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Jair Marrufo to lead American refereeing crew in Club World Cup final

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MLS and international referee Jair Marrufo has been given the honor of refereeing an international cup final.

FIFA named Marrufo and fellow American assistants Frank Anderson and Corey Rockwell to referee the Club World Cup final in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday between Real Madrid and local side Al Ain.

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The 41-year-old Marrufo is coming off one of the best years of his career as a referee, working as the center official in Belgium’s 5-2 win over Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup and serving as a fourth official in three other matches. In addition, Maruffo refereed two MLS playoff games, including the second leg of the Eastern Conference final between the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United.

Marrufo already officiated two prior games at this year’s Club World Cup. Al Ain’s 3-0 win over ES Tunis and then ES Tunis’ penalty kick shootout victory over Chivas.

FIFA research says 3.5B people viewed some World Cup action

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says more than 3.5 billion people viewed some of the 2018 World Cup, with 1.12 billion watching at least one minute of France beating Croatia 4-2 in the final.

A FIFA-commissioned review of World Cup viewing says the final’s television audience was 516.6 million by the traditional measure of “global average in-home audience.” More watched on digital devices and out-of-home screenings in public spaces, bars and restaurants.

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The global TV audience for the 64-game tournament in Russia averaged 191 million per game – up from 187 million for the 2014 edition in Brazil.

FIFA says “each game was a global televisual event in its own right.”

FIFA’s research suggests most viewers also watched for longer than they did four years earlier.

Final FIFA rankings of 2018 released

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The final FIFA rankings of 2018 have been released and although there haven’t been many changes due to no elite international games played in December, it is intriguing to see who have been on the rise and which nations have slumped over the past 12 months.

Belgium pipped France to top spot despite the latter beating them in the 2018 World Cup semifinal and then going on to win the competition.

Brazil sit in third, Croatia fourth and England fifth, as the Three Lions rose 10 places from 15th in December 2017. According to FIFA the biggest climbers in terms of points since December 2017 were reigning World Cup champs France, but Belgium beat them to top spot by a single point. Kosovo moved up the highest number of spots, as they gained 46 places on December last year.

The U.S. men’s national team finished the year in 25th, which wasn’t bad considering they didn’t play a single competitive game and had an interim head coach, Dave Sarachan, for the entire year as they waited to appoint Gregg Berhalter as their new boss. The USMNT’s last seven games were all against teams ranked above them in the standings, with only Peru outside of the top 20.

A young, experimental squad led by Sarachan lost to England, Brazil, Italy and Colombia in those matches, plus drew with France and Peru as well as grabbing 1-0 win against Mexico.

Below is a look at the top 25 teams in the world, as international action will resume for everyone in March when the next FIFA window rolls around.

The USMNT will of course be in action in January as Berhalter takes charge of his first camp and the U.S. will play friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica on Jan. 27 and Feb. 2 respectively.


FIFA world rankings – December 2018

1. Belgium
2. France
3. Brazil
4. Croatia
5. England
6. Portugal
7. Uruguay
8. Switzerland
9. Spain
10. Denmark
11. Argentina
12. Colombia
13. Chile
14. Sweden
14. Netherlands
16. Germany
17. Mexico
18. Italy
19. Wales
20. Poland
21. Peru
22. Austria
23. Senegal
24. Romania
25. USA

USWNT’s Harvey: From World Cup champ to human rights leader

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Mary Harvey is used to blazing the trail in sports.

Despite growing up without major soccer tournaments to aspire to play in, the goalkeeper helped the U.S. win the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the first women’s Olympic soccer title five years later.

“As a women’s national team, we didn’t set out to have wide scale impact, but we did,” Harvey recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “From that I learned that that’s what I wanted my life to be about: the ability to impact others in a positive way.”

Today, that desire has made her one of the biggest campaigners for human rights through sports.

After starting her career as a consultant in the private sector, Harvey led development work at FIFA from 2003-08, helping formulate a human rights strategy for the successful 2026 World Cup bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now Harvey will be taking that strategy global by heading a new sports human rights watchdog.

“The language of human rights it not certainly the language of sport,” Harvey said. “So I went through that personally and learned it (for the World Cup bid) and so I think the center has an opportunity to provide that.”

Harvey is preparing to move to Switzerland from the United States to serve as chief executive of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, hoping governing bodies adopt some of FIFA’s newfound commitment to making compliance on labor and discrimination issues central to whether a country can host a major event.

The game-changer was Qatar winning the vote to host the 2022 World Cup and the subsequent focus on labor conditions for migrant workers, which led to the energy-rich nation being compelled to provide greater protections. FIFA made bidders for the 2026 edition own up to their human rights risks and present a means of tackling them ahead of the vote this year.

FIFA serves on the Centre for Sport and Human Rights’ advisory board among 41 organizations across sports, along with sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Visa.

“In the future if people are bidding and they’re less than aggressive with what they want to do on the human right side, with maybe a smart box-ticking exercise,” Harvey said. “There should be accountability for that.”

It’s about leveraging the power of a country chasing a mega sports event to encourage changes.

“This isn’t a panacea for nation building,” Harvey said. “We can exert influence.”

That is necessary beyond major events, or high-profile teams.

Afghan authorities suspended the head of the soccer federation and other officials this month after media revelations of allegations of sexual and physical abuse of female players. Harvey hopes the Centre for Sport and Human Rights can be an outlet for athletes, officials or workers around sport to report wrongdoing and have their safety protected.

“Human rights defenders are targets,” Harvey said.

However, the center still requires investment, she added.

“We can’t operate with any sort of fear of what we say or do and how that affects funding,” Harvey said by telephone. “We have to be able to operate independently and provide a free service.”

The center was launched in June and is chaired by former Irish President Mary Robinson, who has also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We need to bring human rights more centrally into sport and make people involved in sport realize that they have to take responsibility and they have to work on many issues at so many different levels from the big stadiums to discrimination or racism or trafficking,” Robinson told the AP.

Using the center’s status, Robinson will be looking to secure greater protections for local communities impacted by sports events – such as the traders forced to close their stalls near World Cup venues, as Robinson complained to FIFA about during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2014 edition in Brazil.

“I hope they won’t exclude those who you know could actually improve their living by being able to trade around the stadiums and get the footfall on big occasions,” Robinson said.

There are also concerns about how free labor can be relied on to operate events.

“Volunteers can play a role,” Robinson said, “but not if it displaces the potential for people having jobs where the entities can well afford to give people the opportunity to have gainful employment rather than work as volunteers.”

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

La Liga scraps plan to play January match in US

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish League has given up on its plan to play a regular-season match in the United States next month because Barcelona backed down from its commitment.

The Catalan club said on Monday it did not intend to play the game against Girona near Miami because there was no consensus among all stakeholders.

The club’s board of directors said Barcelona remained behind the idea of the game aboard, but the “project will not prosper until there is an agreement between all parties.”

“From the beginning we have said that participation in the game abroad is voluntary,” the league said in a statement. “If FC Barcelona wishes not to attend, the game scheduled in Miami can’t be staged on the agreed date.”

The Spanish league last month took legal action against the country’s soccer federation in an effort to get approval for the Jan. 26 match at Hard Rock Stadium. A court decision was expected as early as Thursday.

“La Liga will continue the planned action so an official league game can be played outside of Spain,” the league said. “La Liga is convinced that (the federation) is not acting in accordance with the law.”

The league needs approval from the federation to be able to play abroad. The federation was yet to approve or deny the league’s request, having raised concerns that the overseas game would not comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts. It also said the overseas match could harm the other 18 league clubs.

Barcelona said in its statement it “accepted that income from the game would be shared” among all first-division and second-division clubs following the criteria for television rights money distribution.

The league offered several compensation plans for fans of Girona, which would be relinquishing a home match.

Other stakeholders, including UEFA and CONCACAF, also needed to approve the match. The FIFA council recently opposed the idea, although its permission for the match was not mandatory.

Staging the game in the United States is seen as an important step for the Spanish league to continue expanding internationally and to close the gap on the powerful English Premier League. The Spanish league has a 15-year deal with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote soccer and take games to the United States.

“We regret to disappoint our fans in the U.S. and will work to, in the shortest possible time, stage an official La Liga game in the U.S., just like the major American leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) stage games outside their borders.”

The league last month launched a campaign to showcase the public support from American fans, asking them to sign an online petition in favor of the game.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni