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No politics, kneeling for new XFL gridiron league

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Vince McMahon, pictured in 2014, said the eight-team XFL — a reboot of the competition which lasted for one season in 2001 — would kick off in 2020 © GETTY/AFP/File / Ethan Miller

LOS ANGELES, United States, Jan 26World wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon announced plans to relaunch a new American football league on Thursday, revealing that players would be forced to stand for the national anthem and barred from promoting social issues through the sport.

McMahon, the 72-year-old billionaire owner of WWE, said the eight-team XFL — a reboot of the competition which lasted for one season in 2001 — would kick off in 2020.

News of the launch comes as the National Football League prepares to bring the curtain down on the most tumultuous season in its history following a protracted furore involving President Donald Trump.

Trump triggered uproar last September after branding players who kneeled during the anthem in protest at social injustice as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.

The US leader also later attacked the NFL for refusing to introduce a rule making it mandatory for players to stand.

McMahon said Thursday his rebooted XFL — billed as delivering “all the things you like to see, and less of the things you don’t” — would be a politics-free zone.

“I have no idea whether or not President Trump will support this,” McMahon said.

“Let me say as far as our league is concerned it will have nothing to do with politics, and nothing to do with social issues either. We’re there to play football. We want really good football, and that’s what the fans want too.

“When they tune in I don’t know if they want to be dealing with social issues and things of that nature. And that’s what we’re going to deliver.”

– Criminals not welcome –

Asked if it would be written into the league rules that players are required to stand, McMahon added: “There will be a booklet to make sure that all the players understand the rules.

“We intend for everyone to abide by those rules. As far as the national anthem is concerned, I think this: the national anthem is a time-honoured tradition that is played to this day and many years in the past in our country; whatever our rules are are what our players will abide by.”

McMahon also said the new league would also bar entry to any player with a criminal record.

“The quality of the human being is important,” McMahon said.

“You want someone that has does not have any criminality whatsoever associated with them. In the XFL, If you have a DUI (driving under the influence) you will not play in the XFL.”

McMahon said the new league would aim to produce quicker games than the NFL, scrapping half-time in order to get the games finished inside two hours.

Cities hosting the eight franchises had yet to be decided, but McMahon said it was likely teams would be based in areas which already host NFL teams.

“You want to play football where football is played,” he said. “The intent is to play where a lot of the NFL teams play. Every city is on our radar.”

The launch comes as the NFL faces enduring concerns about the long-term health risks of playing the sport. McMahon insisted player safety in the new league would be paramount.

“Reimagining the game of football means we are reimagining it at all levels including safety and that’s what we’ll do,” McMahon said. “We want to make it as safe as possible but still football.

“We’re going to bring in experts who are going to help us, we’re going to listen to medical experts and heed their advice and make it as safe as possible.”

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