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Volume 10 No. 23

International Football

In 100 days, Brazil "will kick off the World Cup against Croatia in the gleaming new Arena de São Paulo," according to Owen Gibson of the London GUARDIAN. Assuming the stadium "is finished in time." Amid "growing excitement" at the World Cup returning to the home of La Joga Bonito, there "is concern at the extent to which deadlines have been repeatedly missed before being torn up altogether." FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke: "I am not a World Cup specialist but I will say this has not been easy, for sure. I think things will work well but it is also true that whenever you receive something late it becomes a challenge to make it ready in time." Every major sporting event "has to face down doomsday predictions that typically reach a crescendo around 100 days out before being drowned out by sporting drama and emotion." But Brazil "faces a unique cocktail of unresolved issues" that have left FIFA President Sepp Blatter claiming that "he was praying to 'God or Allah' that nothing else goes wrong." The biggest outstanding concern "remains the readiness of four of the 12 stadiums." Aside from "the terrorism concerns that hang over any major sporting event," most of the debate has been over the extent to which protests that saw more than 1 million take to the streets during the Confederations Cup "will reignite" (GUARDIAN, 3/3). REUTERS' Alan Baldwin reported Blatter said on Tuesday that problems with Brazil's World Cup venues "are under control." Blatter: "One hundred days; It's a long way to go, and it's a short way to go if there are still problems. But now all problems are under control and it will be in 100 days an exceptional good start for an exceptional competition" (REUTERS, 3/4).

GETTING AROUND: In London, James Young reported Brazil "has given the world a lesson in how not to prepare for a World Cup," with many of the key infrastructure programs, which were supposed to be the tournament’s long-term legacy to the nation, "abandoned in the mad dash to be ready for kick-off." While the stadium-building process "is at least limping towards the finishing line, infrastructure works are in a considerably more precarious state." In a country larger than the contiguous U.S., air travel "will be the only way to get around between more distant venues, and Brazil’s airports, bursting at the seams to begin with, are a worry." Four of the country’s key airports "already operate above their planned capacity -- even without taking into account the extra traffic generated by the World Cup." As of last month, only 45% of building work at Confins airport in Belo Horizonte, where England will play its final and potentially decisive group game against Costa Rica, "had been completed, and at present the airport resembles a massive building site" (INDEPENDENT, 3/4).

LODGING, TICKETS AND MORE: Also in London, Donna Bowater reported tourism authorities "have been promoting alternative accommodation as hotels fill up in host cities." In Manaus, extra beds "will be available on boats and in jungle lodges" with just 1,700 beds available in hotels in the city. Tourism Minister Gaston Vieira said, “We want to stimulate the market to offer suitable accommodation for different profiles of tourists that the World Cup attracts without damaging traditional accommodation.” England’s first group match against Italy "is among the games that have sold out." FIFA has received 3.5 million ticket requests in total. The U.S. against Portugal in Manaus "has also sold out." Less than 160,000 tickets remain for the final sales phase after 1.5 million tickets were sold in several lottery and first-come-first-served phases. Valcke: "We have a very high demand for tickets." Brazilian authorities have confirmed that 150,000 police and troops "will be deployed" to secure the World Cup "amid fears that violent protests will resurface during the tournament." As well as police and armed forces, 20,000 private security staff "will also be trained to work inside stadiums and at World Cup venues." Andre Rodrigues of Brazil's Ministry of Justice said, “The federal government and the security forces have a lot of concerns which are not only the protests themselves.” The concern is "to prevent violent activities during protests" (TELEGRAPH, 3/4). Also in London, James Hider reported anarchist groups "have threatened to target the event and have organised demonstrations under the banner 'There will be no World Cup.'" Last month, a cameraman "was killed by a flare set off in violent clashes with police" in central Rio de Janeiro. A recent poll showed that support for the World Cup in Brazil had dropped from 79% in '08 to 52% (LONDON TIMES, 3/4).

FIGHTING MATCH-FIXING: In London, Ben Rumsby reported England’s players "will be given special briefings about what to do if they are targeted by match-fixers" during the World Cup. For the first time at football’s biggest tournament, players from all 32 competing nations will be given “integrity sessions” by FIFA officials, when they "will be told to report anything suspicious via a special anti-corruption hotline available only to players and referees." The threat posed to the World Cup by organized crime networks all over the world "is being taken so seriously by FIFA that it has put a raft of unprecedented measures in place." As well as integrity briefings, those measures will include "intelligence-led targeting of high-risk players, referees and fixtures." FIFA Head of Security Ralf Mutschke said, “We are also indicating the players, the teams and their histories in fixing and making a risk assessment.” All 64 games "will be monitored like never before," with security agents at each of the 12 World Cup venues and "forensic scrutiny of suspicious betting patterns, as well as social media" (TELEGRAPH, 3/3).

The future of two Ukrainian first-tier football clubs, FC Sevastopol and FC Tavria, is uncertain amidst fears of a Russian invasion of Crimea, a region with a predominantly Russian population. Tavria, based in Simferopol, the capital of the Black Sea peninsular region, and Sevastopol, based near the Russian navy base, have found themselves in an uncomfortable position as tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea escalate, and local authorities disobey orders from the capital, Kiev, where a new government was recently formed following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich. A Sevastopol spokesperson told SBD Global, "The squad is preparing for the resumption of the season in a normal way." Tavria was unavailable for comment, but General Dir Alexander Boitsman said in a statement that the club hasn't been affected by the recent political developments. He said, "Our club is not a political party and it doesn't take part in political events."

PLAYERS SHEPHERDED AWAY: Meanwhile, the Russian online newspaper reported that Tavria's foreign players have been sent home out of safety concerns. Conservative deputies of the Russian State Duma, the lower chamber of Parliament, have suggested that the two Crimean squads should pull out of the Ukrainian league and join the Russian league. But the clubs and the Ukrainian football federation ridiculed the idea. Ukrainian Football Federation President Anatoly Konkov said, "The statement from the Russian State Duma is very strange. How can it decide where Ukrainian football clubs should play?" A Sevastopol spokesperson said, "We don't comment on rubbish." Ukrainian league games were supposed to be resumed after the winter break on March 7, but are postponed until further notice.
Vladimir Kozlov is a writer in Moscow.

Grenada PM Dr. Keith Mitchell and former Jamaica PM Edward Seaga "have been named to a nine-member task force established by the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football" to study the viability of a professional football league in the Caribbean, according to the TRINIDAD EXPRESS. The task force "also includes" Pro League club W Connnection Owner David John Williams. The task force "would examine the feasibility of a Caribbean professional football league, as the Confederation deepens its commitment to the growth of the game across the region." This "will be the second effort to establish a professional league in the Caribbean." A previous attempt to institute a Caribbean league lasted from '92-94, "when clubs from as far north as Jamaica and south as Guyana competed in the now defunct Caribbean Professional Football League" (TRINIDAD EXPRESS, 3/3).

For Spain's friendly against Italy on Wednesday night, La Roja will have its own "Fan Zone" in Madrid for fans and kids, with a "wide variety of performances and activities, as well as a tribute for former Spanish coach Luis Aragonés." The area, called the "Espacio España," will feature a "giant shirt that fans will be able to sign in honor of Aragonés." The shirt will be hung outside Vicente Calderon stadium during the match (MARCA, 3/4). ... UEFA "has given a 10-match ban to a Belgian futsal player" who made the same quenelle gesture that led to West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka being given a five-game suspension. Belgian player Omar Rahou "made the gesture several times during the Futsal Euro 2014 tournament when celebrating a goal" (GUARDIAN, 3/4). ... The Asian Football Confederation welcomed the decision by FIFA and the Int'l FA Board "to allow female players to cover their heads after two years of testing a safe headscarf design." AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa: “Women’s football is still at the beginning stage in West Asia but I hope that it (the ruling) will give a big boost as the member associations will be able to field teams in international events" (AFP, 3/4). ... A group representing European football clubs "will meet with officials from the sport’s governing body to discuss switching the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to winter because of extreme heat in the emirate." European Club Association General Secretary Michele Centenaro said that "he would be one of its two representatives at the meetings with the so-called Qatar 2022 Task Force sessions with FIFA" (BLOOMBERG, 3/4).