Photo by Pool/Getty Images

FIFA won’t be bound by politics over sharing Qatar World Cup

1 Comment

Political tensions won’t prevent FIFA from deciding whether to place some World Cup games outside Qatar, the head of world soccer’s governing body said Thursday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino used a summit of soccer nations in Qatar to gather support for his mission to add 16 teams to the 2022 tournament – a move that would require the tiny, energy-rich nation sharing games in the region.

[ MORE: Gerrard proud of Rangers in exit ]

That would be complicated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 in an ongoing political dispute that prevents flights between Doha and the boycotting countries.

Qatar won a vote in 2010 to host the World Cup with 32 teams and is only building eight stadiums. A 48-team tournament is already planned for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to fast-track that expansion and add 16 more games for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Is it feasible to do it only in Qatar? Difficult probably,” Infantino said. “Is it feasible to have a few games being played in neighboring countries? Well, maybe this is an option, of course.

“I’m not that naive not to know not to read the news and not to know what is going on. But now we are in football, we are not in politics, and in football, sometimes the dreams come true.”

Given 32 teams compete for the World Cup and there are 211 nations in FIFA, adding more slots in 2022 is likely to be embraced by the members given they have already approved expansion of the event beginning in 2026.

Infantino used a trip to Doha in October to ask the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be shared with nations that are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“If there is something that I could do which is good for football worldwide, then we should look at it,” Infantino said at a news conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. “I have the chance and I’m lucky enough to be able to look into that without having to be bound by any political considerations, but looking at it from a purely sporting perspective.”

Infantino did use a speech to politicians at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month to discuss using the World Cup in 2022 to bring countries together by spreading games beyond Qatar.

The 2022 tournament is already being cramped into a 28-day window to minimize the disruption to top European leagues because it was moved from June and July to November and December due to the extreme heat.

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

Infantino: Sharing 2022 WC could bring peace to Middle East

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
3 Comments

FIFA president Gianni Infantino appears hugely hopeful that he has stumbled upon the long-lost secret to filling one of the world’s greatest voids: peace in the Middle East.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic talks Dortmund future, pride at USMNT captaincy ]

Speaking on Wednesday, four years to the day from the opening kickoff of the 2022 World Cup, Infantino showed no shame whatsoever in using the ongoing conflict in the Middle East as a way to further his agenda of an expanded field of teams at the tournament in Qatar. Sharing is caring, after all quotes from the Guardian:

“Maybe football is a way to build bridges. We have seen as well with the bidding for 2026, the right to organize the World Cup was awarded to three countries [United States, Mexico and Canada] which I think also don’t have the very best political or diplomatic relationships. But football makes miracles, as we know.”

“Obviously the relationship with [Qatar’s] neighboring countries is a factor which is complicating the situation. On the other [hand], even though there are complicated or difficult diplomatic relations, when it comes to football, people talk to each other.”

“Be positive about it. We can do something for the world — and for football. It could happen, anything could happen. Let’s take it step by step. Yes, maybe the chances are small, but I am a very optimistic person, generally, so we will see the situation.”

There is, of course, a catch massive upside for FIFA. You might not believe this, but it involves soccer’s governing body making a lot of money.

In order to convince the Qatari delegates to share hosting right, the field would likely have to be expanded from 32 to 48 teams — something Infantino has been pushing for quite some time now.

It’s already going to happen when the World Cup comes to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2026, so why wait eight years to make all that extra money when you can do it in four? More teams equals more games, equals more host cities/countries, equals more money for FIFA.

Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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 .

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

Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
3 Comments

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.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams anyone and everyone after preseason loss ]

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).

[ Preseason roundup: Arsenal clobber PSG, Liverpool swamp Man United ]

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

Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

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.