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Low attendance figures continue at U-20 World Cup, but why?

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As the knockout stages of the Under-20 World Cup begins in Turkey today, one factor is hugely noticeable as the world’s top young talent continue to square off.

Where are all the fans?

Game after game the attendances seem to have got worse, with only the Turkish U-20 team able to draw decent crowds. Other nations such as Iraq and Egypt have had sizable followings, given their closeness geographically, but that is about as good as it gets.

Trying to analyze why the crowd numbers are so low isn’t easy. But one aspect sticks out more than most.

Location, location, location.

Despite being just within the boundaries of Europe, Turkey sits thousands of miles away from the huge conurbations of London, Paris, Western Germany and the larger cities in Spain, Italy and central Europe.

Those are the regions soccer fans inhabit more readily than any other areas. They have more disposable income and are willing to travel to watch soccer games, however with the European championships occurring in Poland and Ukraine last time out, European soccer fans may have had enough of traveling so far out East to cheer on their nations.

FIFA have aired their displeasure at the low attendances with the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Jim Boyce, speaking of the disappointing figures.

“Despite the Local Organizing Committee’s excellent event preparation, I am nevertheless very disappointed by the match attendance figures,” Boyce said. “This tournament is a wonderful chance for Turkey, but the low number of spectators currently detracts from this opportunity.”

But one other huge factor that has hampered crowd figures across Turkey, is the large anti-government protest that erupted in the weeks leading up to the U-20 World Cup.

(MORE: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain)

For me, that is a huge reason why fans are not attending the tournament. Couple that with the current unrest in the region as a whole — more violent outbreaks in Syria, Egypt and Iraq have broken out during the event — and many supporters from the Western world have been put off. Turkey’s long-term aim to get into the EU seems to have vanished, and having failures at  tournaments such as this will impact the country’s ability to attract other high profile sporting events in the future.

During the opening 12 games of the tournament, the average attendance was a mere 4,828 spectators per game, which was in fact the lowest figures since the U-20 World Cup began in 1977.

On the eve of the tournament on June 20, just 300,000 tickets were sold. 1.3 million were available, meaning over 75% of tickets went unsold. That is remarkable.

(MORE: U.S. U-20 squad crashes out of U-20 World Cup after shellacking by Ghana)

People are readily citing the ‘Gezi effect’ for the lack of spectators, following the lengthy protests sparked off across the country due to the governments plans to build shops and other modern buildings in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The decision to build on such a sacred spot, which dates way back to the Ottoman Empire, has since been delayed. But unrest remains and spectator numbers have been effected.

As we’ve discussed many other issues come into play, you can’t solely blame anti-government protests for poor attendance.

Regardless, you can watch the play get back underway today, as Mexico take on Spain in their tough last-16 clash at 10:45am ET this morning, live on ESPNU, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes in North America.

Hopefully it isn’t in another empty stadium. But, sadly, it probably will be.

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”

Southampton’s chairman leads Team Europe to 2016 World Cup of Hockey final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team Europe Ralph Krueger looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Yeah, you read that headline correctly.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

The chairman of Premier League side Southampton, Ralph Krueger, is currently the head coach of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and against all the odds he’s led his side to the final in Toronto.

Krueger, 57, has a strong hockey background after being the former coach of the Swiss national team and the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL following a 10-year playing career in Germany.

The former German national team player, who hails from Manitoba, Canada, has certainly made the most of his few weeks back in hockey and away from the day-to-day running of Saints. As for Southampton, yeah, they’re coping just fine, racking up four-straight wins in all competitions, scoring nine times without conceding. What a week for Krueger on all fronts.

Before the prestigious hockey tournament began Europe (which is comprised of players from eight countries other than Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic who all have individual teams competing) were 33-1 outsiders to win it all but they now face off against star-studded hosts Canada in a best of three final with the first game taking place on Tuesday.

Europe beat Sweden 3-2 in Overtime on Sunday to book their spot in the final against a Canadian side they lost to in group play. Whatever happens in the final, Krueger has led Europe on a fairytale run through the competition with wins over the USA and the Czech Republic surprising everyone.

It’s not often the soccer and hockey worlds collide (I mean, our interview with Wayne Gretzky at White Hart Lane and the fact that most NHL teams warm up by juggling a soccer ball is about as close as it gets) but this is a pretty cool achievement from someone now thought of very highly in both sporting realms. Krueger is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. From the books he’s written on leadership and positive thinking, to being part of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and his exploits in both the hockey and soccer worlds, he is once again impressing in Canada by leading a team of underdogs to great things.

And of course you can keep up to date with all the latest news from the World Cup of Hockey with our friends over at ProHockeyTalk.

West Ham’s owners release statement as slump continues

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  West Ham players look dejected as James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores their third goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is off to its worst start in a Premier League season with five defeats from their opening six games.

All is not well at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea? ]

After being hammered 3-0 by Southampton on Sunday the joint-owners of the Hammers, David Gold and David Sullivan, have commented on the current slump on the pitch, as well as plenty of issues in their new home.

Since West Ham moved to the former stadium for the 2012 Olympics in London there have been plenty of issues with fans and stewards involved in ugly scenes as the row about standing at games continues.

There’s no real suggestion that Slaven Bilic‘s job is under immediate threat — after all, Bilic guided the Hammers to a seventh-place finish last season in his first year in charge — but the Croatian manager acknowledged after their fourth-straight defeat in the Premier League that the situation is not a good one.

In a statement on their website, the owners had the following to say:

There is no question that this has not been the start to the season that we were looking for but rest assured we are doing everything we can to fix the situation. The facts are there for everyone to see. We know we are letting in too many goals and not scoring enough, but be assured we will sort the problems out.

There have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses and know that Slaven and his team will be working even harder on the training ground this week to get things right. We have got to remain positive. These are the same players that helped us enjoy such a memorable final season at the Boleyn Ground.

We know this is a difficult time for our supporters at the moment but we want to thank you personally and wholeheartedly for staying with the Club. We will turn our season around. These are tough times but as Mark Noble said over the weekend, this is the time that the West Ham United family needs to come together. We can’t thank you enough for the impeccable way you pulled together and supported the team yesterday.

Our fans have always shown over the years the amazing support they have for the team and we have no doubts they will get behind the players even more over the coming weeks. We stated last week that we would be putting measures in place to make the London Stadium experience something everyone can be proud of and we would like to thank all our supporters for their support in this regard.

Supporters can rest assured that we will not be slowing our efforts despite the match against Southampton being completely trouble-free, and we will not stop working until everyone feels they have a Stadium to be proud of – on and off the pitch. We would like to thank all fans for their incredible support and continued cooperation.