Blatter Ready To Testify In France Over 2022 World Cup

Former FIFA then President Joseph Blatter (L) speaking at the start of the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich on January 7, 2013. AFP

 

Sepp Blatter, the former president of FIFA, told AFP on Wednesday that he had opposed awarding the 2020 World Cup to Qatar, but that he has a “clear conscience.”

Blatter said he is willing to testify to French prosecutors about the 2010 vote in favour of Qatar.

“If they ask me formally then I think I will go to France because I have a clear conscience,” said the 83-year-old who already testified in Switzerland in April, 2017, at the request of the French authorities.

Qatar beat Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States to win the vote. However, the result has been consistently questioned.

A three-year-old French investigation, was recently entrusted to a Paris investigative magistrate charged with looking specifically for “active and passive corruption”.

Six months ago, Michael Platini, who was vice-president of FIFA and UEFA president at the time, was questioned about his decision to vote in favour of Qatar.

The investigators are particularly interested in a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 23, 2010, just over a week before the vote, between French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Qatari prince Tamim ben Hamad al-Thani –- who became Emir in 2013 –- and Platini who subsequently voted for Qatar.

“When Platini said that he would have voted for Qatar anyway, especially for the development of football, it is not true,” said Blatter.

“We had a consensus within the Executive Committee of FIFA, which planned to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to the United States.

“Everything went well until eight days before the election when there was this famous dinner at the Elysee.

“Platini phoned me immediately after. He told me: ‘Sepp, it’s not going to work, we will have a problem for the election.’ President Sarkozy had asked him, suggested, to vote for Qatar,” said Blatter, who reported this telephone conversation to the Swiss judge in April 2017.

“I said to Platini ‘Did he force you?’ He said ‘Not at all, but when a head of state asks you to do something, you do it so I will follow and I will take my friends with me’.”

“His friends were the Cypriot Marios Lefkaritis, the Belgian Michel D’Hooghe who would have voted for Qatar anyway, his son having already had a post in Qatar, and the Spaniard Angel Maria Villar. So it made four voices that tipped the vote.”

Blatter, who was ousted from office in 2015, is serving a six-year ban from  FIFA activities because of a separate payment of 2 million Swiss francs (1.84 million euros) to Platini.

AFP

Qatar To Expand Airport Ahead Of 2022 World Cup

The official logo of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled on a giant screen in Madrid on September 3, 2019. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Qatar announced Tuesday a major expansion of its Hamad international airport, almost doubling the number of visitors it can receive as the Gulf state prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Work on the first phase of the expansion is scheduled to start next year and be completed two years later, expanding capacity from 35 million to 53 million passengers annually.

The second phase is due to be completed after 2022 and will enable the airport, inaugurated in 2014, to handle up to 60 million passengers per year.

The decision to revamp the only international airport in gas-rich Qatar comes despite a fall in the number of tourists visiting the emirate as a result of a two-year boycott mounted by neighbouring countries.

“The expansion… is a vital part of the future success of the Qatar Airways group, and of course of the country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup and beyond,” said the carrier’s CEO Akbar al-Baker.

The cost of the expansion project was not revealed.

Qatar has been under a land, air and sea embargo since June 2017 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, over its alleged support of radical groups.

Doha has categorically denied the accusations.

London-based Capital Economics said last month that the number of visitors to Qatar had dropped by 20 percent from pre-boycott levels “reflecting weak arrivals from the rest of the Gulf”.

In the first year of the blockade, flights to Doha dived 25 percent and Qatar Airways flights sank 20 percent, according to Capital Economics.

Qatar Airways reported last month that it posted $639 million in losses in the fiscal year ending in March, attributing the loss to closure of some major destinations.

To ward off the impact of the boycott, Qatar implemented an economic diversification plan and opened Hamad Port last year to boost trade and facilitate export-import services.

Also on Tuesday, Qatar opened a new temporary passenger terminal at Doha Port, as it works to increase the number of cruise ships making calls in the Gulf state.

Authorities said the terminal will serve until the completion of a port expansion plan due in 2022.

Projects related to the World Cup, estimated at dozens of billions of dollars, have not been affected by the boycott.

Qatar expects to host some 1.5 million visitors during world football’s premier event.

Zimbabwe End ‘Brave’ Somalia’s 2022 World Cup Dream

The official logo of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled on a giant screen in Madrid on September 3, 2019.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

African football minnows Somalia were eliminated from 2022 World Cup qualifying Tuesday after a dramatic 3-1 loss to Zimbabwe in Harare.

Zimbabwe qualified for the second round 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a stoppage-time goal from star forward Khama Billiat, who plays for South African club Kaizer Chiefs.

Somalia, who must play home matches in fellow east African country Djibouti because of an unstable security situation in Mogadishu, took a 1-0 lead into the first round second leg.

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The victorious first-leg team included Mohamud Ali, who combines playing sixth-tier football in England with working as a driving instructor in Manchester.

Somalia, the equal lowest-ranked national team in Africa with Eritrea, had looked set to win a World Cup tie for the first time when they equalised in Harare with seven minutes remaining.

The goal from Omar Abdullah Mohamed gave the Somalis a 2-1 aggregate advantage and left Zimbabwe needing at least two goals to avoid a shock elimination.

Knox Mutizwa got the first of the two direct from a free-kick with four minutes left and Billiat rifled a shot over the goalkeeper two minutes into stoppage time.

Marshall Munetsi had set up the dramatic finish by putting Zimbabwe ahead on 77 minutes with a spectacular overhead kick when the Somalis failed to clear a corner.

Overall success was a massive relief for new Zimbabwe coach Joey Antipas, who last month inherited a team that fared poorly at the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

After losing narrowly to the host nation, Zimbabwe drew with Uganda and was hammered by the Democratic Republic of Congo to make a first-round exit.

AFP

FIFA Drops Plans For Expansion Of Qatar 2022 World Cup To 48 Teams

FIFA Drops Plans For 48-Team 2022 World Cup/ AFP

 

FIFA shelved a proposed expansion of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams on Wednesday, dealing a blow to the world football body’s president Gianni Infantino.

The 2022 tournament in the Gulf state will now be played with 32 nations taking part.

FIFA said it had abandoned the expansion plans “following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process” which led to the conclusion that “under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now”.

“(The tournament) will, therefore, remain as originally planned with 32 teams and no proposal will be submitted at the next FIFA Congress on 5 June,” FIFA said in a statement.

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The expansion was a pet project of Infantino, who pushed the idea despite the likely need for Qatar’s neighbours to put aside a two-year blockade and help to host an expanded tournament.

“The involvement of these countries in the organisation of the tournament jointly with Qatar implies the lifting of this blockade, in particular, the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods,” said a feasibility study submitted to March’s FIFA Congress in Miami.

The study, seen by AFP, also claimed that a Qatar World Cup with 48 teams would generate “between $300-$400 million (265-354 million euros) of additional income”.

Specifically, FIFA was counting on an additional $120 million in TV rights, $150 million in marketing rights and $90 million from ticket sales.

The news comes after Europe’s top football clubs said in March they would boycott an expanded 24-team Club World Cup — also backed by Infantino — which is planned to take place in June and July 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup tournament.

– Complicated proposition –
An announcement of the final decision had not been expected until next month’s FIFA Congress to be held in Paris ahead of the women’s World Cup that takes place in France between June 7 and July 7.

FIFA said it had examined the possibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team tournament on its own, but a study “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 has dropped the plan to expand the 2022 tournament despite recommending in March that the number of teams should be raised to 48 for that tournament, ahead of the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Expanding the competition for the 2022 tournament was always a complicated proposition. FIFA had sounded out potential co-hosts in the region willing to support Qatar, which is subject to an ongoing embargo by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee, charged with the organisation of the tournament, said in reaction to FIFA’s decision that “Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation.”

But it said there was insufficient time to make a deeper assessment before the June deadline and “it was, therefore, decided not to further pursue this option.”

“With just three and a half years to go until kick off, Qatar remains as committed as ever to ensuring the 32-team FIFA World Cup in 2022 is one of the best tournaments ever and one that makes the entire Arab world proud,” the Supreme Committee said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing Doha of supporting Iran and Islamist groups.

Qatar vehemently denies the charges and says Saudi Arabia and its allies are aiming to incite government change in the emirate, the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas.

Gulf states Kuwait and Oman have not taken sides in the crisis. However, Oman said in April it was “not ready” to host matches.

2022 World Cup: FIFA Seeks Co-Host With Qatar To Expand Tournament

FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses the media during a press conference following the FIFA Council Meetings in Miami, Florida, on March 15, 2019.

 

FIFA moved a step closer on Friday to expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams and hopes to confirm the plans in June if a suitable co-host can be found.

An internal feasibility study supporting the expansion, which is being strongly pushed by President Gianni Infantino, was given full backing by the FIFA council in Miami.

A final decision will now be taken in Paris on June 6 after FIFA and Qatar jointly submit the names of potential co-host nations to the governing body’s Congress.

Infantino, who also confirmed a new Club World Cup with 24 teams will begin in 2021 to replace the Confederations Cup, told a press conference: “You have in front of you a happy FIFA president.

“I am always happy but especially today because we have taken some important decisions.

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“We came to conclusion; yes it’s feasible to move from 32 to 48 teams at the World Cup provided certain conditions are met.

“Since we decided in January 2017 that we should increase teams in 2026, and following a request from the 10 South American associations whether it is feasible to do this for 2022.

“We have the duty to look into it, 90 percent are in favour of an increase but it’s not as easy as that. We have to analyse matters carefully and we are working closely with Qatar.”

The move away from the traditional 32 teams which will see 80 matches instead of 64 — the notion was originally slated to come into effect for the 2026 tournament in North America — means one or more other countries will be asked to help Qatar stage the shortened 28-day event which is scheduled to kick off in November 2022.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and United Arab Emirates are all potential options yet rancorous diplomatic disputes has led to the tiny Gulf state being politically isolated from many of its former allies.

‘More the merrier’

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will need to end their diplomatic blockade of Qatar launched in 2017 if they want to be involved, FIFA’s feasibility study said.

“We know the situation in the Gulf region,” added Infantino. “We are in the lucky position of being in football, and that means you can only care about football. I was pleased with the reaction of the Qataris. We don’t want to regret not analysing the decision.”

For the 2026 tournament in North America, 60 games will be held in the United States with Canada and Mexico getting 10 games each.

A similar division is anticipated for 2022, with Qatar retaining the bulk of the matches while Infantino moved to allay fears the increase in teams could dilute the quality of the tournament.

“The more the merrier,” the FIFA supremo said.

A FIFA document on Thursday said an expanded 2022 tournament would use the same format planned for 2026, with the six regional confederations receiving the same number of qualifying slots allocated for the tournament in North America.

FIFA, meanwhile, have been told that the leading European clubs will boycott a Club World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 2021 which was also given the go-ahead at the meeting in Florida.

A 17-page report distributed to the 37 members of FIFA’s ruling body calls for the new tournament to take place between June 17 and July 4 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup international tournament.

Infantino called the decision to move ahead with the plans an “important milestone for world football” and expects no problems moving forward.

“We should enjoy what is coming,” he said.

But the European Club Association (ECA) said leading European clubs would boycott the event.

An ECA spokesman told AFP: “ECA clubs will not participate in the Club World Cup in 2021 and will assess participation in the Club World Cup in 2024.”

There was also confirmation from FIFA that the video assistant referee system (VAR) will be used at the women’s World Cup this summer.

AFP

Xavi Open To Being Qatar World Cup 2022 Coach

Xavi Hernandez said he’s open to being Qatar’s coach when it hosts the 2022 World Cup and rebuffed his critics by claiming he is “very proud” to be in Doha.

The Barcelona great, 37, who currently plays in Qatar for Al Sadd, told AFP he is “90 percent” certain to retire at the end of this season and then launch his coaching career.

And the World Cup winner says he wants to coach on the biggest stage.

Asked if that mean being Qatar’s coach in 2022, he replied: “Why not? I think it would be nice to be a coach here for the national team.

“We will see. I need experience, I need staff, I need everything but at least I know the Qatari players, I know the environment here.”

The Spanish 2010 World Cup winner added: “I am here to help them to be better, to compete well at this World Cup.

“I think my aim is to be the head coach.”

Qatar failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, which means that in 2022 they will become the first nation to host football’s biggest tournament without ever playing in a finals since Italy in 1934.

They had three coaches during the qualification period and currently Xavi’s fellow Spaniard Felix Sanchez is in temporary charge.

Xavi — who also said it was his “dream” to coach Barcelona — has been in Qatar since 2015.

He signed a two-year contract, extended by 12 months, which ends in 2018.

Qatar has come under intense scrutiny over corruption and labour abuse allegations since winning the right to host the World Cup.

That criticism has heightened during the ongoing Gulf political crisis, which has seen Qatar isolated by neighbouring countries, and fresh calls for FIFA to take the tournament from Doha.

As Qatar football’s biggest star, Xavi, who is already an ambassador for the 2022 tournament, has also found himself criticised for playing in the emirate.

But Xavi says he is unconcerned.

“People don’t know the country, the work they are doing here,” he added.

“I would invite them to come here and then they can see — but I am very proud to be here.”

AFP

FIFA Announce December 18 As Final Of Qatar 2022

fifaFIFA has confirmed that the 2022 World Cup final in Qatar will take place on 18 December. A FIFA task force last month recommended that the tournament should be switched from summer to winter.

The decision to hold the final on 18 December means Britain’s traditional Boxing Day club matches on 26 December can still take place.

In another key decision, FIFA has chosen France to host the 2019 women’s World Cup, ahead of South Korea. France will also stage the Under-20 women’s tournament in 2018.

Walter De Gregorio, FIFA’s director of communications, confirmed that the 2022 World Cup would begin in November and finish on 18 December.

“Yes, we are going to play in November and December, he said, the final is going to be played on 18 December. It’s a Sunday and it’s also the national day of Qatar.”

The decision to move the 2022 World Cup from its traditional June and July slot was taken because of health concerns for players.

FIFA also indicated that the 2022 World Cup could be shortened to 28 days, rather than 31 or 32 days.

UEFA, the body that governs European football, had pushed for the final to be as late as 23 December.

However, the option attracted opposition from FIFA members who feared it would cause problems for fans and players getting home in time for Christmas, as well as affecting club football’s festive programme.

2022 Qatar World Cup : FIFA Rules Out Compensation For Clubs

fifaFIFA says it will not compensate clubs and leagues unhappy about plans to play the 2022 Qatar World Cup in November and December.

The football governing body, FIFA said it would not issue an apology for the inconvenience caused for the need for leagues to be rescheduled.

A Fifa task force has recommended that the 2022 World Cup take place in winter, to avoid Qatar’s hot summer temperatures.

FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke said, “There are seven years to reorganise.”

FIFA’s executive committee will meet in Zurich next month to ratify the task force’s recommendation.

A FIFA task force made a provisional recommendation for the tournament to start on November 26, ensuring an enforced break on the domestic European leagues.

Valcke also suggested that a 2022 World Cup final on 23 December looks favorable. Despite this, the Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore complained that the timing would cause havoc with England’s traditional festive club programme, while Fifa vice-president, Jim Boyce, wants it played a week earlier.

Valcke admitted the scheduled date was “not perfect,” but added: “Why are we talking about compensation? It’s happening once, we’re not destroying football.

FIFA’s Secretary General added, “Why should we apologise to the clubs? We have had an agreement with the clubs that they are part of the beneficiaries. It was $40m (£26m) in 2010 and $70m (£45m) in 2014. We are bringing all our people to enjoy the sporting and financial results of the World Cup.”