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Volume 6 No. 196

International Football

Amidst a Eurozone financial crisis that has brought protestors to the streets, there is "one activity where business is booming: the top end of European football," according to Matt Scott of the London TELEGRAPH. Nowhere is it more evident than at Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and Russian Premier league side Zenit St. Petersburg. Both clubs have "stunned the football world" with their transfer spending. It cost PSG more than £50M ($80.4M) in the summer to bring in the AC Milan duo of  Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from Milan; Zenit spent £64M ($102.9M) to acquire Hulk and Witsel from Portuguese clubs Porto and Benfica. Laurent Perrin knows PSG "better than most" as the chief correspondent covering the club at Le Parisien. His explanation for why Qatar Sports Investment, a sovereign-wealth fund controlled by the Qatari crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has spent so much is simple. Perrin: "Before everything it is for the image of Qatar. They have calculated their every investment. They know it is virtually impossible to make money from football. But they also know that football is the best way to promote an image." Qatar’s French-football interests extend beyond PSG. National broadcaster Al-Jazeera has bought up the rights to Ligue 1, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League "through a subsidiary pay-TV channel it has set up in France: Be In Sports." Political patronage "also seems to have benefited Zenit." In its case, the money has come from Gazprom, "the jewel in the Russian bear’s natural-resources crown," which is both the shirt sponsor and 100% owner of the club. The Kremlin holds a majority stake in Gazprom. The strategy seems to be to project Russia’s "financial and sporting might through the medium of club football," just as the Olympic Games did for the Soviet Union (TELEGRAPH, 10/3).

The commercial payback that A-League Sydney FC budgeted for with the signing of Alessandro Del Piero "is solidifying" 10 days before the Italian star is even seen on home turf, according to Tom Smithies of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH. The club has sold "more memberships than ever before." However, the size of walk-up crowds "remains the unknown factor." Sydney CEO Tony Pignata said, "In terms of memberships, we've beaten the record, which was 7,500, and I'm confident we'll go on to beat 8,000. I'm happy with that in terms of the market in Sydney and there's still 10 days until our first home game. If we get some good performances straight away we might see another surge, hopefully." He added, "I've had sponsors calling me -- there are a few properties left, like a community partner and a coaches sponsor." Pignata admits the remaining challenge is to "lift the sparse crowds that have greeted Sydney in recent years." Pignata said, "So far, certainly in terms of that first home game against Newcastle on Oct. 13, it's looking very positive" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 10/4).

South Africa became the latest Africa Cup of Nations host to "face the challenge of filling stadiums with the continent's generally poor football fans" as tickets for next year's tournament went on sale this week, according to the SOWETAN. In an attempt to "reverse a trend of poor crowds" at recent African championships, organizers for next year's event opted to keep tickets "relatively cheap and easily available." They had already chosen smaller stadiums to host the games in order to give them a "better chance of sell-outs." Tickets for the Africa Cup of Nations range from R50 ($6) up to R200 ($24) for the most expensive seats at the final. Local Organizing Committee CEO Mvuzo Mbebe said, "The ticket pricing strategy was reached looking at the economy of the country and the levels of unemployment, people's disposable income as well as the time that the tournament is taking place." There are also worries that the Jan. 19-Feb. 10 tournament could "come too soon after the expensive holiday season." But South Africa is still looking to sell 500,000 tickets for the 32 matches at the 16-team tournament, "relying on the combination of affordable prices and easy access while, crucially, hoping to revive the excitement generated by the country's staging of the World Cup two years ago" (SOWETAN, 9/28).

Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said Man City should be excluded from the Champions League because of excessive "back-door funding" received as a result of being sponsored by companies controlled by the club's owner, according to the London TELEGRAPH. Watzke criticized Man City's dependence on Owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's fortune. Dortmund "pride themselves on adhering to stringent rules" regarding the club's spending limits, and are big supporters of UEFA's financial fair play rules, which have been "laid out to limit all team's expenditures." Watzke said, "UEFA must find the thin line between sponsorship and excessive backdoor funding -- they must show strength to expel big clubs. No tycoon should be allowed to pump crazy money into a club with sponsorship from five companies he controls. If that happens, financial fair play will fail" (TELEGRAPH, 10/3).

Serie A club Napoli has come under scrutiny after the country's Finance Police "raided the club in relation to suspicions of financial foul play," according to the AFP. Police were acting on a mandate from the public prosecutor in Naples when they "took away a number of documents from the club." The raid was carried out by Italy's Guardia di Finanza, a "wing of the armed forces which deals with financial crime and smuggling and comes under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy and Finance." Reports indicate the documents seized are "in relation to an investigation into the purchase and sale of rights on the performances of team players, the relationship with player agents and any related financial movements." Searches were also carried out at the Italian Football Federation offices (FIGC) in Rome. A FIGC spokesperson said: "The police requested copies of contracts between agents, the players and the club and we obliged. That is all we can say on the matter" (AFP, 10/3). In Paris, L'EQUIPE wrote "bad surprise for Serie A leaders Napoli" on Wednesday morning. The Financial Police showed up at their offices to seize "suspect documents" (L'EQUIPE, 10/3).

The Camp Nou stadium will be turned into a "giant senyera flag" on Sunday for the visit of Real Madrid. The Clásico will see a giant mosaic of 98,000 sheets of red and yellow card stock cover the stands of the Barça stadium, making up a Catalan flag (AS, 10/3). ... Brasileiro club Santos is running a ticketing promotion for Saturday's game against Internacional. With star player Neymar missing due to int'l duty, the club is selling tickets for R$1 ($0.49). Back on Sept. 22, with Neymar suspended, the team ran the same promotion and filled 15,774 seats. For the Brasileiro, the club has had an average attendance of 6,000 (FOLHA DE S. PAULO, 10/3). ... FIFA is meeting to decide on the official design for the hijab for women. The traditional Islamic headscarf was "approved for use in July by the governing body," allowing women to wear a sport-specific headscarf (Al JAZEERA, 10/2).