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Volume 6 No. 197

International Football

UEFA "mounted an urgent investigation" Wednesday into a report that major European clubs are "being offered huge inducements to play in a 24-team tournament to be held every two years" in Qatar, according to Andy Hodgson of the London EVENING STANDARD. However, there was "immediate scepticism about the report," which appeared in Wednesday's London Times. Some suggested the paper "had been duped by a giant hoax." There "is bafflement in the Premier League at the plan." The sums on offer would supposedly "dwarf earnings from the Champions League," where the total annual prize fund is £595M ($888M). No major Premier League stakeholder "has been formally approached." Additionally, the new stadiums being built for the 2022 Qatar World Cup "would not be ready in time to stage the tournament" (EVENING STANDARD, 3/13).

TIMES STANDS BY STORY: REUTERS reported the London Times "has launched a spirited defence of its story" after a French website said that the scoop was "based on its own spoof and that the paper had been the victim of a hoax." The Qatar FA "denied having any involvement in such a league." Les Cahiers du Football ( said it published the fake report by "Agence Transe Presse" on Monday, which reported that Qatar "would launch the money-spinning league involving Europe’s leading clubs" by '15. The website’s report contained quotes from Bonnie Pascal-Fasse -- "for French readers an obvious play on words on French political scientist Pascal Boniface" -- saying football was not just "a diplomatic tool" but an "end in itself." Les Cahiers du Football Editor Jerome Latta said, "It all came out of my imagination. But the fact that it made its way to the mainstream press is quite significant." A Qatar FA statement said, "With regard to the story published in today’s edition of The Times newspaper concerning a ‘Dreams Football League,’ the Qatar Football Association and other Qatari football entities can categorically confirm that we have no involvement in any such initiative and has heard nothing to suggest such a concept is genuine." The newspaper, however, "stood by its Wednesday story," saying that it had "nothing to do with the website version and was based on research by its own reporter," chief football correspondent Oliver Kay, going back "quite a while." Kay said, "I’ve been amused by the speculation about the source of this story. I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise. I’ve no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from" (REUTERS, 3/13).

MANU OPPOSED TO EVENT: In London, Kay reported in a follow-up piece that ManU "will lead the opposition" for a the proposed 24-team tournament. Several clubs under consideration for such an event "admitted privately" Wednesday to "having been sounded out by intermediaries working on behalf of such a project." No English club "have indicated any support for the project, with United expressing particular distaste for any proposal that threatens the existing European club competition" (LONDON TIMES, 3/14).

CRITICS ABOUND: In London, Simon Rice noted the first tournament was scheduled for the summer of '15 and would take place in Qatar and neighboring Gulf states. Eurosport France journalist Benoit Vittek has "dismissed the story entirely." Vittek: "Everything in this article screams: 'This is fantasy'" (INDEPENDENT, 3/13). Also in London, Kevin Garside wrote the "billion-dollar biennial football extravaganza might be an elaborate hoax." However, it would "not be out of keeping with a policy already paying out." The idea that Qatar might fund such a project "is not overly fanciful." The Gulf States "are littered with sporting projects that serve no indigenous cultural role." It "does not matter that these grand venues like Meydan and the prisitine F1 facilities have no intrinsic domestic purpose." They are "venues built to host TV events." The region "is paying for authenticity it cannot generate in any other way." If "you build it they will come, not local punters but global eyes" (INDEPENDENT, 3/13).

QATAR'S VISION: In London, Kay opined in a separate piece, "If you were already worried that modern sport was at risk of selling its soul to the highest bidder, prepare for the Qatari vision of football in 2015." Two of the most influential administrators in English football "expressed horror" Tuesday night when "the latest proposals emerging from Doha were put to them." One, who declined to be identified publicly, said, "I’m not surprised. The Qataris are putting an incredible amount of money into football in all kinds of directions -- not just to Paris Saint-Germain, not just to Barcelona with their shirt-sponsorship deal. What they don’t seem to realise is that it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to pull something like that together" (LONDON TIMES, 3/13). Also in London, Matt Dickinson opined in the LONDON TIMES' The Game blog, "A bloated bastard of a competition that football does not need in a country that no one wants to visit? A pointless, air-conditioned contrivance played for a bank vault of cash? Yup, that’s not hard to imagine." He added, "When you have bought the sacred front of Barcelona’s jerseys and the World Cup itself, it is not a great leap for a Sheikh and his cohorts to think that Manchester United might be seduced to play matches, and pay off debts, even in the furnace of a Doha summer" (LONDON TIMES, 3/13).

The plan to reconstruct Scottish football in time for next season "was threatening to collapse into farce" Tuesday night, according to Jackson & Keevins of the Scotland DAILY RECORD. At least two Scottish Premier League clubs "are on the verge" of voting no to the proposals for a 12-12-18 set-up -- and "strangling it at birth." However, to "further complicate matters the top-flight clubs might abandon plans to go to the polls" on April 15 because their Scottish Football League counterparts are "reluctant to be first to have an official show of hands." It is now "increasingly difficult to imagine how any agreement can be brokered amid such widespread confusion and so many different factions" (DAILY RECORD, 3/13). STV reported SFL CEO David Longmuir has "conceded league reconstruction might not be pushed through in time for next season." Longmuir said it is important the country's 42 senior clubs "get this right." On Tuesday, Longmuir sent a proposal to SFL sides "outlining the case for an alternative 12-12-10-10 setup," including the introduction of Celtic and Rangers "colt" teams into the bottom tier. The SFL has not decided when its final vote on league reconstruction will take place, although "an April date is being considered" (STV, 3/13).

COLT QUANDARY: In Glasgow, Gordon Waddell reported Longmuir wants to see colt teams "introduced at the expense of smaller clubs from day one." He feels their inclusion would "future-proof" the Scottish game against the big two departing for a regional or European League, "at least leaving part of their brand alive at home and preserving the commercial benefits they bring." He has given clubs until Friday to respond, but many within the SFL "are baffled by the move and believe their chief executive is putting Rangers’ desires in particular ahead of the wishes of the other 29." Longmuir said: "The Colt team issue has been discussed over many years. The basic premise is that the largest clubs have the ability, and fan base, to create a second team which would compete as an independent entity in the lower leagues" (DAILY RECORD, 3/13).

In Edinburgh, Gavin McCafferty reported Scottish First Division Falkirk Chair Martin Ritchie has "accused Longmuir of acting 'irresponsibly' by proposing Old Firm 'colt' teams join a new league set-up." Ritchie feels that "they should focus on the plans in hand rather than creating fresh controversy." Ritchie said, "The problem I have with it, I think at this stage it’s just a total distraction from the key issue that everybody is discussing, which is reconstruction. It’s going to divide the clubs, and it’s going to divide the supporters and to introduce it at this stage of the reconstruction debate, I think it’s irresponsible (SCOTSMAN, 3/13).

Brazilian Football Confederation President Jose Maria Marin confirmed a friendly between the Seleção and Bolivia in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Bolivia. The match will be played on April 6 (IG, 3/13). ... Former Barcelona coach, and current assessor for the club's board, Carles Rexach, revealed that Tito Vilanova will return to the club on March 25 (MARCA, 3/12). ... League Championship club Middlesbrough is offering season-ticket holders "a free pint at every league game next season." The Teesside club unveiled next season's ticketing plan, "which sees a price freeze on admission" (DAILY MAIL, 3/13).