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Volume 6 No. 193

International Football

An announcement from FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke that the 2022 Qatar World Cup would not be played in the summer "created yet more controversy around the finals on Wednesday," according to Mike Collett of REUTERS. It "led to a shocked response" from FIFA VP Jim Boyce, who said that "only the world governing body's executive committee could decide when the World Cup would be played." In a later statement, FIFA "backtracked on Valcke's comments," which came in an interview with radio station France Inter (REUTERS, 1/8). In London, Mark Cue reported the move "has long been expected but will have a huge impact on the sport’s calendar," with many domestic competitions around the world, including the Premier League, "forced to move to accommodate the event." On France Inter, Valcke said, "The dates for the World Cup [in Qatar] will not be June-July. To be honest, I think it will be held between November 15 and January 15 at the latest." The announcement "appears to be slightly premature as any rescheduling would have to be ratified by members of Fifa’s highly influential executive committee," although there "seems little doubt which way the land lies" (LONDON TIMES, 1/8).

COMMENTS 'SURPRISE': SKY SPORTS reported Valcke's claims "came as a surprise" just three months after Blatter said that any decision on Qatar "would be delayed until after this summer's World Cup in Brazil." The statement from FIFA "confirmed that timeframe remains in place." The statement read, "As the event will not be played until eight years' time the consultation process will not be rushed and will be given the necessary time to consider all of the elements relevant for a decision. Consequently, no decision will be taken before the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil as agreed by the FIFA executive committee" (SKY SPORTS, 1/8). The BBC reported Boyce said he was "totally surprised" at Valcke's statement and "confirmed the decision had to be taken by the executive committee" (BBC, 1/8).

SPEAKING OUT: In London, Jonathan Prynn reported the "apparent confirmation" that the World Cup will be moved into the middle of the European football season "immediately provoked a wave of incredulity in the football world." Former Millwall Chair and TV Dragon Theo Pathitis wrote on Twitter, "Worldcup 2022 to be played Nov-Jan ! FIFA have you lost the f****** plot!" Former Nottingham Forest and Celtic striker and Dutch int'l Pierre van Hooijdonk called the decision "embarrassing" (EVENING STANDARD, 1/8).

PUBLIC PERCEPTION: ESPN's Gabriele Marcotti wrote, "Sometimes you wonder if the drip-drip of news coming out of FIFA is coordinated or if you really have a bunch of different people expressing opinions. I'm guessing that when you get statements like the one Jerome Valcke made on Wednesday -- the FIFA general secretary told a French radio station that he 'thinks' the 2022 World Cup will be between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15, i.e., in the Qatari winter -- he’s simply speaking his mind about what he suspects might happen." While many "have treated Valcke’s words as if he said the World Cup will DEFINITELY be in winter, he didn’t do that." He said, “I think.” FIFA emphasized this is in a statement later in the day, "reiterating that Valcke was simply stating an opinion" (ESPN, 1/8).

AFC BOSS LASHES OUT: In Dubai, Leslie Wilson Jr. reported Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has "lashed out at criticism" surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, "accusing fault-finders of creating a controversy to undermine the country’s efforts to put on a good show." Salman said, "I don’t think there is any controversy. I think it is a controversy that has been created by some" (GULF NEWS, 1/7).

TWITTER REAX: Valcke's remarks evoked a number of responses on Twitter. The PA's Martyn Ziegler wrote, "Imagine that FIFA press office gone into meltdown as Valcke shoots from the hip again." London-based football author Philippe Auclair: "Preposterous to present Valcke's view as FIFA's position." The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre: "No way Fox lets the 2022 World Cup in Qatar get played in Nov/Dec/Jan. What a cluster F." NASCAR Senior Manager of Digital & Social Media Communications Kyle Sheldon: "Shocker that FIFA is going to botch this one (plenty more to come, too)." Washington Post's Steven Goff: "Waiting for FIFA geniuses to move 2018 World Cup in Russia to Nov-Dec as well." "The Dan Patrick Show" Exec Producer Paul Pabst: "No matter the World Cup schedule...the FIFA decision makers should have to spend July 2022 in Qatar...camping out."

Rio de Janeiro "has created a special police battalion to help control violent demonstrations expected during the upcoming World Cup and other large sporting and cultural events held in the city's public venues," according to the AP. The battalion "will be composed of about 500 specially trained officers recruited from police units statewide." Rio's Maracana stadium will host seven World Cup games including the July 13 final (AP, 1/7). The AP also reported the head of World Cup projects for Brazil's far-western Mato Grosso state "has acknowledged a light rail system in the city of Cuiaba meant to help football fans move around the city during World Cup matches there won't be ready in time for the tournament." Mauricio Guimaraes has said the 13 mile-long train lines "won't be completed until December, more than five months after the end of the World Cup" (AP, 1/7).

A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Mateo Poljak said that there has been a "widespread overreaction to fan violence in the A-League and insists the behaviour of football fans in Australia is a minor issue compared with other countries," according to Dominic Bossi of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. Poljak has "experienced similar incidents in Croatia where he was struck by a flare as a ball-boy during a local derby." Poljak believes that the "response from the public, media and Football Federation Australia has been over the top following a public brawl in Melbourne last month between sections of Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory supporters." While Poljak "does not condone the violent clash between the two supporter groups," he said that football fans here had been too heavily scrutinized for "what he believed was an isolated incident." Poljak was "also critical of the FFA's punishment of the clubs involved, imposing suspended penalties of three match points that will be triggered in the event of a repeat clash" (SMH, 1/9).

NO CONTEST: In Sydney, Tom Smithies reported Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory confirmed that they will not contest FFA's points sanctions. With the clubs and governing body "closing ranks after a weekend of damaging headlines, the three points will be deducted if what FFA termed 'incidents of a significant magnitude' happen before the end of the season." Though officials "declined to spell out what that definition was, in light of security concerns, it's understood that isolated incidents involving individual fans won't be classified as such." Police intelligence "is also likely to play a part, in light of concerns that rogue supporters could don the kit of other clubs in order to cause trouble in their name" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 1/8).