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“Purist” Blatter rips idea of VAR at World Cup

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I’m still not entirely comfortable with VAR at the World Cup, but Sepp Blatter’s opposition to it sure is curing what ails me.

Calling himself a “purist” — Lots of purists are cool with bribes, Joe — Blatter rebelled against the institution of Video Assistant Referee for the 2018 World Cup.

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The FIFA Ethics Committee truther claims that referee unfamiliarity and fan discomfort are big issues. That makes some sense, but we can’t help but consider the source. From the BBC:

“For a purist in football, as I am, I think it is an innovation which is going too fast,” said the 82-year-old. “Most of the referees have never worked this system. To go to the World Cup and introduce this system in the World Cup, I think it is not very clever. I don’t feel comfortable, definitely not, and spectators don’t feel comfortable.”

There’s another point to be made that some of the World Cup’s most memorable moments at here and abroad would’ve been undone by VAR: Diego Maradona’s Hand of God, Frank Lampard versus Germany in 2010, and Torsten Frings’ handball against the USMNT in 2002.

Is the game better off without the controversy caused by such moments, or did they serve to add to its mystique?

There are interesting discussions to be had here. I don’t know about you but Blatter ruins many of my considerations. No more microphones, Sepp. You’re done.

That said, let’s talk about replay.

Morocco bid to stay in 2026 World Cup contest vs Americans

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FIFA struggles to move on from the most tainted chapter in its history, even as it attempts to award another World Cup.

With less than three months to go until the host of the 2026 World Cup is decided, FIFA is still assessing allegations of skullduggery around the voting more than seven years ago for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Can the expedited contest between North America and Morocco really be bulletproof, free of scandal, as soccer’s governing body promises?

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There’s intrigue around a process that could see FIFA disqualify a bid before the June vote if it can’t meet the requirements for the first World Cup after the leap from 32 to 48 competing teams.

Morocco’s stadiums require significant upgrades to get close to matching the infrastructure boasted by the North Americans, whose bid includes 16 NFL venues awash in the luxury seating required by FIFA.

But if Morocco is not struck off by a FIFA task force lacking true independence, the vote could be closer than anticipated in part due to new procedures intended to signal a break from the secrecy of the past.

Not only is the decision open to every soccer nation, rather than just the ruling executive that had chosen the World Cup sites from 1986-2022, but each vote is set to be published. That exposes officials to potential intimidation.

The voting regulations will be finalized by the FIFA Council on Friday, just as the bid books are submitted.

Bid bureaucrats will hand over the host city contracts, financial estimates and stadium proposals – rather than star footballers- reflecting a campaign shorn of the razzmatazz witnessed in the buildup to the 2010 votes won by Russia and Qatar.

THE CAMPAIGN

The United States-led bid, which includes Canada and Mexico as minority partners, hoped to be awarded the hosting rights to one of the biggest events in sports without facing a challenge.

The FIFA Council had other ideas at a meeting last May, giving Morocco a chance to prevent a coronation.

But while the Americans opened their official campaign in April, the Moroccans did not launch theirs in public until January.

Morocco’s bid has been cloaked in secrecy: the international communications team declined to send The Associated Press a copy of the media pack being distributed domestically.

It contained no specific details on the construction requirements and mis-states that 17 people were wounded, rather than killed, in a 2011 Marrakesh bombing in a section seeking to offer assurances on safety.

While the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994 before failing to land 2022, Morocco has been unsuccessful four times.

Moroccan officials express irritation when pressed on bribery allegations surrounding its 2010 World Cup campaign that form part of ongoing criminal proceedings in the United States.

Morocco will be hoping the American investigations into FIFA deter voters from taking the World Cup to a country so determined to expose wrongdoing within soccer. Inflammatory comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that have offended parts of the world could also work in Morocco’s favor.

FIFA has faced criticism from the home city of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Chicago refused to sign up to the bid because it believed the tax and legal provisions required pose a risk to the city and shareholders.

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THE PROPOSITION

The bids offer distinctive proposals. Is FIFA in the mood for another gamble?

Morocco poses more logistical challenges and risks for FIFA, which will be coming off a complex tournament in Qatar in 2022.

There’s significant building work required to upgrade stadiums. The largest venue, in Casablanca, has a capacity of 67,000, whereas FIFA will want a venue with at least 80,000 seats for the opening game and final. Only five other stadiums have a capacity in excess of 40,000.

North America is the easy option. The U.S. would host 60 games in venues requiring only minor construction work, such as hospitality and media facilities, and is touting three stadiums with more than 87,000 seats.

Canada and Mexico, which has the 87,523-capacity Azteca Stadium, will settle for 10 matches each up to the round of 16.

North America will be hoping voters are dazzled by its financial proposition. It’s certainly more favorable for FIFA, which is trying to return to profitability after being hit by the cost of corruption scandals, and the governing body could secure more funds to redistribute to member nations.

FIFA would earn $300 million more from the North American broadcasters if the 2026 World Cup is played in the region under the terms of contracts negotiated to stave off legal action for shifting the dates of the 2022 tournament in Qatar to November, where it overlaps the NFL and college football seasons.

FIFA’S TAKE

As chief commercial officer at FIFA, Philippe Le Floc’h is responsible for replenishing coffers. That largely requires squeezing cash out of corporate sponsors and maximizing television revenue.

With 48 teams and 80 games to accommodate for the first time, Le Floc’h pointed out “the size and the magnitude” of North America’s proposition helps.

“It would have some commercial attraction,” Le Floc’h said. “It has got infrastructure. They have got massive stadiums because they are used for American Football. So on the pure hospitality point, potentially, we might have more revenues.”

Remaining publicly impartial, Le Floc’h highlighted how Morocco is in “the perfect time zone for Europe and Asia” television audiences.

“There are other ways to generate revenues,” he said, “and the time zone in Morocco could help us.”

TASK FORCE

In 2010, the now-discredited FIFA executive committee all but ignored the FIFA-produced technical reports that identified Russia and Qatar as the highest-risk bids among nine candidates.

Now a restyled five-man task force, dominated by European officials, will make inspection visits, then grade and score the bids.

Those marks could play a key role in the contest.

Since the panel includes FIFA’s deputy general secretaries – Zvonimir Boban of Croatia and Marco Villiger of Switzerland – it could prove highly contentious if a bid is disqualified. FIFA’s Council must approve the verdict of the task force before the Congress votes.

SCORING THE BIDS

Infrastructure, of which half relates to stadiums, accounts for 70 percent of the panel’s mark. The remaining 30 percent is based on projected costs and revenues.

“The scores have a bearing on whether or not a bid qualifies for the next stage of the bidding process, with bids shortlisted by the FIFA Council,” according to FIFA.

In a scoring system of 0 to 5 – where 0 means is “no requirements met/very weak” and 5 is “requirements exceeded/excellent” – a bid must average a total of 2, or “minimum requirements met/sufficient,” to be approved ahead of the vote.

In addition, bids must score at least 2 for the individual aspects of stadiums, teams and referee facilities, plus accommodation and transport links.

Failure to score 2 from the task force means a bid “has been evaluated as `high risk’ and represents a material failure,” a FIFA bid regulations document states, whereupon “FIFA shall terminate this Bidding Registration.”

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VOTING

Up to 207 of the 211 member federations will vote on June 13 in Moscow, with the four bidding members excluded.

In aiming for transparency, FIFA’s pledge to publish the choice of each member could affect the voting. The secret ballot in presidential elections allows members to vote freely and defy orders from regional or continental leaders.

Sepp Blatter was president when FIFA last voted on men’s World Cup hosts. While championing Morocco, Blatter questions whether it can count on all 53 votes from Africa.

“Africa is not always united,” Blatter said. But he believes the Americans are “afraid … and give the impression that they are not any longer very sure that they will win.”

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Blatter: North American bid ‘afraid’ to lose 2026 World Cup

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ZURICH (AP) The North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup now seems “afraid” of losing to Morocco, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Thursday.

A change in strategy this week gave the leaders of the American, Canadian and Mexican soccer federations equal status in a bid that has been heavily favored to win the hosting rights on June 13 in Moscow. The reshuffle reduced the role of previous bid chairman Sunil Gulati, the most senior American in FIFA who served on the soccer body’s executive committee under Blatter.

[READ: Tottenham crumble on cusp of glory]

“They give the impression that they are not any longer very sure that they will win, that’s my impression,” Blatter said. “But I don’t know why they are afraid.”

Last month, Blatter wrote on Twitter that Morocco was the “logical host” of the 2026 tournament. FIFA preferred single-nation World Cup hosts under Blatter’s leadership.

Still, Blatter declined to fully endorse Morocco’s ability to host a 48-team tournament alone. The 2026 edition will have the 16 extra teams wanted by Blatter successor Gianni Infantino, who supports multi-nation bids.

“I don’t know if the Moroccans are able to organize a World Cup of 48,” Blatter told invited reporters at a briefing in Zurich related to his own legal issues.

Both bids will formally submit plans next week. A FIFA-appointed panel will then evaluate the candidates and publicly score them for potential organizational and commercial risks.

Two days ahead of his 82nd birthday, Blatter said he was “a happy man.” He is still seeking to challenge a six-year ban from soccer for unethical conduct, a punishment that followed Swiss federal prosecutors opening criminal proceedings against him in September 2015. He has yet to be charged.

The Swiss official has long blamed an executive committee vote in December 2010 that picked Russia and Qatar as future World Cup hosts for sparking American and Swiss federal investigations of FIFA officials that ultimately forced him from office.

Though Blatter says he voted for the United States bid that lost to Qatar for the 2022 hosting rights, he said that doesn’t mean the country deserves to get the 2026 edition.

“I was in favor of the U.S. for 2022. To say now they must have 2026 …,” he said, pausing to add: “History will show if it’s right or wrong.”

Blatter acknowledged he once thought the 2026 contest was “a decision that was taken” in favor of North America.

Last May, the three co-hosts pushed FIFA to give them preferential status before Morocco joined the contest by an August deadline with little bid structure in place.

Blatter said the U.S. team’s failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup – which led to Gulati not seeking re-election as soccer federation president – complicated the leadership issue. The bid calls for the United States to host 60 of 80 games in 2026, with Canada and Mexico hosting 10 each.

“They have put all the three together in order to show that it is a combined organization. They should have taken the decision at that time (of the World Cup exit),” Blatter said. “The USA is big and the decisions are not always easy to understand.”

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Blatter hints at new evidence to challenge 6-year FIFA ban

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ZURICH (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he has “new facts” and wants to re-open the financial misconduct case that led to his six-year ban.

Blatter says on his reactivated Twitter account: “As new facts have appeared it’s time to question the decision of the Fifa Ethics-Committee – my suspension of 6 years!”

Asked by The Associated Press for details of potential evidence, Blatter spokesman Thomas Renggli says in a message “we are working on it.”

Blatter is banned through October 2021 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld his ban for payments to one-time adviser Michel Platini. The case cost Platini the UEFA presidency.

CAS judges said Blatter was “reckless” paying Platini $2 million in uncontracted salary, and effectively adding $1 million to his FIFA pension fund.