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Report: Workers on World Cup construction sites face abuse

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MOSCOW (AP) Workers building stadiums for next year’s World Cup in Russia have faced repeated abuses and routinely gone unpaid for several months, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released on Wednesday.

At a stadium in Yekaterinburg, some workers were required to work in temperatures of minus-25 degrees Celsius (minus-13 Fahrenheit) “without sufficient breaks for them to warm themselves,” the report states.

“FIFA is essentially expecting us to take their word for it that their work has improved workers’ lives,” Jane Buchanan, the report’s author, told The Associated Press. “This is supposed to be the reformed FIFA, moving away from secrecy and a lot of deals behind closed doors.”

At least 17 workers have died on World Cup construction sites, according to Building and Wood Workers’ International, a trade union.

Known deaths include workers killed in falls and the case of a worker from North Korea who died of a reported heart attack at the stadium in St. Petersburg, which will host the final of the Confederations Cup on July 2, as well as World Cup matches in 2018.

The Confederations Cup is an eight-team event that begins on June 17 and is seen as a key test of Russia’s readiness for the World Cup.

In a letter to four Scandinavian soccer associations last month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the governing body had “strong evidence” of North Koreans working at the St. Petersburg site.

“FIFA is aware of and firmly condemns the often appalling labor conditions under which North Korean workers are employed in various countries around the world,” Infantino said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The Human Rights Watch report, based on interviews with 42 workers at six sites, says Russian authorities are not doing enough to crack down on employers who cheat workers out of wages, including many migrants with little legal protection.

“They pay whenever they want, however they want,” one worker from Kyrgyzstan, identified only as Alibek, said in the report.

When workers demand full payment, they can be punished or kicked off the job by employers, the report says.

Similar complaints of wage theft were made by workers at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the venue for the 2018 World Cup final, in interviews last year with the AP. Allegations of worker abuses were also common leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“The lessons of Sochi haven’t been learned,” Buchanan said. “A lot of the same abuses persist.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Russian government to enact tougher and more frequent investigations of suspect employers and bring prosecutions against violators. The group also accuses FIFA of not doing enough to speak out on workers’ issues and of operating a flawed inspection program of its own, with only partial results made public.

FIFA defended its inspection program, saying it had seen a sharp fall in “the number of issues” at Russian construction sites, but didn’t specify a timeframe or the total number of incidents.

“FIFA is going beyond what any sports federation has done to date to identify and address issues related to human and labor rights,” the global soccer body said in a statement. “While incompliances with relevant labor standards continue to be found – something to be expected in a project of this scale – the overall message of exploitation on the construction sites portrayed by HRW does not correspond with FIFA’s assessment.”

Separately, FIFA is also under pressure to safeguard workers’ rights in the 2022 World Cup host nation of Qatar, where construction work is largely carried out by migrant workers who often have few legal rights.

“It does not bode well for Qatar,” Buchanan said. “Now’s the time for FIFA to pull this all together – it’s not too late for Russia and they’re certainly well in advance of the games in Qatar – to make really clear that their expectations are non-negotiable.”

Associated Press writers Levi Bridges and Jan Olsen also contributed to this report.

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like these highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”

Transfer Rumors: Seri to Arsenal; Vagnoman to Chelsea

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Nice’s Jean Seri is reportedly Unai Emery’s first target as Arsenal boss.

A report from the Daily Mail states that Seri, 26, is available for $46 million and although both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund are interested, the Ivorian midfielder is a long-time target of the new Arsenal boss.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s unveiling

Seri almost signed for Barcelona in the past and Emery tried to sign him in January while he was in charge of PSG.

The defensive midfielder is in the N'Golo Kante mould, but slightly more attack-minded than Kante. He has an incredible engine, exceptional reading of the game and is able to protect the ball while also starting attacks with surging runs on the ball. Yep, that’s the type of player who would thrive at Arsenal.

Seri’s arrival would also be much-needed following Santi Cazorla leaving after a two-year injury nightmare, plus Jack Wilshere out of contract on July 1 and likely to leave the Gunners. With Granit Xhaka‘s big-money arrival never quite working out, especially defensively, Seri could be a key part of the jigsaw in Emery’s rebuild as he can keep the ball and also spark the new high-pressing style the Spaniard wants to say.


Teenage defender Josha Vagnoman is being linked with a move to Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, according to multiple outlets.

A report from ESPN states that the 17-year-old Hamburg full back (the second youngest player in Bundesliga history) will move on this summer and clubs across Europe are lining up to sign the German youth international as his contract with recently relegated Hamburg ends in July.

Vagnoman is interesting Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig but the report claims Arsenal have the edge due to their new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, keeping a close eye on his countryman over the years. Vagnoman is able to play left or right back.

Joining the likes of Arsenal, Bayern and Chelsea would likely mean a few years in the reserve squad for Vagnoman, while he could well play soon for either Dortmund or Leipzig given their penchant for giving youth a chance in their first team.

Argentina goalkeeper Romero out of World Cup with injury

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero will miss the World Cup because of a right knee injury.

The Argentine soccer federation says the Manchester United reserve may need surgery.

Romero was one of the three goalkeepers chosen by Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli for the 23-player squad he will take to the World Cup in Russia. Franco Armani and Wilfredo Caballero were also named in the squad.

Romero was a starter for Argentina at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The federation says Sampaoli will announce a substitute for Romero in the coming days.