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Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) A contractor involved in building the marquee stadium for Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament did not pay its workers, leaving them stranded thousands of miles from home, according to a report released Wednesday.

Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, owes thousands of dollars of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than $2 a day, Amnesty International said. Those employees helped build projects including Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which will host the opening and closing matches of the tournament.

The company, whose website is now down and offices in Doha are shuttered, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Qatar’s government said it was investigating, but similar complaints involving the abuse of foreign workers have been common for years in both Doha and other oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf.

“People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here… Will they ever think what are the stories behind those structures?” one worker reportedly told Amnesty. “I guess not… Blind eyes are common nowadays.”

Amnesty said it examined the cases of 78 former employees of Mercury MENA, interviewing 44 and analyzing documentation of another 34. Of them, 58 came from Nepal, 15 from India and five from the Philippines, Asian nations that send thousands of laborers, taxi drivers and office workers to the Gulf.

Mercury MENA worked on several projects in Qatar, including the stadium, the new Qatar National Library and a worker’s hospital and modern accommodation for laborers, Amnesty said. Workers told Amnesty that the firm owed them on average between $1,370 to $2,470, a huge sum for their families back home. It said one worker was owed nearly $25,000 after over a decade of work.

Some workers found themselves stuck in Qatar without money and unable to leave the country as local laws require workers to get an exit permit supported by their employer before they leave. Earlier this month, Qatar partially ended that requirement, part of its internationally criticized “kafala” system that ties expatriate workers to a single employer.

Amnesty said Mercury MENA’s CEO told them in 2017 that his firm “had been the victim of unscrupulous business partners resulting in `cashflow problems’ and a number of disputes over payments with contractors and clients.”

Companies around the Gulf have been suffering from an economic slowdown in part aggravated by oil prices going as low as $30 a barrel in early 2016. Brent crude now is trading at over $80 a barrel. Meanwhile, Doha has faced a boycott by four Arab nations since June 2017 as part of a regional political dispute, further affecting its economy.

In a statement, Qatar’s Labor Ministry said such abuse of workers is “not tolerated” in the country and that there are unspecified “legal proceedings” against Mercury MENA.

“While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation,” the statement said.

Qatar previously has faced criticism for worker conditions as it prepares to host the World Cup in an Arabian Peninsula country where temperatures rise to a humid 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. FIFA already has agreed to a 28-day World Cup tournament from to November to December 2022, which is already a departure from the regular mid-year schedule.

A British worker, Zachary Cox, died after falling nearly 40 meters (130 feet) in January 2017 at the Khalifa International Stadium. A British coroner blamed dangerous working practices for his death. A 23-year-old Nepali worker died at its Al Wakrah Stadium project site in August.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

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A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).