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Volume 6 No. 214

International Football

Brazilians "are realistic about the World Cup and what will transpire on and off the pitch," according to Roger Blitz of the FINANCIAL TIMES. At a ceremony to mark the one-year countdown to the World Cup last week -- staged, inevitably, "on Copacabana beach under a blazing sun --  that the revered Pelé punctured the celebratory mood by imploring disaffected supporters not to boo the national team." There "is a growing realism, too, about the wider benefits of hosting the event, even in Rio, which plays host to the 2016 Olympics." Ministers rely on forecasts from Ernst & Young that indicate the World Cup and the Olympics together "will generate" 3.6 million jobs and contribute 0.4% of GDP a year until '19. But Brazil’s "struggling economy and rising inflation are souring the party atmosphere and starting to impact on President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity." Riots in several cities over bus fare increases, including Rio, "is fuelling debate about Brazil’s enormous wealth gap." FIFA and the World Cup "is caught up in this, as the cost and availability of tickets for the tournament come into view" (FT, 6/18).

CONFED CUP PROTESTS: In London, James Hider reported violent protests "are spreading across Brazil in anger at rising prices and the cost of hosting the World Cup" outside of venues hosting the Confederations Cup, the first of the countries "set-piece sports extravaganzas." The Jornal do Brasil’s headline proclaimed “Fiesta inside ... war outside,” while demonstrators held posters that read “We don’t need the World Cup” and “We need money for hospitals and education.”  The prospect of social unrest eclipsing the country’s footballing events "has jangled nerves in Brazil" (LONDON TIMES, 6/18). BLOOMBERG's Tariq Panja reported FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that demonstrators "are exploiting the sport by staging protests at the Confederations Cup." Blatter: "Football is there to bring people together. This is clear and I know a little bit about the protests that are here." Blatter added, "people are using the platform of football and the international media presence to make certain demonstrations. You will see today is the third day of the competition this will calm down. It will be a wonderful competition" (BLOOMBERG, 6/17).

CAUGHT OFF GUARD: In London, Joe Leahy reported the spontaneity and intensity of the protests "have caught politicians of all hues by surprise." They "represent the most serious political challenge" for Rousseff in her two-and-a-half years in office. What started as small student demonstrations in São Paulo a few weeks ago against an increase in bus and metro fares "has mushroomed into a national expression of discontent with the country’s political classes." Maria Eduarda Carvalho, a social scientist marching in São Paulo with her husband and daughters, said, "I think Brazil has to wake up, our complaints are much more than [bus] tickets, it’s the stagnant economy, it’s corruption, it’s lack of public security, a lack of civic rights" (FT, 6/18).

'FAIRER' BRAZIL: In London, Gabriele Marcotti commented on The Game blog that it is "a bit hard to write about football when there are more than 100,000 protesters up the street from where you had dinner." The demonstrations broke out all over Brazil Monday night. On Saturday, in Brasilia, "I watched several thousand protesters who, truth be told, seemed good-natured, at least at first." Half an hour later, "I could smell the tear gas." Tear gas "was also used on Sunday at the Maracana, in Rio." Despite that, FIFA "is probably right in insisting that all this has nothing to do with the Confederations Cup or next summer’s World Cup finals." They are just "convenient backdrops that make for a bigger echo chamber." There are some who, no doubt, "question the economics of hosting a World Cup when the money could be spent on something else." But "the one thing that seems to unify all protesters is that they want a 'fairer' Brazil" (LONDON TIMES, 6/18).

PEOPLE'S CUP: Also in London, Jonathan Watts opined on the Global Development blog that "it's only a few kilometres away from the Maracanã stadium, but in symbolism, the People's Cup could not be much further removed from the mega sporting events now being staged in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities." The People's Cup "brings together teams from communities that are threatened with relocation by the sporting, transport and housing developments that are now under way in preparation for the upcoming sporting events." Comite Popular Copa e Olimpíados organizer Mario Capagnani said, "This is football as a form of protest. We want to remind people that the authorities are using the World Cup and the Olympics to make illegal changes to the city" (GUARDIAN, 6/18).

Ligue 1 Monaco "is living up to the principality's reputation for big spending as it prepares for its return to the French first division next season," according to Keith Weir of REUTERS. Bankrolled by Russian Owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, the club "has signed coveted Colombian striker Radamel Falcao" as part of a €120M ($160M) investment to "try to regain a place among Europe's elite despite attracting only a few thousand fans to home games at the Stade Louis II." However, the spending spree "has put the club on a collision course with French football authorities unhappy at the way it can use local laws to tempt top foreign players with tax-free salaries." Monaco also ultimately "risks falling foul of Financial Fair Play rules designed to force Europe's top clubs to curb their losses or face exclusion from continental competitions." Rybolovlev "has made it clear" that he wants a swift return to the Champions League. He is "following in the footsteps" of fellow Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who "transformed the fortunes" of Chelsea after a takeover in '03. UEFA is "keen to ensure that notoriously spendthrift clubs move to a sounder financial footing and stop relying on the deep pockets of benefactor owners." A Monaco spokesperson said, "AS Monaco FC is aware of its obligations and will respect the rules" (REUTERS, 6/18).

The Spanish Football League (LFP) has announced that regular season fan attendance decreased 2.4% in relation to the season before, according to the EFE. In '11-12, total attendance for La Liga and the second division was 12,923,882, but that number fell to 12,611,878 this season. La Liga stadiums hosted 9,676,244 fans this year, a 2.2% decrease from last year. Second division stadiums drew 3,026,263 fans in '11-12, but that number suffered a 2.99% decrease, falling to 2,935,634 this year (EFE, 6/18).

UEFA President Michel Platini addressed 50 journalists in Jersualem on Tuesday and was asked about the decision to reject Malaga's appeal against the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) regarding the club's ban from continental competition, according to Juan Jimenéz of AS. Platini allowed UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino to address Malaga. Infantino: "Malaga's process has followed the same process as any other club. There is a financial control body that has worked since 2010 on the clubs' economic situations. Malaga has been treated exactly like any other club, be it Spanish, Italian or whatever. Our objective is not to exclude clubs from European competitions, but we do test for economic stability. Malaga was sanctioned and the CAS ratified the sanction" (AS, 6/18).

University of Michigan Sports Management Professor Stefan Szymanski led an academic conference on football and the economy in Barcelona in collaboration with FC Barcelona, according to Sebastián Garavelli of EL PAIS. Soccernomics, a book studying the relation between football and the economy, was published 13 years ago by Szymanski and Simon Kuper. Szymanski addressed a number of topics, including the competitive balance of La Liga. Szymanski: "The nature of football is competitive, the objective of Barcelona or Real Madrid is to win athletically. The obsession is to triumph in competition. The function is different from the economy on a larger scale, where big businesses are not as interested in competition." Asked to identify the biggest problem, Szymanski said, "The gap between the powerful clubs and those that are not as powerful. Here in Spain the income of the powerful clubs is thousands of times superior to that of the other teams, and this is repeated throughout Europe. There are competitions that do not explain how and why this exists" (EL PAIS, 6/17).

FIFA Security Dir Ralf Mutschke claimed the U20 World Cup in Turkey "kicking off on Friday will not be adversely impacted by the ongoing protests in Istanbul." Mutschke, a former INTERPOL director, met with Istanbul Vice Governor Aziz Mercan and Erdem Iren, a sports division police representative. They "reassured him that the sometimes violent protests would not affect the competition" (WORLD FOOTBALL INSIDER, 6/18). ... FIFA demanded that Thai Premier League Pattaya FC "withdraw its lawsuit" against the FA of Thailand and President Worawi Makudi, or the country "could face international sanctions" (BANGKOK POST, 6/18). ... Recently relegated Argentine football side Independiente President Javier Cantero informed 12 players that they will not be with the team next season, as "the cleaning begins in Avellaneda." The contracts of Ernesto Farías, Adrián Gabbarini and Eduardo Tuzzio will end at the end of the month and will not be renewed (CLARIN, 6/17). ... The latest draft of the so-called "Fans Bill," making its way through Russia's State Duma, sees sanctions for violators of the rules of conduct "significantly increased in an attempt by the 2018 World Cup hosts to ensure the tournament is hooligan-free" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 6/18). ... Ethiopia football officials "admitted they fielded an ineligible player in a World Cup qualifier against Botswana by mistake," and said on Tuesday that they "would not appeal any FIFA disciplinary rulings made against them'' (REUTERS, 6/18). ... EPL club Sunderland "has extended its African ties" by partnering with U.S. energy firm Symbion Power to build what it claims "will be a groundbreaking new football academy in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam." The project "aims to bring football facilities to thousands of local youngsters in Dar es Salaam, with an elite-level facility also planned to help Tanzania’s development on the world footballing stage." Sunderland "will provide both building expertise and coaching support" (SOCCER EX, 6/18).