FIFA should take World Cup away from Russia

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Vladimir Putin has mastered the art of multitasking. Sure, strong-arming the Russian media, organizing an army with nuclear capabilities, and signing documents that strip a neighbouring nation of its sovereignty keep Russia’s president pretty busy, but he’s still found the time to begin preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Having spent a record-breaking $50 billion on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (a mere $30 billion over his initial budget), Putin now plans to drop an additional $20 billion on the world’s largest and most prestigious soccer tournament.

But with civil unrest at a boiling point, commercial and military airplanes falling from the sky, and over 50,000 Ukrainians displaced from their homes, should Russia even be allowed to host the World Cup?

Concerns about terrorism and political instability dominated headlines in the days and months leading up to the 2014 Winter Games. An athletic boycott was discussed but never actualized, while many powerful world leaders (U.S. President Obama included) refused to attend the Opening Ceremony as an act of political protest.

It didn’t do much good. Shortly after the last of the medals were awarded, Putin sent his troops into Crimea to annex the Ukrainian peninsula. In March, he signed a decree that would “officially” make Crimea part of Russia. Of course, Ukraine has a very different perspective on the illegal occupation of its country. The whole thing is an absolute nightmare.

With Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 reportedly shot down by pro-Russia separatists on July 17, followed by two Ukrainian fighter jets shot out of the sky by pro-Russia rebels less than a week later, Putin clearly doesn’t have any interest in keeping the peace. On the other hand, he has an avid interest in recapturing the attention of the sporting world and shining the spotlight back on the Motherland.

FIFA’s decision to give Russia World Cup in the first place has been under scrutiny since the announcement was made in 2010.

FIFA’s selection process has long been fraught with controversy. In 1938, after promising to alternate between continents, soccer’s world governing body selected France over other South American bids, despite the fact that Italy hosted in 1934. As a result, Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the tournament. With Qatar selected to host the 2022 World Cup amidst scandal and bribery allegations, FIFA has done nothing to improve its reputation in more recent years.

So why not take the World Cup away from Russia and put it into the hands of a country that isn’t at the forefront of international violence and human rights violations? FIFA has the power to make the change. They are simply choosing not to. Because, evidently, the event will be a “powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments, helping to bring positive social developments.”

Right. The rest of the world isn’t falling for it. According to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Russia should be ousted because the move would represent “a very potent political and symbolic sanction.”

Responding to the MH17 plane crash, German politician Peter Bueth stated that without full Russia cooperation with the investigation, “the soccer World Cup in Russia in 2018 is unimaginable.”

Dan Coats, a republican senator from Indiana suggested “that a more deserving World Cup 2018 bid should be reconsidered instead.” He followed up with an unsettling question: “Does this not remind us of what happened with Hitler in the early ‘20s and ‘30s?”

Greg Dyke, president of the English Football Association, went so far as to liken FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his committee to Kim Jong-Un and North Korea.

Contrary to FIFA’s assertion that the World Cup “can achieve positive change,” the event has a funny way of disguising the host country’s problems with camera flashes, celebrity appearances, and the feel-good nature of athletic competition.

It allowed audiences to forget (or at least be distracted from) the poverty and corruption in Brazil and the lingering post-apartheid racial tensions in South Africa. But, unsurprisingly, problems that exist beforehand remain long after the World Cup is gone.

Taking the event away from Russia would be an unprecedented move. It would send a message to future bidders that a nation must adhere to FIFA’s Code of Ethics and defend “the dignity or integrity of [every] country, private person, or group of people” if it wants to host the event.

Future hosts should further note that FIFA won’t stand for any spectator “violence towards persons or objects, letting off incendiary devices, throwing missiles, [or] displaying insulting or political slogans in any form.”

But when the pitch becomes international borders and the offences occur on a massive scale, the host country can get away with all of the above.

Qatar World Cup workers ‘on 45p ($0.76) an hour’

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Workers constructing a FIFA 14 IOS Coins stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar are being paid as little as 45p ($0.76, 0.57 euros) an hour, British newspaper The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper said that some of the 100 labourers working on the 40,000-seat Al-Wakrah Stadium were working for up to 30 days a month and earning less than pound sterling4.90 per day.

Stadium workers also told The Guardian that their passports were being held by their manager, in an apparent contravention of the organisers’ own welfare charter.

A spokesperson for the Qatar World Cup’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy told The Guardian: “There are challenges with calculation of overtime pay and hours, and we are working with the contractor to rectify any non-compliance.”

A report in the paper on Monday said that some labourers had not been paid for over a year and were living in squalid conditions.

The supreme Committee said it was “actively looking into the matters raised by the Guardian concerning the contractor Amana,” in a comment cited by Al-Jazeera news channel website.

The committee “takes allegations of labour regulation violations very seriously,” it said according to the state-owned network.

“Since we first bid to host the FIFA World Cup we have worked tirelessly to ensure and improve the welfare of workers and to be a catalyst for sustainable social progress,” it added.

Qatar is spending around pound sterling134 billion on infrastructure ahead of the tournament, but it has been accused of human and labour rights violations over its treatment of migrant workers, most of whom come from Asia.

Doha has rejected charges that construction workers are being mistreated and has announced a series of measures to improve their conditions.

In May, Qatar announced it would abolish a controversial ‘sponsorship’ system, which leaves foreign workers at the mercy of their employers.

The International Trade Union Confederation warned in June that as many as 4,000 workers could die in construction site accidents by the time the 2022 World Cup kicks off.

Is Mexico Midfielder Hector Herrera an Alternative to Sami Khedira for Arsenal?

Hector Herrera’s brilliant performance at the 2014 World Cup put him on the radar of several clubs. But, would he leave Porto? Could he be a good fit for Arsenal’s midfield?

The Gunners have been linked with Sami Khedira for weeks, and now La Sexta (via Ben Burrows from the Mirror) has added fuel to the fire by reporting that the Germany international seeks €9 million per year to seal the deal, which is down from his earlier demands, according to Burrows.

Still, if this doesn’t happen, Arsenal could very well take a look at Herrera, who has been one of Mexico’s most promising footballers for the past couple of years.

It all started in 2012, when he was named Most Valuable Player of the Toulon tournament. Then, during the summer, he helped El Tri secure the gold medal at the London Olympics.

He eventually signed with Porto, and during the 2013-14 season, he appeared 17 times in the Portuguese league, where he scored three goals. He also tallied three in the UEFA Champions League and six in the Europa League.

His transition from the Mexico U23 to the senior team wasn’t a walk in the park. However, under the command of Miguel Herrera (not related), he found his best form to date.

The midfielder has a lot of vision and creativity. He can feed balls to the wingers and forwards easily, becoming a key component of the attacking line.

During Brazil 2014, Herrera’s average pass accuracy was 82 percent. He made 10 key passes and had one assist, as per Squawka.

Herrera also put two balls in the crossbar; the first one versus Brazil and the other one against Croatia. His dribbling skills and fine touch are two skills that always come in handy to unbalance the rivals’ defense.

His endurance in the defense was also sharp. FIFA.com reported that he recovered 17 balls.

On the other hand, Khedira played five matches, one as sub. He created five opportunities, including four key passes and one assist.

In the defensive front, the Real Madrid midfielder made one mistake, which led to an attempt at goal, as per Squawka, and recovered 12 balls, according to FIFA.com.

It is true that Khedira has more experience than Herrera, but the Mexican has shown that at age 24, he is capable of a lot.

He would be a great investment. Not only is he younger, but he has a lot of raw talent. Porto set his buyout clause at €40 million, which could make it hard for Arsenal to take their chances on a transfer, but the Mexican is worth it.

He is the kind of midfielder who can lay on the right flank or in the center of the pitch with the same success.

Right now the Gunners need someone who can link their star-studded defensive and offensive lines, which Herrera has accomplished with Porto and El Tri.

Martinez the deal sealer, says Besic

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Everton signing Muhamed Besic said manager Roberto Martinez was key to his transfer to Goodison Park.

Midfielder Besic, 21, rose to prominence at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, as he represented Bosnia-Herzegovina in their maiden finals appearance.

Besic moves to Everton from Hungarian side Ferencvaros, and the 12-time Bosnia international said his decision to join the Merseyside outfit was largely thanks to Spanish boss Martinez.

“The most important reason why I signed for Everton was Roberto Martinez – I think he is a fantastic coach,” Besic told evertontv.

“I know Everton is a really traditional club and the supporters are fantastic here. I think it is the biggest step for me after leaving Hungary.”

Besic’s first assignment at the World Cup was keeping a check on three-time Ballon d’Or winner and eventual Golden Ball holder Lionel Messi.

And the German-born Besic said he felt his performance in the fixture against eventual finalists Argentina in Rio de Janeiro – a fixture Bosnia lost 2-1 – thrust his name into the headlights.

“I think my style is suited to playing in the Premier League and I think this is the best league in the world,” he said.

“It will be difficult for me because we have fantastic players but I think, with the help of the coach, I will do my best.

“The World Cup was really important and I think the most important game for me was the Argentina game. I think I did a good job and many clubs were looking, including Mr Martinez.

“I can play anywhere [in defence or midfield] but I think I will play as a central midfielder for Everton.

“I enjoy playing in midfield because I get to see a lot of the ball and I think it is my best position.”

Besic joined Everton on a five-year deal, for a reported transfer fee of £4million.

MLS Has to Fix Refereeing to Improve Quality of Play

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One of the major talking points from this past weekend in MLS surrounds the referees. In Sporting Kansas City’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC on Saturday, referee Ted Unkel was the center of attention for the wrong reasons.

His indiscriminate use of yellow cards, combined with poor foul calls, are just two of his blatant errors. This is the latest example of why commissioner Don Garber has to work on improving the officiating in the league.

Refereeing is one of the most difficult jobs. A decision has to be made on the spot without any help from replays. Also, Unkel is inexperienced in MLS. He took charge of just three games during the 2013 season, per the official PRO website. He’s officiated four this season.

Unkel hasn’t been the only referee that’s been guilty of making incorrect calls or being too card happy. There have been 5,221 fouls called in 190 games in both MLS and the US Open Cup, per the PRO website. That’s an average of 27.48 per match. There’s also been 621 yellow cards issued (3.27 per game) and 57 reds (0.3 per match).

MLS has significantly higher foul numbers per team than the Premier League, per Whoscored.com. In the 2013-14 season, 1,167 yellow cards were brandished. The average is around 58 per team over 38 matches. The red card count was about 2.65 per club compared to 2.8 in Major League Soccer.

The amount of fouls isn’t only the issue. The needless bookings and sending-offs are ruining the flow of games and slow down the pace dramatically. Referees are too quick to pull out a card in order to stamp their authority, but more often than not, it’s the wrong decision.

Players dive, no yellow is drawn. Studs come up, red isn’t shown. A player is hauled down when he’s in all alone against the goalkeeper, and the defender isn’t sent off. The FIFA rulebook defining the laws of the game is readily available to everyone online, so it’s incomprehensible why so many officials make poor calls.

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has been reprimanded for criticizing officials this season, and he isn’t the only one. If MLS puts so much effort into their disciplinary committee and punishing coaches for their harsh criticisms of referees, the league can do the same by improving the officials.

Toronto’s Michael Bradley claims that better officiating has to be priority number one for MLS, as mentioned in his post-game interview following the SKC match.

If big names in the league are calling for this to happen, Garber must listen and follow through. Poor officiating is giving MLS a bad reputation and that has to change soon, or else the quality of play won’t improve and other top players won’t want to be involved in this league.

There are some talented, experienced referees, like Mark Geiger, who took charge in the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer and did a great job. MLS should use more of its’ resources and invest in instructors from Europe, and there would certainly be a noticeable improvement in officiating. A move like this would lead to more referees like Geiger.

The level of officiating will never be perfect, but it can be much better. If this initiative is taken, MLS will benefit greatly.

Bethlehem draws more than 52,000 fans to FIFA World Cup SoccerFest

If you were lucky enough to be able to watch the World Cup at Bethlehem’s SteelStacks, you were in good company.

ArtsQuest announced recently that more than 52,000 soccer fans were in attendance for this summer’s FIFA World Cup SoccerFest and Viewing Party.

ArtsQuest aired more than 60 World Cup matches on its outdoor screens from June 12 through July 13.

More than 29,000 fans came out to watch the U.S. team, with a capacity crowd of 10,000 packing in for its match against Portugal on June 22, according to a news release.

The Bethlehem event was even recognized on ESPN during its coverage of the World Cup that showcased viewing parties around the world. ESPN also reported that the Portugal vs. U.S. match was the most watched non-football event in its history.

“The overwhelming success of the SoccerFest and Viewing Party at SteelStacks was not only validation of the Lehigh Valley’s passion and support of soccer, but also a conduit for igniting the love and passion for soccer in future generations,” Greg Ramos, executive director of Lehigh Valley United soccer club, said in the release.

As a result of the response from the community, members of the SoccerFest and Viewing Party Planning Committee are looking into the possibility of continuing the event for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is set for June 6-July 5.

FIFA’s World Cup bid report delayed

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FIFA’s report into alleged corruption during the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been delayed by several weeks as FA chairman Greg Dyke will give evidence to UK Government MPs regarding the awarding of the latter tournament in Qatar.

FIFA said the ethics committee’s investigatory chamber expects to submit its report, led by prosecutor Michael Garcia, “by the first week of September.”

In June, Garcia set a target of late July to deliver his confidential report to ethics judge Joachim Eckert. The investigation file will be used by Eckert to decide on possible sanctions against nine bidders which competed to host the next two tournaments.

Russia and Qatar won hosting rights in December 2010 following votes among FIFA’s executive committee. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said that only his ruling board, and not Eckert, has power to overturn a vote and order a re-run.

Qatar will host the prestigious tournament in eight years’ time but the decision has been plagued by allegations of corruption and bribery.

As well as Dyke, the UK Government’s Culture Media and Sport (CMS) select committee will also hear from Sunday Times journalists Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert.

The newspaper reported in June that Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam made payments totalling three million pounds in return for support for the Qatar bid.

Qatar denies any wrongdoing and claims Bin Hammam always acted independently of the campaign.

Dyke, who was appointed FA chairman in March 2013, has been highly critical of FIFA in the past and has given his backing for a re-vote should the corruption allegations be proven.

The CMS examined allegations of corruption in 2012 and called for a full, transparent investigation. FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia is finalising a report into the bidding processes for the World Cup in 2018, won by Russia, and 2022.

Garcia is expected to submit his findings at the end of July with any decision regarding a re-vote to rest with FIFA’s executive committee.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who was involved in England’s 2018 bid, admitted in June that he had misgivings about the campaign.

“My memories of that bidding process are not happy memories in terms of the way the whole thing was arranged and the role of FIFA,” Cameron said at the time. “There is an inquiry under way, quite rightly, into what happened in terms of the World Cup bid for 2022.

“We should let that inquiry take place rather than prejudge it.”

Despite an unforgiving climate and a lack of suitable infrastructure, Qatar defeated bids from South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States to win the 2022 vote.

Australia and Japan have already backed calls for the bid to be re-run. The CMS committee will also examine the FA’s role and engagement with UEFA and FIFA Coins in the international game.

English FA keeps up pressure on FIFA over Qatar

FIFA should review the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar if an investigation shows that corruption played a part in the winning bid, English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke said on Tuesday.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee, Dyke said FIFA should publish in full a report into the bidding process for 2018 and 2022 being compiled by American lawyer Michael Garcia.

However, Dyke played down talking of stripping Russia of the 2018 tournament because of political tensions over Ukraine.

Garcia, who has been leading a FIFA ethics committee investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding the award of the 2022 World Cup to the Gulf state, will submit his report in September.

“If Mr Garcia shows that there have been corrupt activities, the whole thing should be reconsidered,” Dyke said.

Dyke said he was convinced that the tournament would not be held in June or July if it was played in Qatar because of the intense heat, with a move to a cooler time of the year like November or December a certainty.

Dyke played down suggestions that Russia could be stripped of the World Cup as a punishment for the downing of a passenger plane over Ukraine last week which Western nations have blamed on separatists backed by Moscow.

“I think there will be a World Cup in Russia,” Dyke told reporters after the hearing.

He had earlier told lawmakers that a decision to move a World Cup should not be based on “one week’s events”.

BLATTER TO STAY

Dyke said he believe that FIFA President Sepp Blatter would be re-elected if he stands again next year despite corruption allegations surrounding world football’s governing body.

Blatter has been head of FIFA since 1998 and is expected to seek another term.

“If he runs again he will win,” Dyke said, adding that European distaste for the methods of the 78-year-old Swiss was not shared in other parts of the world.

Dyke said that England, which lost out to Russia in the bidding for 2018, would focus on hosting European events for the time being.

He said Blatter’s dislike for the British media, which has led campaigns to expose FIFA corruption, made it impossible to win a World Cup bid.

“Mr Blatter’s view of the English media is such that he says why would you want to take it to England?” the former head of the BBC said.

The plain-speaking Dyke jokingly compared FIFA to a one-party state, in comments unlikely to endear him to Blatter.

Referring to a meeting of FIFA’s congress in Sao Paulo he attended in June, Dyke said it was “like something out of North Korea at times – hail to the leader.”

Garcia’s World Cup bids report delayed

FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia’s report into alleged World Cup bidding corruption has been delayed by several weeks.

FIFA says the ethics committee’s investigatory chamber expects to submit its report ”by the first week of September.” In June, Garcia set a target of late July to deliver his confidential report to ethics judge Joachim Eckert.

Eckert will use the investigation file to decide on possible sanctions against nine bidders which competed to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Russia and Qatar won hosting rights in December 2010 votes of FIFA’s executive committee.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that only his ruling board, FIFA Ultimate Team Coins and not Eckert, has power to overturn a vote and order a re-run.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo Top Online Searches During FIFA World Cup 2014

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He may not have been able to deliver the World Cup to Argentina but Lionel Messi topped the Google search results for forwards during the just-concluded event in Brazil along with Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. (Related: World Cup final breaks social media records)

“Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi may have not performed to the expectations of fans this World Cup, but online search trends reveal that they retain the top spot when it comes to being the best strikers in the World Cup,” Google said in a release. (Also read: Argentina press lauds team)

There were more than 2.1 billion tournament-related searches on Google. For the record, Germany won their fourth world title beating Argentina 1-0 in the final which was decided in extra time.

American Tim Howard, who made 15 saves during the tournament, was the most searched goalkeeper beating Germany’s Golden Glove winner Manuel Neur.

Coming to defenders, football fans searched the Brazilian star pair David Luiz and Thiago Silva more than any other in the event.

Moving to the midfield, the Japanese-Chilean duo of Atsuto Uchida and Gonzalo Jara along with German’s Sami Khedira and Italian veteran Andrea Pirlo were the most searched.

German soccer boss says players’ ‘gaucho’ dance not disrespectful

Germany's players celebrate with the World Cup trophy after the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro

The head of Germany’s national soccer association said on Wednesday that German players celebrating their World Cup triumph did not intend to be disrespectful when they performed a dance that poked fun at their defeated opponent Argentina.

During victory celebrations in front of fans in Berlin on Tuesday a group of players stooped low and chanted “This is how Gauchos walk, Gauchos they walk like this”, before jumping up to shout: “This is how Germans walk, Germans they walk like this!”

There was little outcry in Argentina but sports newspaper Ole said: “The Gaucho dance performed by the Germans … caused unease in our country.”

Some German media criticised the dance too. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said it was a “nasty satire” with which the players damaged Germany’s image as a tolerant country, Tagesspiegel newspaper said it was “tasteless” and Tageszeitung said it was “disrespectful”.

Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the DFB football association, said the dance was “in no way meant disrespectfully”, adding that it was a “spontaneous” expression of the players’ joy.

“They are all absolutely decent and fair sportsmen who don’t make fun of anyone but just wanted to celebrate wildly with the fans,” he said in a statement on the DFB’s website.

“We’re sorry if this came across the wrong way or was misunderstood by some people.”

He said he would write a letter to Argentine FA (AFA) president Julio Grondona and make clear to him that the routine was not meant disrespectfully.