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Volume 6 No. 213

International Football

The Canadian Soccer Association released a strategic plan Thursday to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, according to Neil Davidson of the CANADIAN PRESS. Of a bid to stage "the grand-daddy of them all," CSA President Victor Montagliani said, "The process has to start now." Canada "is hosting the women’s World Cup next year." Getting that right "is key to being able to giving the men’s tournament a shot." CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, "has not hosted the men’s World Cup since the U.S." in '94. Montagliani: "We’re the only G-8 nation to not host the World Cup. We’ve hosted almost every other event. I think it’s time for Canada to step up to the plate." Montagliani said that "the World Cup bid is part of the new blueprint’s strategy to encourage growth in the game in Canada." Such a bid "goes hand in hand with reviving a national men’s team that currently ranks 111th in the world, sandwiched between Bahrain and Guatemala" (CANADIAN PRESS, 1/23). In Toronto, Kurtis Larson commented, "To reiterate what I wrote in October, when bid rumours began to trickle out, keep on dreamin'." To be clear, "any country can host a FIFA men’s World Cup." Qatar "was bizarrely selected to host the event in 2022 after South Africa brought the tournament to that continent four years ago." In other words, "if you have the cash, FIFA will listen." But that cash "is immense." According to the South African Public Service commission, the 2010 Cup cost that country roughly $3.5B. The dollar figures for Canada "might be similar, or at least in the ballpark." It is a number "that already spooked a Toronto committee to the point it nixed a bid for the 2024 Olympics this week." So, while admirable, it is "difficult to see the CSA's plan leaving the boardroom" (TORONTO SUN, 1/24).

Evergrande Int'l Football School in China "lives up to its name," according to Demetri Sevastopulo of the FINANCIAL TIMES. With clock towers, medieval turrets and spires, it looks like J.K. Rowling and Walt Disney "have built a magical castle" in rural Guangdong. Even in China, "where construction reaches unfathomable levels, the scale is incredible." On a tour of the 167-acre grounds, Principal Liu Jiangnan said, "It is number one in the world." Former Real Madrid goalkeeper Miguel Angel, whose son is an Evergrande coach, said, "The dimensions of the complex are unparalleled. No one else has developed a project of this magnitude." The school is the brainchild of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, China’s 10th-richest man, estimated to be worth more than $6B. It grew out of an investment Xu made in '10 when he bought a struggling professional team in Guangzhou. Xu "turned round the team’s fortunes by hiring foreign players." The investment "has paid off." The club has won the Chinese Super League three years running and just became the first Chinese team in 23 years to win the Asian Champions League. But while Guangzhou Evergrande "has benefited hugely from its foreign players, Xu has a different vision for its future, which is where the school comes into the equation." Xu: "Our long-term strategy is to use teenagers to turn Evergrande into a team of only domestic players in eight to 10 years, making them stars in China, Asia and the world." Liu said that another distinction is that Evergrande "puts a lot of emphasis on academic education." Students have four 90-minute football training sessions a week, but they "spend the rest of their time in classrooms." While many children come from affluent families, for others, Evergrande "is an unlikely dream come true." Two-thirds pay school fees of Rmb35,000 ($5,800) a year -- roughly equal to China’s per capita GDP of $6,000 -- "while the rest receive scholarships to cover what by Chinese standards is an astronomical sum" (FT, 1/23).

The purchase of an A-League club by the Abu Dhabi owners of Man City "could be the single greatest trigger to take the game to the next level," according to Craig Foster of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. Forgive most in the football community "for being immensely excited, since the past few years have been relatively frugal and, at times, uncertain." Thus for the so-called richest club in the world "to invest in the A-League is an event of such extraordinary possibilities as to change the dynamics within the industry." Man City "is owned in the Middle East, managed by Spaniards (Catalans, actually), and represented by the rest of the world: Argentinians, Ivorians, English, French, Spanish, Bosnian … and coached by a Chilean." That is football. If you were "to design a Trojan horse to send into a still partly closed environment fearful of the international game, this would be it." Many clubs "have talked about becoming the biggest in Asia, but the limiting factor is money." Only greater levels of investment in youth, in the squad, in coaching, marketing, tours and football systems "can achieve this." With the" desire and financial backing, Melbourne City or whatever the name Heart becomes, will have the genuine credentials to make this claim." And they "have the expertise, too" (SMH, 1/26).

HEART TRANSPLANT: In Sydney, Dominic Bossi reported Melbourne Heart "could undergo a complete facelift during the off-season after Football Federation Australia indicated it would be prepared to discuss a rebranding of the club with its new owners," Man City. Australia's governing body "is open to the possibility of Manchester City rebranding Melbourne Heart before the start of next season, beginning with a change of logo, name and colours." After buying a controlling 80% stake in the A-League strugglers, Man City has "already made moves to rename the club 'Melbourne City' as well as change the club's logo and colours to predominantly sky blue." There "will be no changes to Melbourne Heart's identity for the remainder of the season, but a group called MHFC Holdings Pty Ltd registered 'Melbourne City Football Club' as a trademark" on Jan. 16 in a sign of the changes to the club "expected to be made during the A-League break" (SMH, 1/25).

FAN FURY: In Melbourne, Michael Lynch wrote Heart's diehards "are up in arms at the prospect of a change in the club's colours." Social media "reacted angrily to comments made by an Australian Manchester City supporters group that the City takeover of the red and whites would not work unless the team was rebranded, its colours changed to sky blue, the same as Manchester City's, and its name changed to Melbourne City." A number of Heart supporters took to Twitter "to take issue with the City fans, arguing that while a name-change might be acceptable, dropping the club's red and white stripes was not" (THE AGE, 1/27).

German Ski Federation (DSV) President Franz Steinle "is against a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022," according to the SID. Steinle said, "Football is the No. 1 sport. A move of the World Cup would be disastrous for us winter sports athletes and would have huge economic consequences. Therefore we will do everything possible, on an international level, to prevent a winter World Cup." However, the DSV president "is not overly confident about the success of his plan." Steinle: "I'm afraid that we will have to deal with this problem regardless" (SID, 1/23).

The year's first major protest against the 2014 Brazil World Cup "drew more than 2,000 demonstrators" into the streets of São Paulo on Saturday, as "frustration over the cost of the tournament lingers in the host country," according to Brad Haynes of REUTERS. The demonstration in São Paulo "fell far short" of the more than 20,000 people who confirmed attendance on Facebook, "highlighting the diminished energy of recent protests compared to the public unrest during the Confederations Cup tournament held here last June." As the "largely peaceful" São Paulo demonstration wrapped up around sunset, local TV "registered isolated acts of vandalism, including broken bank windows, a smashed police car and a Volkswagen beetle engulfed in flames" (REUTERS, 1/25). In London, Tomas Jivanda reported more than 100 people "were arrested" during the protest. In some of the most dramatic scenes, "a family were rescued from a burning car which caught on fire after a man reportedly attempted to drive over a blazing barricade started by protesters on a road." Demonstrators "gathered in front of the São Paulo Art Museum for about one hour before heading out to another part of the city chanting slogans against the tournament." Several chanted, "If we have no rights, there will be no Cup." Police "responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd" (INDEPENDENT, 1/26).

FALLING SHORT: The SUNDAY TIMES reported protests "were expected in more than 30 cities, but all except that carried out in São Paulo fell far flat of organizers’ expectations." In Rio de Janeiro, about 50 protesters gathered in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel, "holding signs blasting the World Cup." After about an hour, the crowd "moved onto a main street that runs along Copacabana beach, halting traffic as police watched from the side" (SUNDAY TIMES, 1/26).