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Volume 10 No. 24

International Football

FIFA President Sepp Blatter "has refused to speculate on whether Qatar could be stripped of the World Cup over a new round of bribery allegations, which have been referred to its ethics committee," according to Owen Gibson of the London GUARDIAN. Blatter said he "was not a prophet" when asked whether Qatar could lose the World Cup. He confirmed that investigators from FIFA's ethics committee would look into a report in the Daily Telegraph that former FIFA exec committee member Jack Warner and his family "requested payments" of more than $2M from his Qatari colleague Mohamed bin Hammam shortly after the World Cup vote. Blatter said, "I am happy now that we have an independent committee for ethics and this is now to be dealt with by this committee." FIFA Chief Investigator Michael Garcia "is continuing to examine the chaotic and controversial bidding race for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments." He "has toured each of the bidding countries" and was in Zurich this week to interview the exec committee. In a statement, Garcia said, "The ethics committee is aware of the material in the published article. As with any allegations of misconduct by officials, the ethics committee will take whatever action it feels appropriate" (GUARDIAN, 3/21).

The last time Bayern Munich lost in the Bundesliga was in Oct. '12, "more than 50 league games ago," according to Joshua Robinson of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Since then, "it has rampaged to 44 victories, six draws and picked up last season's league championship in the process." According to some of its rivals, the club may be "heading for a less praiseworthy achievement: killing the Bundesliga." Jan-Henrik Gruszecki, a founder of Borussia Dortmund's largest fan group, The Unity, said, "The Bundesliga is the most boring league in the world for me now." These "are historic levels of dominance." Brilliant as Bayern has been, however, "this season's chasm atop the German standings is more an indictment of the Bundesliga than anything else." Borussia Mönchengladbach Sporting Dir Max Eberl said, "We have to do everything [so] that Bayern's not the dominating team for the next five years. That's our work." According to Deloitte, Bayern "is by far the richest club in Germany and the fourth-richest club in the world." In '11-12, the most recent season for which there are figures, it raked in €368M ($507M) in revenue -- "more than its two closest financial rivals, Dortmund and Schalke, put together." Still, the Bundesliga's so-called 50+1 system, "which requires almost every team to be majority-controlled by the club's members, is the envy of soccer purists." The model "has helped stave off massive debt and kept away the free-spending sugar daddies who rock the competitive balance overnight, all while maintaining affordable ticket prices." Before last season's Champions League final, news broke that the club had agreed to sign Dortmund playmaker Mario Götze in the summer -- "a transfer market power play if ever there was one." Bayern "will also pick up Dortmund's best striker, Robert Lewandowski, at the end of this season and is rumored to be interested in Schalke wunderkind Julian Draxler." None of these players "are exactly bargains." So the silver lining for rivals "is that they can charge top dollar when they see Bayern coming." But that does not change the fact that the Bavarians can acquire finished products -- and hold on to them -- "while others must grow their own world-class talent, while rebuilding every year" (WSJ, 3/20).

J.League side Urawa Red Diamonds drew 1-1 with Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday in a game played in an empty stadium as punishment for a racist "Japanese only" banner "put up by hardline fans that deeply embarrassed" the J.League, according to the AFP. League officials hit Japan's best-supported club "with an unprecedented one-game supporter ban over the sign, written in English and hung over an entrance to the stands at a match on March 8." An "eerie atmosphere greeted the players" at the 63,700-capacity Saitama Stadium -- a 2002 World Cup semifinal venue -- "with advertising hoardings replaced by signs promoting the UN's Sports for Peace program and entrance music cancelled." Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino said, "It was a difficult game to play in." Fans heeded Urawa's warning not to gather outside the stadium, "with the train station and park surrounding the ground virtually deserted in the hours before kick-off." Security guards "patrolled the area outside the stadium, which is usually bustling with fans and food and merchandise stalls on match days" (AFP, 3/23). The AP's Jim Armstrong wrote in handing down the penalty, J.League Chair Mitsuru Murai said the acts "damaged the brand of not just the J.League, but of the entire Japanese football community." Japan's conformist society "has often been criticized at home and abroad for being less accepting of racial and ethnic diversity" (AP, 3/23).

The FA has launched a series of animated films as part of a campaign aimed at ending "the under-reporting of discrimination" by players and fans at all levels, according to the London GUARDIAN. The "Hear it; See it; Report it" campaign "follows the release of survey results showing more than half of all professional footballers in England have either witnessed or been subjected to racist abuse in stadiums." The poll of 200 players in the Premier League and Football League also revealed 39% of players have witnessed homophobic abuse -- "yet not all were aware of the best ways to report it." The new videos, featuring artwork by the Observer's Paul Trevillion and fronted by former England players Graeme Le Saux and Dion Dublin, "encourage players, staff and fans to be proactive" (GUARDIAN, 3/22).

The FA is marking the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster "by delaying the kick-offs of all Premier League, Football League and Conference matches by seven minutes" (London GUARDIAN, 3/21). ... Liverpool's players "are poised to kick-start their summer with a beach holiday with a difference, in the shape of a post-season friendly against West Ham in Mauritius." Liverpool Sales Dir Olly Dale was in Mauritius this week "to examine the facilities at Anjalay Stadium, the nation's 30,000-capacity showpiece sports venue." While L'Express reported that the game had been confirmed, Le Mauricien insisted that "the deal remains to be completed" (London GUARDIAN, 3/21). ... Bulgarian football club Levski Sofia Owner Todor Batkov "has stopped player wages until the end of the season." The lawyer "was furious at the club's elimination from the Cup of Bulgaria, which means that Levski will remain without any trophy in its jubilee season" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 3/21).

LIGA MX VIOLENCE: Mexican media reported on Sunday that during Saturday's Liga MX match between Guadalajara and Atlas, "eight hooligans were arrested and five supporters and two policemen badly injured as Guadalajara fans fought with police." In a "running battle" on Jalisco Stadium's "upper-south terraces lasting about 15 minutes," Mexican newspaper Record reported "police were hugely outnumbered and came off worse with two officers taken to hospital" (REUTERS, 3/23). Following the violence, Guadalajara City Council Secretary General Jesús Lomelí said that "Jalisco Stadium is closed." Lomelí: "The director of inspection and vigilance made this decision and based on regulations we will proceed with the closing of the stadium" (LA AFICION, 3/23).