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Volume 7 No. 128

International Football

FA execs have held talks as the "prospect of boycotting the World Cup in Russia escalates," according to Matt Lawton of the London DAILY MAIL. The FA does not believe the government is "considering a boycott" but officials in Wembley and Westminster have "discussed the growing political crisis." The view at Wembley is that it remains a matter for the government and not the FA and, "based on the fact that a possible boycott is not currently on the table," there are "no thoughts" about aborting their plans for this summer’s tournament in Russia. The FA nevertheless recognizes the "seriousness of the situation amid concern" -- expressed by experts in Russia -- that there "could be serious safety concerns." Only if the government intervenes and declares it dangerous for the English team to travel to Russia would the governing body "consider withdrawing" (DAILY MAIL, 3/13). 

DAMAGING RELATIONS: reported the Russian Foreign Ministry said that British threats to boycott the 2018 World Cup "over the poisoning of secret agent Sergei Skripal will damage the relationship between the two countries and will damage world sport." On Monday, British PM Theresa May said that Russian involvement in Skripal's poisoning was "highly likely." The Russian Foreign Ministry said, "Such proposals [to boycott the World Cup] come not only from journalists, but also from officials -- in particular from U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat. Skripal's poisoning, for which the investigation has not even begun yet, is being used by British politicians to draw conclusions about Russia's involvement. So now they want to 'punish' us with a World Cup boycott" (, 3/13).

'NOBODY LIKES ANYTHING': SPORT EXPRESS' Alexander Bobrov reported former FIFA President Sepp Blatter "hit back at English criticism of holding the tournament in Russia." Some suggested that England will forfeit the tournament in protest, "although Blatter is among those who doubt these unlikely calls." Blatter said, "They are like that. They also spoke and acted against me. Nobody likes anything. The English don't know how to lose." Whether the 82-year-old will attend the tournament is "seemingly not in doubt at this point in time," as he insisted it is a matter of "which match he is invited to." He said, "I have an invitation from the Head of State of Russia" (SPORT EXPRESS, 3/13).

Superleague Greece on Tuesday opposed the suspension of all football fixtures "over crowd trouble," saying that it "threatened the clubs’ very existence," according to Karolos Grohmann of REUTERS. Greece "indefinitely suspended matches" after PAOK Thessaloniki Owner Ivan Savvidis was "filmed wearing a gun holster as he strode onto the pitch to protest about a disallowed goal against AEK Athens on Sunday." Superleague President Giorgos Stratos said, "The suspension does not bring anything. It creates a grave danger and we are possibly moving away from our aims and objectives. The suspension does not benefit anyone or anything." Stratos said that he asked for the "quickest possible resumption" of matches but no date had been decided (REUTERS, 3/13). 

'EMOTIONAL REACTION': The AP reported a Thessaloniki prosecutor ordered a judicial investigation into the incident. Savvidis apologized Tuesday for what he called an "emotional reaction" to the referee's decision and "the general negative condition in Greek soccer." The probe, issued by a prosecutor on duty at Sunday's game against AEK Athens, will also investigate "why police allegedly ignored instructions" to arrest Savvidis on the spot. Savvidis entered the field "accompanied by bodyguards, apparently carrying a pistol in a waist holster." He made "no visible move to use the weapon, for which he has a license" (AP, 3/13). The London GUARDIAN reported Savvidis said, "I am deeply sorry for what happened. I had absolutely no right to enter the pitch the way I did. My emotional reaction stems from the widespread negative situations prevailing in Greek football lately and from all the unacceptable, non sports-related events that took place towards the end of the PAOK-AEK Athens encounter. ... My only aim was to protect tens of thousands of PAOK fans from provocation, riots and casualties" (GUARDIAN, 3/13).

UNDER PRESSURE: In Athens, George Georgakopoulos reported Hellenic Football Federation President Vangelis Grammenos is reportedly "considering" resigning in the aftermath of the abandoned game. Live Sport reported Grammenos is "in a bad psychological situation under pressure from developments in the Super League and is about to tender his resignation." Other sources said that "he will not resign now, but may do so later, once the pending court cases on various Super League incidents are completed" (EKATHIMERINI, 3/13).

The Premier League determined Owen Oyston was not a "fit and proper person."

The Premier League "failed to enforce an official ban" on Owen Oyston being the owner and a director of Blackpool following the club's promotion in '10, according to David Conn of the London GUARDIAN. The Premier League took the view that Oyston's '96 conviction for rape, which can never be legally "spent," meant that he was not a "fit and proper person" and that he was disqualified from being an owner or director of a club. EPL Exec Chair Richard Scudamore "insisted that Oyston dispose of his majority shareholding in Blackpool -- and thought he had done so -- but Oyston never complied with the disqualification." He remained the club's owner and a director during the '10-11 Premier League season and throughout Blackpool's subsequent years in the English Football League. During this time, he and his son Karl transferred £26.77M out of Blackpool to Oyston companies. Following a legal action brought against the Oystons by Valeri Belokon, a Latvian banker who had invested alongside them, those payments were found by a high court judge in November to have been an "illegitimate stripping" of the club (GUARDIAN, 3/13).

'NATURAL JUSTICE': The BBC reported former Blackpool Dir Belokon said that he is working with the EFL to reverse the decision to disqualify him because it ignores "basic principles of natural justice." Belokon was given a 20-year jail term in Kyrgyzstan for "money laundering, tax evasion and dishonesty" last May. He subsequently failed the Owners' and Directors' Test in September. The Latvian, 58, said that he had "the club's best interests at heart" and was a "good football citizen." In a statement, he added, "I certainly understand the need for the EFL to have a fit-and-proper-person test. That said, the regulations cannot always deal adequately with every scenario in life. I believe that this has happened in my case" (BBC, 3/13).

Nike is reportedly willing to "finance part of a trade" of Neymar from Paris St. Germain to Real Madrid "as a strategic move to later reach a deal with the Spanish club and sponsor its shirt," according to Manu Sainz of AS. After Cristiano Ronaldo, "Neymar is the brand's top ambassador." Real Madrid "continues to lead the world in followers," but of the "top clubs," it receives the least money for its shirt sponsorship. The club's deal with adidas will run through '20 and pay it €40M ($49.6M) per season. It was reported last May by Football Leaks that adidas and Real Madrid were renegotiating the contract, with adidas offering the club €1B ($1.24B) over 10 years. The €400M ($496M) fee that Neymar's father said PSG's owners would request to release the player "does not seem as unlikely if Nike is behind the move" (AS, 3/13).

MESSI ON THE MOVE?: AS reported Lionel Messi's release clause at Barcelona is €700M ($868M), "a figure that was considered unpayable" until recently. Barcelona is "now looking at four possible rivals that could break the market" to acquire Messi. PSG "would be the first candidate," while the other teams "economically capable of such a move" are Chelsea, ManU and Man City (AS, 3/13). The DPA reported Man City CEO Ferran Soriano said that "there is no chance" his club could could sign Messi. Soriano: "I know Leo and his family well and I know they are good in Barcelona, which is where he has to be. We will continue on our path without him, which will be difficult because he is the best player in the history of football" (DPA, 3/13).

The German FA (DFB) appointed Burson-Marsteller Sport to advise on int'l strategy and communication for its bid to host Euro 2024. The agency "recently rebranded the TSE Consultancy firm under the Burson-Marsteller Sport banner," itself owned by the global WPP advertising agency. Last week, UEFA announced Germany is "up against Turkey as the only two bidders" for Euro 2024 hosting rights (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 3/13).

FIFA on Tuesday lifted with immediate effect the suspension it had imposed on the Pakistan Football Federation last year and reinstated "all of PFF’s membership rights." The PFF had been "embroiled in internal power struggle and legal wrangling" the last few years, following which the Lahore High Court had appointed an administrator to oversee the federation (DAWN, 3/13).

Northern Ireland Manager Michael O'Neill believes the FA of Ireland "must communicate better" with the Irish FA as the "row over players switching allegiance continues." O'Neill said last week that the FAI was targeting Catholic players to transfer their allegiance to the Republic, having represented Northern Ireland at the youth level. He said, "For me, eligibility is not, and should not, be a political issue. Nor should it be a religious issue. For me, eligibility is a football issue" (BBC, 3/12).