2022 World Cup

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Platini arrested as part of 2022 World Cup investigation

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PARIS (AP) Former UEFA president Michel Platini has been arrested in relation to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a judicial official said Tuesday.

Confirming a report by online news publication Mediapart, the official said Platini was taken into custody on Tuesday as part of the investigation into the awarding of the tournament. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Platini, a former France soccer great, was being detained at the Anti-Corruption Office of the Judicial Police outside Paris. Claude Gueant, the former secretary general of the Elysee under former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, was also questioned by investigators as part of the probe but was not detained.

French financial prosecutors have been investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and previously questioned former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. France’s financial prosecutor services 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.

Platini’s lawyer and adviser did not immediately answer messages from The Associated Press seeking comments.

Much intrigue has centered on Platini’s decision to vote for Qatar.

Blatter, who was FIFA president at the time of the vote in 2010, blamed Platini for backing out of a secret “gentleman’s agreement” to award the 2022 tournament to the United States.

Platini told the AP in 2015 that he “might have told” American officials that he would vote for the United States bid. However, he changed his mind after a November 2010 meeting, hosted by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy at his official residence in Paris and Qatar’s crown prince, now Emir, Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani.

Platini has long insisted that the meeting did not influence his vote for Qatar less than two weeks later.

“Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good,” he told the AP in 2015.

But Blatter claimed in a 2015 interview with the Financial Times that Platini told him ahead of the World Cup vote: “I am no longer in your picture because I have been told by the head of state that we should consider the situation of France.”

Both Platini and Blatter were toppled from their positions of power at the top of soccer in 2015. Platini was banned by FIFA for financial misconduct in relation to a $2 million payment authorized by Blatter – a suspension due to expire in October.

Qatar’s methods to bring the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time have been subject to investigations by FIFA. American attorney Michael Garcia found that some of Qatar’s conduct “may not have met the standards” required by FIFA but concluded there was no “evidence of any improper activity by the bid team.”

AP Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris in Nice, France, contributed to this report.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

AP Sources: Qatar set to host next two Club World Cups

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PARIS (AP) Qatar is set to host the next two editions of the Club World Cup.

People with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that the FIFA Council will be asked later Monday to endorse Qatar for the seven-team club tournament this December and in December 2020.

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The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the choice of venue ahead of the council meeting.

The event, which will feature European champion Liverpool this year, will test Qatar’s preparedness to stage the 2022 World Cup, including being played at the same time of year.

FIFA moved the World Cup from the usual June-July slot for 2022 because of the Gulf nation’s summer heat. It will instead start on Nov. 21, with the final on Dec. 18, Qatar National Day. Qatar experiences highs of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in December.

The decision to give Qatar the Club World Cup comes two weeks after FIFA settled on 32 countries contesting the 2022 World Cup rather than expanding to 48 teams.

The Club World Cup is also enlarging but not until 2021, when it becomes a 24-team competition held every four years.

The 2019 and 2020 Club World Cups will be the final versions with only the six continental club champions and the winner of the host’s domestic league. In Qatar, that will be Al-Sadd, which is coached by former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez.

The Club World Cup has been held in the Middle East before, but only in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has hosted four editions, including when Real Madrid won the title in December.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FIFA scraps 48-team expansion for 2022 World Cup

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FIFA has confirmed the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will remain a 32-team tournament, abandoning plans to expand the event to 48 teams.

The world football governing body made certain to cite that Qatar’s implausibility to host such an expanded tournament as the sole reason for the decision, essentially confirming that the 2026 World Cup – joint hosted throughout North America – will remain expanded as confirmed back in January of 2017.

FIFA and Qatar have jointly explored all possibilities to increase the number of participant teams from 32 to 48 teams by involving neighboring countries at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” FIFA said in a statement. “Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now.”

Qatar has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and relative inability to host a tournament of the World Cup’s magnitude, and the FIFA statement hinted that nearby options in the Persian Gulf were severely limited. Along with the country’s own limitations, there is political strife between Qatar and many of its immediate neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, making a joint expanded effort nearly impossible.

“A joint analysis, in this respect, concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June,” FIFA said. “It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option. The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will therefore remain as originally planned with 32 teams and no proposal will be submitted at the next FIFA Congress on 5 June.”

FIFA clearly made certain to cite Qatar’s inability to handle such an expansion as the sole reason for the status quo, not a blanket desire to keep the tournament at 32 teams permanently. FIFA has come under fire after announcing the expansion of the 2026 games, with widespread critics claiming the move would water down not only the tournament itself but also qualification, lessening the amount of high-leverage games both at the event itself and between tournaments in qualifying. The governing body had looked to speed up expansion for 2022, but today’s news ended that idea.

FIFA to hold human rights talks on 2022 World Cup expansion

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FIFA will hold talks with human rights groups about issues associated with expanding the 2022 World Cup in the Persian Gulf beyond host Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is hoping to secure approval in June to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, which creates the need to accommodate an additional 16 matches in the region.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote to Amnesty International and other activists on Saturday that “this process also includes an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion. In that respect, we look forward to the bilateral consultation calls with many of you in the coming days and weeks.”

A FIFA feasibility study has already determined that jumping from 64 to 80 games would require two stadiums in at least one more country in the region.

A regional diplomatic crisis left neutral Kuwait and Oman as the viable options, but Oman has said it isn’t keen on hosting games at the FIFA showpiece.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Reports: 48-team 2022 World Cup decision in June

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If FIFA can find appropriate countries to help Qatar host the 2022 World Cup, we may very well have a 48-team tournament.

The 2022 edition has been under the microscope about as long as Qatar has held the rights to host it, with workers’ rights and slave labor joining a suspicious bidding process which ultimately helped usher former FIFA czar Sepp Blatter out of his seat of power.

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Ten venues across five countries have been mentioned as possible co-hosts, with Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait in the running to host select World Cup matches.

FIFA conditionally approved the expansion of the tournament on Friday, pending a “joint feasibility study” conducted by Qatar and FIFA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino infamously quipped that sharing the tournament could bring a measure of peace to the Middle East.

A 24-team 2021 Club World Cup was also approved, as the threat of big European teams boycotting the summer edition looms over Infantino’s plan to expand FIFA’s marquee club tournament.