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Volume 10 No. 24

International Football

The Premier League "was close, on Tuesday night, to an agreement" for the 2022 World Cup to be switched to November and December, according to Ben Rumsby of the London TELEGRAPH. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who is leading the review into whether the tournament in Qatar should be moved to the winter, "confirmed that -- barring unforeseen circumstances -- it would be played at the end of 2022." Valcke also "revealed that his review had begun" with a meeting with Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore and FA General Secretary Alex Horne last month. Valcke: "I can tell you that, with the Premier League, we are close to an understanding." Blatter insisted that a spring World Cup was “impossible” after FIFA President Sepp Blatter "also ruled out a January-February tournament." Valcke revealed that the FA and Premier League were "determined to preserve English football’s traditional Christmas programme" (TELEGRAPH, 11/12). GOAL reported Valcke admited that "one of the wider challenges presented by a November/December World Cup would be its close proximity to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations." Valcke: “Does it make sense to have the Africa Cup of Nations three weeks after the World Cup? Is it not too much with regards the release of players?” Concerning the likely timetable for a final decision, Valcke added, “There are a number of things still to work on but the final goal is to try to have either in December 2014 or, at the latest, in March 2015, a final decision” (GOAL, 11/14).

A "senior source" at FIFA said that its independent ethics committee "has no power to remove the 2022 World Cup from Qatar," regardless of the "outcome of its investigation," according to the PA. Ethics investigator Michael Garcia "is conducting an investigation into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, leading to some speculation that Qatar's hosting of the 2022 event could be under threat." Even if "wrongdoing is uncovered by Garcia, the ethics committee can only sanction individuals -- it has no power over FIFA's decisions." The source said, "If Garcia finds something which was wrong, the ethics committee has the right to take sanctions. But does he have the right to say: 'based on what I have found the World Cup should not be played in Qatar?' No, he does not have that right" (PA, 11/14).

FIFA said that it "cannot intervene in the case of French footballer Zahir Belounis, who says he is trapped in Qatar because he cannot obtain an exit visa following a dispute with his club," according to Brian Homewood of REUTERS. FIFA said in a statement, "FIFA is unable to intervene in this matter given that Mr. Belounis chose the option of contacting an ordinary court in Qatar instead of the second option available to refer to FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC)." FIFPro wrote to FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Wednesday saying it remains "deeply concerned about Belounis' precarious situation" and calling for urgent intervention. It said that Belounis "is stranded in Qatar, with his wife and two daughters, and being denied an exit visa until he agrees to drop a legal case against his former club, Al-Jaish, over his claim of almost two years' unpaid wages." FIFPro said, "Without income for a prolonged period and forced to sell off most of personal possessions, Belounis and his family are said to be living in an apartment with no furniture which they must vacate in a matter of days" (REUTERS, 11/14).

'LIVING A NIGHTMARE': In London, Owen Gibson reported Belounis "has written an impassioned plea" to former 2022 World Cup ambassadors Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola asking them to "intervene on his behalf." Under the kafala system that ties employees to their "sponsors," migrant workers "cannot leave the Gulf state unless their employer agrees." In the letter to Zidane and Guardiola, who were both active ambassadors for the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid, Belounis said he has been "living a nightmare" in recent months due to a system that is "slowly killing me." The intervention of the French embassy "has not been enough to persuade the club to grant Belounis an exit visa." He believed that he would be allowed to return home last weekend after signing a document giving up his claim to the unpaid wages, but he was "then asked to sign another document, which he believed could lead to him being charged with defamation and the imposition of a travel ban." He "refused, believing that could leave him confined to Qatar for as long as the case took to be heard, which could be years" (GUARDIAN, 11/14). Read Belounis' letter in full.

French football clubs "have postponed a strike planned for the end of this month to protest against a controversial French super tax on million-euro salaries," according to Mark John of REUTERS. Union of Professional Football Clubs President Jean-Pierre Louvel said in a statement that the clubs "wanted to discuss how the future of football would be preserved." Louvel said of talks on the sector being mediated by a senior Socialist ally of French President Francois Hollande, "We decided to put off the day of action and come back to talks on ‘sustainable football.’” Fourteen of the 20 Ligue 1 clubs "are to be affected by the tax" on '13 and '14 salaries, including Qatar-funded Paris St. Germain. Players at Monaco, backed by a Russian billionaire, "will be exempt as they do not fall under French tax laws" (REUTERS, 11/14). ESPN reported the boycott "appears likely to be called off, at least temporarily, when the union's executive committee votes on the matter on Thursday." Louvel: "I don't think we'll abandon it completely. Perhaps postpone it to give everyone the necessary time to talk it through." The pressure on Monaco to "fall into line with their Ligue 1 rivals was increased by the Senate on Wednesday." Socialist senator Francois Marc proposed an amendment to the 75% tax law so that it would affect "foreign sports clubs affiliated to a French federation and participating in French leagues" (ESPN, 11/14).