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Blatter “reckless” to pay Platini $2M, new court ruling says

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Sepp Blatter was “reckless” when he paid $2 million to Michel Platini in a transaction that led both to be banned from world soccer, according to a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling.

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The former FIFA president also bypassed the body’s executive committee to extend Platini’s pension plan by four years – unlawfully adding more than $1 million to the former UEFA president’s retirement fund.

Details of the hearing in August were revealed in a newly published 68-page verdict written by CAS judges to explain why they dismissed Blatter’s appeal to overturn a six-year ban in December.

As an executive committee member since 2002, Platini was due a pension of 3 percent of his final FIFA stipend – $300,000 in 2015 when he was first banned – for each year of service. It would be paid annually for an equal number of years. By unilaterally supporting Platini’s request to start the plan in 1998, Blatter unlawfully created a pension fund for his former protege of $2.6 million in 2015 instead of $1.52 million, the judges noted.

“The credit awarded to Mr. Platini therefore certainly amounted to a gift as he was not entitled to such credit,” the three judges said, concluding that a six-year ban for the now 81-year-old Blatter is “not disproportionate and, indeed, reasonable and fair.”

“The standard of ethical conduct required under the (FIFA code of ethics) should be and should be seen to be applied to the FIFA President as rigorously as if not more rigorously than that applied to anyone else,” the CAS panel wrote.

The full judgment confirms details never published by the FIFA ethics and appeals committees which previously judged Blatter, the long-time president, and Platini, his expected successor.

Three separate judging panels agreed there was no verbal agreement or valid contract for Platini to receive backdated salary in 2011 for working as Blatter’s presidential adviser from 1998-2002. The soccer officials said they agreed Platini should get 1 million Swiss francs annually, but later signed a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs to ensure he did not earn more than FIFA’s then secretary general.

Platini asked for 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) – not the 2.8 million Swiss francs he was allegedly owed, the court noted – in 2010 “upon learning of `golden parachutes’ received by (former senior FIFA officials) Mr. Urs Linsi and Mr. Jerome Champagne,” the CAS ruling said.

“(Platini) went to see either the Secretary General or Finance Director of FIFA to say `you know FIFA owes me money,”‘ the ruling said.

By helping force Champagne out of FIFA as Blatter’s trusted international relations director, Platini indirectly earned the French former diplomat a seven-figure severance for his January 2010 exit.

The ruling stated that Blatter testified to recalling his verbal deal with Platini, but had “forgotten that they had a written contract (in 1999).”

“The Panel considers Mr. Blatter’s conduct in the matter as FIFA President reckless, or at least profoundly careless, as he approved the payment without checking the written contract, without asking his employees for the written contract to be checked or doing any verification whatsoever,” the judges said.

Platini, who attended the hearing as a witness, also seemed not to check his contract before requesting money that was paid in 2011, when Blatter was campaigning to win re-election.

“Mr. Platini said that he had not realized he had made a mistake about how much money was owed to him until the Swiss prosecutor showed him a copy of the August 1999 contract in September 2015,” the court said.

Swiss federal police questioned Blatter and Platini at FIFA, one day after opening proceedings against the FIFA president for suspected criminal mismanagement. Platini was described then as “between a witness and an accused person.”

Blatter has not been formally charged by Switzerland’s attorney general. He is also a stated target of an American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA officials.

Platini is serving a four-year ban after winning a two-year cut in his sanction from a separate CAS panel. The ban removed the former France national team captain from the UEFA presidency and the February 2016 election race to succeed Blatter.

In the ruling, CAS also noted the “habitual” bonus culture of FIFA at the time of the World Cup hosting votes in December 2010, when Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament and Qatar was given the 2022 edition.

Two days before the vote in Zurich, the FIFA finance committee approved a $200,000 annual bonus for each executive committee member to supplement then-stipends of $100,000, according to CAS.

China’s women’s team quarantined in Australia over virus fears

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) China’s national women’s soccer team has been quarantined in Australia ahead of an Olympic qualifying tournament as fears spread about the outbreak of a new virus that has killed more than 130 people.

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Health officials in Queensland state said on Wednesday that 32 people, including players, coaches and staff, traveled through the virus-effected Chinese city of Wuhan a week ago. The team was placed in isolation by border officials after arriving in Brisbane from Shanghai on Tuesday, and will be confined to a Brisbane hotel until Feb. 5.

Queensland Health said the squad was traveling with a team doctor and none has shown symptoms.

The Olympic regional qualifying tournament had been relocated from Wuhan to Nanjing before the Asian Football Confederation moved it to Sydney, Australia, because of concerns over the deadly coronavirus. Now it likely will be delayed.

The tournament had been scheduled to kick off next Monday with a double-header of China against Thailand followed by Australia against Taiwan.

It’s the final stage of regional qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, which begin in July. The top two teams were supposed to advance to a home-and-away playoff for the last spot at the Olympic tournament.

Football Federation Australia on Wednesday placed a hold on ticket sales for the tournament.

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The Chinese team trained in isolation before departing for Australia and players and staff all underwent testing before departure.

“They went through all the same checks that any Chinese national flying in from China would have gone through,” FFA chief executive James Johnson was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press. “We’re confident in the government’s checks and balances.”

The FFA said it was notified of the latest advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, that health experts believe the coronavirus is contagious before people show symptoms, and contacts of any confirmed cases must be isolated following exposure.

China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad. British Airways and Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air have suspended flights to China and other airlines are reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel drops because of the outbreak.

Arsenal sign defender Mari on loan from Flamengo

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Amid an ongoing and injury crisis at center back, Arsenal have signed defender Pablo Mari on loan from Brazilian club Flamengo until the end of the season.

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Th 26-year-old Spaniard spent three seasons on the books at Manchester City, where he never made a first-team appearance and instead was sent out on loan three times, before moving to Flamengo last summer. Flamengo won both the Brazilian league title and the Copa Libertadores during his six months at the club.

Mari’s loan agreement has an option to make the move permanent this summer.

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Arsenal have been without defenders Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney, for quite some time due to injuries. Shkodran Mustafi went down with an ankle injury during Monday’s FA Cup victory over Bournemouth and will miss some time as well.

Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV

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After 18 months without signing a single player, Tottenham Hotspur sure are making up for lost time.

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The club announced on Wednesday that 22-year-old Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn has been signed from PSV Eindhoven, marking Tottenham’s second signing of the January transfer window. Midfielder Gedson Fernandes arrived from Benfica earlier this month.

Bergwijn is a dynamic wide attacking player who put together the best season of his younger career last term (14 goals in 33 league appearances) and followed it up with another solid six months at PSV (5 goals in 16) before Spurs came calling. He arrives a day after Christian Eriksen officially departed Spurs for Inter Milan, and Bergwijn will wear the no. 23 shirt, which stood vacant for less the 24 hours in Eriksen’s wake.

The fee for Bergwijn has been reported at $32 million, making him a relatively low-risk signing in the world of today’s transfers, though his mere presence signals a significant departure from the club’s standard operating practices of the past.

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Do Spurs fans have Jose Mourinho to thank for chairman Daniel Levy’s newfound free-spending ways? Not even Harry Redknapp could convince Spurs’ frugal owner to spend in this manner, let alone the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or an Andre Villas-Boas. While requesting and demanding — and getting — big-money signings has been a common theme of Mourinho’s management career, Spurs didn’t seem like a place he’d simply continue to operate in that way.

Rather than learn a new trick himself, it would appear Mourinho taught Levy one instead.

USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with win over Haiti

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The USWNT was rusty, that much was clear. Vlatko Andonovski still made sure they took care of business.

Four different goalscorers delivered a 4-0 victory over Haiti to begin CONCACAF Olympic qualification, putting the United States in front of Group A early. Lynn Williams picked up a goal and assist, proving useful on an otherwise sputtery evening for Vlatko Andonovski’s attack.

Just 78 seconds into the game, Williams charged down the right flank and crossed to Christen Press at the far post for the opening goal. Williams’ assist came without the use of her left shoe which she lost while holding off a defender for the bobbling ball.

Despite the early lead, the United States seemed somewhat sluggish as Haiti built themselves into the match. There were few chances on net after the opening goal through the half-hour mark.

Haiti nearly caught the U.S. napping on a corner as the ball found the back of the net on 20 minutes, but the goal was somehow ruled out. It appeared to be for offside, but since it’s impossible to be offside from a corner, there must have been another reason for the official ruling. Nonetheless, it was a clear sign for the USWNT that they needed to pick up the level of play.

The U.S. continued to struggle after halftime, creating very little in front of net. There was a half-chance for Lloyd near the penalty spot but a quality tackle by Kethna Louis put that to bed. Then finally they put the game to bed on a corner, not coincidentally coming just five minutes after Megan Rapinoe entered the fray. Rapinoe delivered a corner to the doorstep where Williams headed in well under pressure, moving her upper body away from goal against the motion of her lower body to reach the delivery.

Another Andonovski substitute paid dividends however as Lindsey Horan scored, again coming off a corner. They played it short and Horan headed from a significant distance out, the ball squirting past the goalkeeper Kerly Theus and Louis who tried to clear off the line. It was clear that Haiti had begun to tire and the USWNT was taking advantage. Up front, Carli Lloyd had a poor game, unable to get involved in attacking play, but she found the scoresheet in stoppage time, bagging a header off a Rapinoe cross in the 93rd minute to finish out the scoring.

Emily Sonnett replaced Kelley O’Hara with 10 minutes to go for Andonovski’s final change, and the USWNT saw the rest of the match out. They have two matches remaining before the knockout stage, set to take on Panama on Friday before the group stage finale against Costa Rica on February 3. The top two teams in the group reach the knockout phase with the semifinals to begin on February 7.