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French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

‘The Workers Cup’ sheds light on migrant workers in Qatar

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) Director Adam Sobel never intended to end up in Qatar, but it was 2010, jobs were scarce in the U.S. and his longtime girlfriend – now his wife – had just been offered a job teaching at a Northwestern University Qatar. So they went.

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While there, Sobel found work with a local production company that did news stories and documentaries for outlets like BBC, CNN, and HBO. One particular story was requested frequently: That of the migrant workers who were building the facilities for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. He didn’t know it at the time, but the assignment would ultimately provide the foundation for his documentary, “The Workers Cup,” which premiered Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Because the subject is so sensitive and because media restrictions were so significant, we either had to hide people’s identities or work undercover. The human touch was lost,” Sobel said. “We wanted to do something that went much deeper than that and really honored the workers for their sacrifices and their hopes and their dreams rather than doing something that just saw them as victims … I wanted to build empathy for the workers instead of sympathy.”

The film centers on the multinational men, from Kenya, Ghana, India and the Philippines, who have given their lives over to slavery-like contracts and dangerous conditions to build the stadiums from the ground up. One man, Kenneth, who was a soccer player in Ghana, shares his story about how a recruiter had told him that if he came to Qatar, he’d get a club soccer contract. It was a lie, and now he’s stuck in Qatar under horrific circumstances.

“We’ve had a lot of context about how the recruiting agents are selling a false bill of goods but certainly I didn’t expect that to be wrapped up in a professional soccer contract,” Sobel said.

The title of the documentary refers to the FIFA-sponsored “workers cup” whereby teams from different construction companies play against one another in a tournament. For men like Kenneth, it takes on a greater poignancy. Yes, it’s a welcome distraction from the conditions, but the fact remains that they are still stuck there.

“We saw (the tournament) as an opportunity because we knew they were interested in promoting this and showing to the world that workers welfare standards were improving,” Sobel said. “There was a definite PR angle there that we took advantage of and we somehow managed to stick around and keep shooting in the camps. We were able to actually get pretty close to the story.”

Sobel worked on the documentary for three years, and kept it completely secret for two due to the sensitive nature of what he planned to show and the strict media standards in the country. He’s excited that his subjects are getting their voices heard at Sundance.

“It’s a story about these guys whose lives have been sacrificed in some way for our own entertainment and that in and of itself reveals that we’re all complicit in the system,” Sobel said. “This is a story of globalization.”

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ldbahr

FIFA wins legal case over picking Qatar as World Cup host

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has defeated a legal challenge by trade union groups over picking Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host.

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FIFA says the Commercial Court in Zurich rejected a case filed by labor activists in the Netherlands and Bangladesh on behalf of a Bangladeshi construction worker employed on a World Cup project.

The case claimed FIFA acted wrongfully in choosing Qatar without demanding reform of labor laws, and should be held liable for abuses.

Labor and human rights groups have campaigned against a system for employing hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the gas-rich emirate.

FIFA says it “welcomes the decision” of the courts, and “will continue to urge the Qatari authorities to ensure safe and decent working conditions for construction workers.”

FIFA ethics judges ban Qatari election candidate for 1 year

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ZURICH (AP) The FIFA ethics committee has imposed a one-year ban on Qatar’s candidate for election to the world soccer body’s ruling council.

The ethics committee says Saoud Al-Mohannadi “did not cooperate with the investigatory chamber in the proceedings against a third party.”

The ban blocks Al-Mohannadi, a vice president of the Qatar Football Association and Asian Football Confederation, from a Feb. 28 FIFA Council election in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The vote was scheduled in September but delayed in an apparent protest by Asian members of FIFA against the ethics case.

The ethics committee says Al-Mohannadi breached his “duty to collaborate as a witness in separate proceedings,” though did not specify the case. It previously said the issue did not involve the 2022 World Cup bidding contest won by Qatar.

Union to inspect Qatar’s World Cup sites, wants details on deaths

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LONDON (AP) Qatar’s World Cup sites will be inspected from next year by an international trade union which wants the deaths of all workers assessed by external coroners and for the causes to be published.

Qatar has come under fierce criticism over living and working conditions for workers since being awarded the 2022 World Cup in a contentious vote six years ago.

Qatar says only four stadium workers have died, with just one fatality the result of a work-related accident after a Nepali was hit by a water truck last month. The Building and Wood Workers’ International, which will conduct labor and accommodation inspections with tournament organizers from January, wants more information published about deaths in the low-paid, migrant workforce.

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“We have to know the cause, the actual medical legal cause,” BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson told The Associated Press after signing the partnership with Qatar on Tuesday.

Yuson wants non-Qatari coroners to examine the bodies of workers and for death certificates to be published.

“We will propose this in the working group,” Yuson said. “We really want to know what happened. We want to verify and investigate. They are committed to be open to us.”

World Cup workers are covered by regulations that are more rigorous than the national laws, detailing how contractors must ethically recruit, promptly pay, and decently house them. But the BWI is concerned that the regulations only cover workers directly employed by the companies handed World Cup contracts, overlooking subcontractors who could be forced to live in cramped conditions.

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“We have to look through the whole supply chain, through the subcontracting system,” Yuson said. “There have already been reports that the big multinational construction companies have good facilities.

“Now we are interested in looking at the subcontractors. There is a possibility that many subcontractors are not complying. This is what we want to look at seriously – that the standards are applying not just to the main contractors but to all the level of subcontractors.”

World Cup organizers said Tuesday that 36,000 people will be employed on its projects in the next year as eight stadiums are built.

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“Our inspection and auditing processes will need to be bolstered to ensure we continue to deliver sustainable and meaningful progress for our workers,” organizing committee secretary general Hassan Al Thawadi said in a statement. “While we have made a number of improvements in the last two years, from health and safety to accommodation standards, we recognize there is still work to be done.”