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Report: Qataris hired PR firm to sabotage rival World Cup bids

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Even after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been played and completed for a period of months — if not years — controversy and fresh, new allegations of corruption and improper dealings will flow with fury.

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It’s been almost eight years since FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to the tiny Gulf nation with a population of 2.6 million. Construction of many of the stadiums is well underway, and has been for years, yet the directors of outside sporting organizations continue to call for further investigations into the bid process.

This time, it’s Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, in the wake of a fresh set of allegations — revealed by the Sunday Times — which claim the Qatari bid team employed an American public-relations firm, as well as ex-CIA agents, to smear its rivals (most notably, the U.S. and Australia).

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The Times‘ report is based on leaked documents which they claim to have seen. The objective of the alleged PR crusade was to create propaganda which gave the impression that a World Cup would not be supported domestically by rival bidders.

Such a campaign would broken FIFA’s airtight bidding rules. Said rules prohibit “any written or oral statements of any kind, whether adverse or otherwise, about the bids or candidatures of any other member association.”

Organizers of the Qatar bid and subsequent tournament have denied the allegations.

Six clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

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FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Qataris considering a 48-team option for 2022 World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Qatari organizers of the 2022 World Cup say they’re open to talks about a 48-team tournament, and can see a format to host it alone.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s wish to add 16 extra teams in 2022 was seen as pushing Qatar toward letting neighboring states into a co-hosting plan.

In Moscow last month, pressure on Qatar was eased when the Infantino-chaired FIFA Council agreed the host nation’s consent was a “precondition” for change.

A senior Qatari official on Saturday said a 48-team tournament could be staged using just the eight stadiums in and around Doha.

“Yes, it’s doable, we just need to figure out how it is done,” Nasser Al Khater, the assistant secretary general Tournament Affairs, told reporters. “If the format is done right, it could actually be an edition that is exciting.”

Though Qatar is willing to negotiate, the veto power it apparently gained is key to any progress on the tournament expansion.

“If we feel that it’s not in favor of us or of football, we won’t go for it,” Al Khater said at the opening of a Qatari hospitality house in Moscow’s Gorky Park. “If the format of a 48-team World Cup is an exciting format, and it doesn’t follow the traditional type of format, yeah, why not? It might add an exciting new element.”

One option stands out. A playoff round involving 32 nations from which 16 winners would join 16 seeded teams in a traditional group stage.

“Maybe it’s a sudden death, one game sudden death and you’re out, and maybe it happens before the rest of the teams come,” Al Khater said.

That format was rejected in January 2017 by FIFA’s ruling council when it agreed to expand the World Cup. The 48 teams at the 2026 edition, which is set to be staged in the United States, Canada and Mexico, will play in 16 groups of three teams.

FIFA said last year that the playoff round idea was disliked because sudden-death losers would feel they were going home before the real World Cup started with 32 teams.

A further barrier to 48 teams in Qatar is any format would add to the 28-day World Cup program already agreed for November-December 2022, which is already a departure from the regular mid-year schedule. Europe’s top leagues have said it would be unacceptable for them to lose another weekend of fixtures in November to add extra World Cup playing days.

“Everything we have done is toward a 32-team World Cup,” Al Khater acknowledged.

FIFA and Qatari organizers have said final decisions about the 2022 tournament are needed before the worldwide program of qualifying games starts early next year.

Negotiations at the highest level could take place next weekend when the Emir of Qatar arrives in Moscow to attend the World Cup final.

Prospect of 2022 Qatar World Cup jumping to 48 teams fading

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MOSCOW (AP) — The prospect of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar growing to 48 teams faded Sunday after a discussion of the thorny issue was pulled from the agenda for FIFA’s annual congress.

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Plans for a feasibility study were put on hold after Qatar World Cup head Hassan Al-Thawadi addressed the ruling council of world football’s governing body and FIFA President Gianni Infantino said agreement from the Gulf nation is a “precondition.”

Having previously said he was keen on an adding 16 teams, Infantino is now casting doubt on the possibility of further disrupting preparations for the Qatar tournament.

The FIFA Congress, which features up to 211 football federations, will now have no say in the number of teams at the tournament in Qatar. Infantino said there would be no change in the number of finalists once qualifying begins, which is likely in early 2019.

“The final decision is that the council will decide,” Infantino said after Sunday’s council meeting in Moscow. “But obviously it cannot decide this without the agreement with the hosts of Qatar. That’s a precondition obviously.”

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Qatar is building eight stadiums to host the Middle East’s first World Cup and 12-14 venues would be required to accommodate 48 teams. That would only realistically be possible if Qatar shared hosting duties, which is problematic because its Middle East neighbors severed ties with Qatar in a diplomatic dispute last year and because it would be a significant change from the plans FIFA voters agreed to in 2010.

The Qatar World Cup schedule has already been changed, with the tournament moved from its usual June-July slot to November-December due to the fierce summer heat.

FIFA is already committed to a 48-team World Cup in 2026 and the South American confederation of 10 nations formally asked Infantino in April to fast-track the expansion. Infantino has toned down his initial enthusiasm over the concept, with little sign of support away from CONMEBOL.

“It’s really premature to discuss about any of the details about it,” Infantino said. “The FIFA administration will discuss with the hosts and then we will see. For the moment what there is, is a World Cup with 32 teams being played.”

Regardless of the number of teams playing in Qatar, the way all 211 men’s national sides are seeded in qualifying is being reconfigured.

A new formula that rewards teams for playing more games was approved Sunday, and it takes effect in July ranking after the World Cup in Russia.

The current system in place since 1993 lets teams boost their status by avoiding friendly games. Now, teams will gain or lose points from their existing points total with each result. Even more weight will be given to competitive games over friendlies.

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“The new formula (is) more intuitive and accurate, eliminating the potential for ranking manipulation,” FIFA said.

Germany is the top-ranked team when the World Cup kicks off Thursday in Moscow.

Before the tournament starts, FIFA will be deciding the host of the 2026 World Cup. The council rubber-stamped the participation of Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid in the ballot on Wednesday.

The North America bid has the edge after scoring 4 overall on a 0-to-5 scale in the FIFA inspection panel’s reports. Morocco scored 2.7, with three parts of the proposals labeled “high risk” — notably the lack of stadiums and hotels.

It is likely only 206 football federations will vote after Kosovo officials told FIFA they will not attend the election meeting after the sudden death of federation president Fadil Vokkri, a former Yugoslavia international, at age 57.

Ghana has kept its right to vote, despite risking a FIFA suspension for government interference in how the national football body is run.

Football in Ghana is in turmoil after a television documentary this week broadcast footage of officials taking cash payments from undercover reporters posing as businessmen.

FIFA asked to expand 2022 World Cup to 48 teams

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The South American soccer confederation (CONMEBOL) has asked FIFA to expand the 2022 World Cup tournament to 48 teams, with the first-ever 48-team World Cup currently schedule to take place in 2026.

According to CONMEBOL, their president Alejandro Dominguez has asked FIFA President Gianni Infantino to speed up the expansion of the World Cup.

Having an expanded tournament in Qatar would produce plenty of problems as the tiny Middle East nation would have to increase the tournament from 64 to 80 games.

With the 2022 World Cup set to take place in November/December instead of the usual June/July timeframe due to concerns over the extreme heat in Qatar, expanding the tournament beyond 28 days during a break in the domestic seasons in Europe would also create plenty of issues.

This is certainly an intriguing request from the South American nations but if FIFA is serious about getting as many teams involved as possible, surely they won’t be that against a 48-team World Cup in Qatar having already sanctioned it for 2026?