Association, tested positive for the coronavirus following trips to Europe and the U.S., Greece’s Olympic committee barred fans from attending the traditional torch lighting ceremony and Canada pulled out of the Games this past weekend.

Crucial Quote: In late February, a senior official told Reuters that Japan essentially had no backup plan, saying “We are not even thinking of when or in what contingency we might decide things. There is no thought of change at all in my mind.”

Big Number: $12.6 billion to $25.2 billion. That’s the estimated investment the city of Tokyo has made in the event and will have to swallow during a delay before recouping any revenue from the Summer Olympics, according to CBS. Sponsors additionally will take a financial blow, though, one of its biggest broadcasters, Discovery Inc., told investors in February that it was insured against a cancellation and that it wouldn’t hit the company particularly hard. NBCUniversal as well assured investors it had insurance, but it also would lose profit from the already $1.25 billion it’s sold in advertising, signing a $7.7 billion U.S. broadcasting deal for the Games until 2032, according to the New York Times. The Olympics is the largest spectator event affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, with the 2016 Games in Brazil selling 6.2 million tickets.

Key BackgroundAccording to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 392,000 total confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 17,000 deaths worldwide. In Japan in particular, there are 1,140 cases with 42 confirmed deaths.

Tangent: The Olympic Games are among the athletic world’s most storied events. First held in 776 BCE, the Games were revived in the modern era in 1896, when the Games were held in Athens, Greece. The 1916 Games were cancelled because of World War I, as were the 1940 and 1944 Games due to World War II.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation

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An Evening When The Stars Descended With Racquets: Federer And Nadal Faced-Off On African Soil For The Mother Of All Tennis Matches

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Cape Town Stadium during the 'Match In Africa'. IMAGE by Christiaan Kotze

The world’s biggest names in men’s tennis today, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, faced-off on African soil for the first time at a celebrity charity match also attended by Bill Gates. FORBES AFRICA was witness.

This is the story of how on a balmy summer day in February, a billionaire, a late-night talk show host and two sporting legends came together for the mother of all tennis matches in The Mother City.

In the coastal city of Cape Town in South Africa, a sea of admirers at Cape Town Stadium on February 7 waited with bated breath for the men with racquets they had booked tickets months in advance to see. And this for an exhibition match titled, ‘The Match In Africa’, which drew a record crowd of 51,945, all for a good cause.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal share a smile during their practice.
IMAGE by Christiaan Kotze

Security was tight. And the crowds were building up. And in they walked, for the practice session first. Roger Federer appeared from the players’ tunnel, wearing his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts, a white headband and white Nike shoes bearing the ‘RF’ logo.

Next to the 20-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion was his mother, Lynette Federer, in a distinct green top and black pants.

Shortly, Rafael Nadal, the ‘Spanish Bull’, the world number two in men’s singles tennis, made his grand entry on to the hard court sporting pink and white Nike shoes with the word ‘Rafa’ written on them, a pink Nike shirt, and a white Nike baseball cap with his trademark ‘bull’ logo.

And the two players gave the crowd a taste of what they would see later on in the day: world-class tennis.

Lynette Federer during the practice session. Image by Busi Lethole

Earlier, Lynette, who hails from Kempton Park, a small town in the East Rand of Gauteng in South Africa, had spoken to FORBES AFRICA about the legacy she thinks Federer and Nadal are leaving for the next generation, in particular those in South Africa.

“I really do hope that it leaves a certain message because South Africans are known to be passionate sportsmen. I do hope that tennis can pick up once again as it has been – South Africa was once upon a time a big tennis nation – and that it maybe does inspire more children to play the sport and that would be marvelous because that’s one part of the message we would like to leave. But the main message is that we’re also here to help the children of southern Africa.”

Lynette is on the board of the Roger Federer Foundation that has managed to uplift the lives of over a million children in southern Africa.

In June 2019, tennis fans in South Africa couldn’t contain their excitement when Federer had disclosed in Vogue’s highly-popular video feature, 73 Questions, that his greatest rival, the 19-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, was going to help him again for the Roger Federer Foundation.

“We’re going to try to break the record for most attendance, in Cape Town, South Africa, for my foundation… I’m so looking forward to it, so thank you  Rafa,” Federer had said.

This was the sixth edition of the match, but the first to be played on African soil.

The previous day, Federer had taken to Instagram, posting a video saying “hello everybody, I’m in Cape Town, I just got to the tennis court or football stadium, have a look, it’s amazing,” as he panned the camera for a full view of the stadium. “And we have got the orange color for Rafa so he feels like he’s on clay but it’s hard court.”

Federer was referring to Nadal being dubbed the ‘king of clay’ for winning 12 of his 19 Grand Slam titles on the orange clay courts of Roland Garros (French Open) in Paris.

The media stood on the courtside as the champions displayed some of their famous moves. Federer’s dad, Robert, was also present.

The mood in the stadium was beginning to get ecstatic.

The ‘Swiss Maestro’ and ‘Spanish Bull’ are undoubtedly the biggest rivals the sport has ever seen.

Yet, despite their fierce on-court rivalry, the two have managed to form a close friendship off-court.

More importantly, they have managed to inspire fans from all walks of life in different parts of the world.

And South Africa was no exception.

Sylna in the blue headband and sweat wristband. Theresa in the pink.
IMAGE by Busi Lethole

In the audience, a middle-aged woman named Sylna, dressed like Federer, gushed: “The moment is just too big because you don’t know what to expect and you have all these images that [Federer and Nadal] are going to shake your hands and you’re going to pass out.”

Theresa, another woman dressed as Nadal, sporting the player’s signature pink headband, enthused: “It’s actually long overdue that we’ve had some nice international tennis players in South Africa and it’s for a good cause as well.”

Jim sporting a smile at the Match In Africa hours before it began.
IMAGE by Busi Lethole

Jim, a 63-year-old tennis fanatic from Stellenbosch, originally from Zimbabwe, said he paid a fortune to witness this moment. “The fact that [Federer and Nadal] have been able to maintain their stature, physicality and competitiveness is absolutely amazing. You can have a good day but they have had a good 20 years of playing tennis. It’s just their spirit… Tonight is a good night to forget about all the bad things and concentrate on the good things because there’s a lot of good things in South Africa.”

One of the most rapturous moments on that packed night was when the ‘Mexican Wave’ was achieved in a metachronal rhythm by fans, and captured by thousands on their phones.

And then the world’s second richest man staged an entry.

Bill Gates appeared from the players’ tunnel with his doubles partner Federer, in matching outfits. Federer now swapped his Uniqlo black shirt and shorts for a white shirt and green shorts. He also decided to exchange the white headband for a green one. Gates opted not to wear the headband but had his glasses on.

READ MORE | The Highest-Paid Tennis Players 2019: Roger Federer Scores A Record $93 Million

Shortly afterwards, Nadal and South Africa’s very own Trevor Noah too appeared from the players’ tunnel in matching outfits to screaming fans and a thunderous applause. They wore pink Nike jackets featuring Nadal’s bull logo, pink shirts, pink and white shoes, and white shorts. Noah walked on to the court with the confidence of a multiple Grand Slam winner.

“I feel incredibly excited. So happy! I spent a lot of my childhood here. It’s been 20 years since my last time to Cape Town. It was worth the wait. I didn’t expect this kind of a welcome,” said Federer to SuperSport even as fans held up signs that said ‘welcome home Roger’.

He said some of the best things he experienced coming back to South Africa were the food and lifestyle. “It’s a beautiful country. It’s so scenic. The safaris, and you name it. The people at the end of the day have the warmest hearts. It’s a wonderful place.”

On playing Noah for the first time, he said: “I have never seen him play tennis in my life so that’s a good advantage for him but I’m not sure how good he is. But he’s got the best partner he could find in Rafa so it’s going to be very special. Trevor is a great guy, great person, so funny as well, and I think that could throw us off a little bit. And Rafa, obviously the legend he is, we know how great he is.”

“Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to success.

– Rafael Nadal

The Swiss maestro then went on to tell the crowd: “I hope you all have a blast. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you!”

Gates had previously played in a doubles team for two ‘The Match For Africa’ tournaments prior to ‘The Match In Africa’ finale. Together with Federer, they called themselves ‘Gateserer’, and were unbeaten.

On teaming up with Federer for the third time, Gates said: “We’ve had a lot of fun. The events have been a blast to do. And they’ve raised great resources for his foundation so it’s a thrill to be here; the biggest crowd ever!”

Rafael Nadal displaying his dangerous forehand. IMAGE by Reg Caldecott

And Nadal, on being back on South African soil, said: “It’s amazing. I’ve never played and felt like this… Just thank you everybody for supporting this.”

The crowds cheered louder.

“It’s very very special. We’re here supporting Roger’s foundation event. It makes me super happy.”

Noah nodded profusely.

“We’re going to create good team work for sure. No doubt,” said Nadal. “I said to Trevor the strategy is clear. Play aggressive and very well, that’s the most clear way to have success.”

Trevor Noah and Rafael Nadal having a laugh during the doubles match.
IMAGE by Christiaan Kotze

Ten years ago, who would have thought that a young man from Soweto, a township in South Africa, would be playing tennis with two of the world’s greatest male tennis players, and also tech-billionaire and Microsoft founder Gates?

“We’ve got a strong strategy. I think Roger’s at a disadvantage. We’re both half Swiss, half South African, so I’m in his head. I know what he’s going to do. I won’t use it too much against him. I’ve got one of the greatest players that the world has ever seen next to me so we’re going to make it a good match. It’s going to be a really good match,” said Noah.

He said playing alongside Nadal was a great combination because “the World Cup 2010 was in South Africa. Spain won that World Cup. So we’ve got a special connection right here. We’re bringing that magic back today.”

Noah brought his trademark humor to the court but that wasn’t enough to pull an upset despite having Nadal on his team. Team ‘Gateserer’ beat Team ‘N-Squared’ 6-3 to hold onto their unbeaten streak. Federer said on Noah’s tennis game: “I couldn’t even see the feet, they were so fast.”

Bill Gates and Roger Federer celebrate their victory. IMAGE by Reg Caldecott

Before the players headed back into the locker rooms, Gates spoke about the work the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing in Africa. “A lot of the work we do in South Africa is to help fight HIV and tuberculosis. And so, going and meeting the doctors, seeing the patients and understanding the drugs; how we can make them better. It’s inspiring to see the people who do the work in the field. Things have improved in those areas but there’s a lot more to do.”

Preluding the main match of the night, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, a South African singing group that recently appeared on America’s Got Talent, performed Shakira’s foot-tapping Waka Waka song.

The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The players once again appeared from the players’ tunnel, returning to court and a frenzied crowd.

Spotted in the front-row were South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe and his fashion entrepreneur wife Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, as also the country’s rugby legend Brian Habana.

Federer spoke about Nadal trailing behind him for the record of the most Grand Slam wins.

“The good thing about tonight is that he cannot catch me. Tonight, I’m relaxed.” Federer further said he wouldn’t mind if Nadal caught up with him, however, he would like to win one more Wimbledon title.

Roger Federer sporting the Springboks jersey gifted to him by Rugby player Siya Kolisi. IMAGE Reg Caldecott.

Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of the South African rugby team, which won the Rugby World Cup late last year, also made a special appearance. He came on court bearing a gift for the rugby team’s special fan, Federer. From one champion to another, Kolisi handed over a Number 8 green Springboks jersey with Federer’s surname written on it to symbolize his South African roots.

Federer wore it and the two champions hugged.

“Thank you to all of you beautiful people of South Africa. We appreciate everything you do. Roger has been telling me how amazing it’s been since he’s come back here. It just shows how many great things we can achieve as a country; for these two gentlemen to come out here and want to play in South Africa is really an awesome thing. And I hope it inspires a lot of people to come here and do this because we’ve got beautiful facilities like these and we can fill up the stadium which is amazing,” said Kolisi to SuperSport.

Roger Federer displays his famous backhand. IMAGE Reg Caldecott.

In the end, tennis fans were treated to a thrilling match that saw Federer hitting his famous backhand, a shot that has been instrumental in his career. He won the first set by 6-4. Nadal didn’t hold back either. He unleashed his lethal curling forehand shot on Federer as if it was one of the many ‘Fedal’ Grand Slam final classics that tennis fans have witnessed over the years. Nadal managed to scoop the second set 6-3. In the final set, he made some errors that ushered Federer’s victory, as he won the match by 6-4 3-6 6-3. The two hugged it out by the net.

‘The Match In Africa’ raised $3.5 million, the highest amount the Roger Federer Foundation has ever netted from a single exhibition match. The proceeds will help support children’s education in Africa as the exhibition is all about empowering children, in particular, in the area of early childhood education. The event also set a world record for the most attendees at a single tennis match.

So the numbers beg the question: is South Africa ready for a tennis Grand Slam, or at the very least, ready to be added on to the calendars of the ATP and WTA tours?

At least on this night, it was clear South Africans love sport. Maybe the game has only just begun.


What Federer Thought Nadal Must Do In South Africa

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Cape Town, South Africa. IMAGE by Reg Caldecott.

“I think Rafa has to go to Table Mountain, and then also of course to the Cape of Good Hope, maybe some of the vineyards, and Bo-Kaap – I went there this morning… I think [this trip] is going to make him want to come back to have a proper time with his wife and maybe his kids, in the future, and really travel South Africa and Africa extensively. He came here for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals when Spain played at Soccer City in Johannesburg so he’s got a little taste here already and I think this one is definitely going to motivate him for many more returns,” said Federer to FORBES AFRICA.

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LeBron James Adds Multiyear AT&T Deal To His Endorsement Stable

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LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency in July 2018 brought star power back to the NBA’s glamour franchise. AT&T hopes James can bring that same star power, and his millions of fans, to its latest offering.

Today, the world’s largest telecom company fully launches its new streaming service, AT&T TV (not to be confused with AT&T TV Now), with a national campaign featuring James and others celebrities like Missy Elliott, Tracy Morgan and Cookie Monster in a series of ads based on “TV Famous Mouths.”

James has dominated the NBA action on the court this season. He leads the league in assists and has the Lakers five and a half games ahead of the rest of the Western Conference in his 17th year in the NBA. Yet King James might be enjoying an even better year off the court, with a handful of new lucrative endorsement partners and the continued growth of his I Promise community.

The four-time NBA MVP’s sponsorship prowess and commitment to Akron schoolchildren converge with the multiyear AT&T agreement. As part of the partnership, AT&T’s technology and other resources will be allocated to the I Promise Village, which serves as transitional housing for families with students at the nearby I Promise School opened by James, his namesake foundation and the Akron school district in 2018.

“To have one of the biggest communications companies in the world believe in my kids and the work we’re doing to uplift families is incredible,” James said in a release announcing the agreement.

James already has a deep relationship with AT&T through the company’s Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO divisions. His production company, SpringHill Entertainment, partnered with Warner Bros. to develop the Space Jam 2 film, which stars James and is set for a 2021 summer release. The Shop and Student Athlete are both SpringHill shows that appear on HBO. And Warner Bros. and Turner Sports invested $15.8 million in late 2015 in Uninterrupted, the digital multimedia company founded by James and his business partner Maverick Carter.

AT&T joins James’ burgeoning endorsement portfolio, which also added Rimowa luggage, Walmart and the mental fitness app Calm over the past year. General Motors revealed James as its new pitchman last month during a Super Bowl ad for the upcoming GMC Hummer EV. The above brands join James’ longtime sponsors Nike, Coca-Cola, Beats and Blaze Pizza. Forbes estimates James will earn more than $60 million off the court this year, on top of his $37.4 million salary with the Lakers. Nike represents more than half of his endorsement earnings.

James has incorporated many of his recent sponsors into his I Promise initiative, including AT&T. Walmart stocks the school’s pantry, which is accessible 24 hours a day for the school’s families, with fresh and frozen food, toiletries and other basic necessities. The content on the Calm app is available to all I Promise students and staff.

AT&T TV has been available in 13 cities to this point. It enters a crowded streaming market battling for cord-cutters, many of them subscribers of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired in 2015 for $48.5 billion. AT&T TV features an Android-based set-top box that acts like a Roku or Apple TV and offers live TV, DVR storage and on-demand titles that are also available on mobile devices.

AT&T is banking on James to attract subscribers. His 150 million social media fans across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are by far the most of any American athlete. The only athletes with more fans are global soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, Sports Business

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