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Volume 6 No. 192

International Football

The UAE's Pro League football clubs' practice of paying fans to attend matches "has been defended" by the league's vice chairman, according to Omar Al Raisi of THE NATIONAL. Vice Chair Abdullah Al Junaibi said their culture is known "to be very hospitable and charitable." League officials said the typical rate for a "fan for hire" is Dh50 ($13.61), with boys of 12 or younger generally paid Dh25 ($6.81). Additionally, most fans are eligible for bonuses of Dh25 or more "if they are adjudged to have performed admirably:" singing, clapping and chanting throughout the match. The practice "certainly is not typical among the leading national leagues" in the Asian Football Confederation, such as those in Japan and South Korea, where crowds of tens of thousands pay their way into the grounds. Al Junaibi said, "We need to realize the short history of football companies in the UAE. It was just four or five years ago that they transformed themselves into football companies. However, the mentality and mindset of their fans have perhaps not been transformed completely." It is believed that all of the "big" clubs in the country attract young men who sit in the main stand, across from the VIP areas, "by giving them cash to attend." In some cases, they are also given food and drink, as well as transportation to and from the match. The supervisors, along with the club's band, "train the recruits in the club's songs and chants." They advise fans to be in the stadium 45 minutes before kick-off, ready to sing, chant and clap until the end of the match. A top club official said that paying fans "is not limited to the big clubs" and added, "I believe that all clubs have fans who are paid to attend, and more so the small clubs." It is not clear if clubs playing in neighboring nations also pay fans to attend, but the official said that he thought not. He added: "Saudi Arabia have a good product and plenty of people to attend, and Qatar has no one in stands. This may be unique to the country" (THE NATIONAL, 9/23).

Mexican Football Federation President Justino Compean revealed that the country would bid for the 2026 World Cup, according to Hector Morales of EL UNIVERSAL. The main competition in the CONCACAF zone will come from the U.S., and Compean has discarded the idea of both nations bidding for the event since it would "divide the votes." Compean: "They [the U.S.] have large resources and stadiums, triple our population, and all of that matters. If the U.S. has the World Cup, I think we lose but win, we cannot have two CONCACAF countries in the bid and lose, dividing votes would be absurd, we have to be on the same page" (EL UNIVERSAL, 9/21). The London TELEGRAPH noted that if the bid is successful, the Central American country could become the first to host the World Cup three times. They staged the event in '70 and '86. Compean also revealed that a World Cup in the U.S. "would still be good for Mexico." Compean said, "We are three hours from the border, and we have millions of our nationals living on the other side, so it would be like we were a home team" (TELEGRAPH, 9/21).

Since Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua signed former Chelsea player Didier Drogba, home game crowds have increased 30%, according to the AFP. The club is "reaping the rewards" even as "questions swirl" over Drogba's future. Drogba joined the club in mid-July for a reported $300,000-plus per week, making him the highest-paid player in the country. Home attendance has grown to around 20,000, up from 15,000 during the pre-Drogba era (AFP, 9/21). In Beijing, Yan Weijue reported that Drogba "praised the Chinese Super League." Drogba: "This is a great league. And despite much room for improvement, I feel like it has been making progress. I give it a seven on a scale of 10" (CHINA DAILY, 9/21).

The financial future of Indian football is "facing big roadblocks" with the national federation and its commercial and marketing rights holder IMG-Reliance "not seeing eye to eye," according to THE HINDU. The All India Football Federation "finds itself in a bind" after IMG-Reliance failed to secure TV rights even after promising their availability. AIFF Senior VP Subrata Dutta announced that TEN Sports, which IMG Reliance had confirmed as a TV rights holder for the Fed Cup and also the ensuing I-League, "had backed out putting the national body in a fix." National broadcaster Doordarshan has now stepped in and will telecast the matches live. This arrangement "apparently was made outside the agreement." Idealy, "it is the responsibility of IMG-Reliance to ensure telecast rights." IMG-Reliance was not available for comment (THE HINDU, 9/23).

ManU Manager Alex Ferguson wrote a letter to club supporters attending Sunday's Premier League match at Liverpool aimed at "getting them to behave themselves," according to the PA. The letter was presented to fans as they passed through the turnstiles at Liverpool prior to ManU's 2-1 victory. Ferguson wanted to put "an end to the baiting of Liverpool fans" over the '89 tragedy in which 96 fans died. Ferguson wrote, "Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top....It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred." (PA, 9/21).