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Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

FIFA’s record finances reignites World Cup pay parity debate

March 07, 2019

LONDON (AP) — When world soccer executives receive FIFA’s annual report this year, they will see that $753,000 is funding a women’s league in Colombia, $588,197 is helping female players in New Zealand and girls in Botswana are benefiting from $341,600.

That’s merely a snapshot of the $270.3 million that the body that governs world soccer has invested in projects worldwide between 2016 and 2018. Four years since police raided the hotel and offices of soccer officials and FIFA’s Zurich headquarters in 2015 in a scandal that threatened the organization’s existence, FIFA is awash with cash. People with knowledge of FIFA’s finances told The Associated Press that in the four-year period covering the 2018 World Cup, FIFA’s reserves soared to $2.74 billion and revenue rose to $6.4 billion. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the financial results remain confidential.

Now, the organization is eager to show that handouts no longer line the pockets of its top managers. Rather, the money is being used to build stadiums, train coaches and provide more playing opportunities. But while the annual report underscores FIFA’s financial vitality, it also highlights the glaring disparity between men and women’s soccer.

Last summer’s World Cup is a good example: France banked $38 million from FIFA for winning the championship, but the women’s champion this July will earn just $4 million. U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who is leading her team’s title defense in France, said she is disappointed with the financial rewards.

“You want to make sure there is a fair apportionment of winnings going out,” Ellis said. Most upsetting to critics is the fact that the financial gulf appears to be growing. FIFA has doubled the overall prize money fund to $30 million since the last Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015. But that total amount is less than the $40 million increase that men’s World Cup prize money will get in 2022 — for a total of $440 million in prize money.

“The difference between the men’s and women’s prize money is ridiculous,” said Tatjana Haenni, who stepped down as FIFA head of women’s soccer in 2017. “It’s really disappointing the gap between the men’s and women’s World Cups got bigger. It sends the wrong message.”

The world players’ union said the disparity is a reflection of FIFA’s priorities as well as of the status of women’s soccer . “In most countries, the pace of change has not been fast enough nor the changes progressive enough to make up for decades of neglect of the women’s game,” FIFPRO said in a statement to the AP. “Even today women’s football remains an afterthought for many of football’s male administrators and the game lags embarrassingly behind other more progressive sports and industries.

“Most troubling of all is that the gender gap in football is even widening in some areas, including the share of FIFA World Cup prize money.” FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said critics are “perfectly justified” and have a “fair point.”

“We need to try to find what is the most balanced way and I think we made a step and there will be many more steps going ahead,” Infantino said in October before his ruling council approved the 2019 Women’s World Cup prize scale. “Maybe one day women’s football will generate more than men’s football.”

Exactly how much money women’s soccer generates is unclear, as much of FIFA’s revenue comes from top sponsors who are signed up for both World Cups. “That’s something never really analyzed,” said Haenni, who spent 19 years at FIFA. “What is the potential value of the Women’s World Cup? Nobody knows the Women’s World Cup commercial value because it’s not sold separately. This is something that should at least be discussed.”

One of FIFA’s main sponsors is listening. Credit card giant Visa said last week that it would support “women’s football with a marketing investment equal to our support of the men’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.” It did not disclose any figures.

Visa is one of the sponsors that stuck with FIFA through its corruption scandal, calling for the departure in 2015 of Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s then-president who was eventually banned for financial misconduct.

After being elected as Blatter’s successor in 2016, Infantino said “FIFA was clinically dead as an organization.” Now, the Swiss-Italian has the budget is in a healthy state, and is due to be re-elected unopposed in June to a four-year term.

The 2015-18 finances exceed the forecasts that were presented to the FIFA Congress in June. While FIFA projected cash reserves to increase to $1.653 billion in the 2018 World Cup cycle, they had grown to $2.74 billion at the end of 2018, according to the people with knowledge of the finances.

Following the corruption scandal of 2015, FIFA had modestly aimed to raise $5 billion by the end of last summer’s World Cup in Russia — a projection later increased to $6.1 billion. Those expectations were eclipsed when the four-year cycle ended with revenues of $6.4 billion, according to the people with knowledge of the financial report, which shows a profit of around $1 billion.

Haenni noted the challenge lies in ensuring that FIFA’s riches don’t all go to men’s soccer. “Some federations won’t have proper structures for the women’s teams,” Haenni said. “You want to know where the money is going and linked to creating a more balanced environment for women’s teams.”

Soccer-In Damascus, World Cup loyalties muddled by war

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

DAMASCUS, June 20 (Reuters) – In a Damascus cafe, some of the Syrians watching Russia play Egypt in the World Cup faced a dilemma: whether to support a fellow Arab nation or their government’s most powerful ally.

“I am confused because I was supposed to support Egypt but because Russia supports us, I support Russia,” said Amin Maarouf, 62, as he watched Russia defeat Egypt 3-1 on Tuesday at a crowded cafe in a middle class Damascus neighborhood.

“If Egypt were playing against any other country I would support it. But when I had to choose, I chose Russia.”

Seven years of conflict have muddled the loyalties of a Syrian nation fractured by a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and driven millions abroad as refugees.

While Russia enjoys support among Syrians who back the government, President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents are rooting for any team that is playing against it or Iran, his other major military ally.

These are the first World Cup finals since Russia intervened in support of Assad in 2015, turning the tide of the war decisively in his favor. Russia is hosting the tournament.

Russian flags were being waved by fans watching Tuesday’s match at an open-air screen in a street in Damascus, where just last month the government and its allies crushed the last remaining rebel enclave.

Still, not everyone was cheering for Russia. “I am supporting Egypt,” said Jubran Louis, 18. “It’s an Arab team, I have to support it.”

The Syrian national side did not make it to the tournament, but it made an unexpectedly strong showing in the qualifiers. This too was also a point of division among Syrians. While government supporters rallied behind the team, some Assad opponents identified it with the Syrian government.

Omar Fleihan, who has lived in Istanbul since leaving Syria in 2014, ultimately wants England to win the World Cup and was hoping Egypt would beat Russia on Tuesday.

“Yesterday they were supporting Russia in Damascus, and this isn’t something strange or new to them,” he said. “I certainly support anyone (playing) against Iran and Russia without exception – Arab or non-Arab”. (Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Beirut bureau Writing by Tom Perry Editing by Alison Williams)


Pussy Riot members who disrupted WCup re-arrested in Moscow

July 30, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Four members of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot who disrupted the World Cup final have been detained just after being released from jail in Moscow. Three female activists were clearly surprised when they walked out of a Moscow detention center Monday evening and were re-arrested. Pyotr Verzilov, the fourth protester, said on Twitter that he was also detained again and was going to be held overnight.

He tweeted, “What a turn of events!” The four activists had just served 15-day sentences for the World Cup protest. It was unclear what prompted the new detentions. The activists dressed in police uniform and ran onto the soccer field to briefly disrupt the match between France and Croatia. Pussy Riot said they were protesting policing powers and demanding reforms in Russia.

World Cup afterglow gives France a sorely needed boost

July 16, 2018

PARIS (AP) — The members of France’s victorious World Cup team returned home from Russia to triumphant arcs of water heralding their airplane’s arrival and a red carpet welcome Monday, and that was before the formal homage that awaited them in Paris.

Goalie Hugo Lloris, brandishing the golden trophy from soccer’s eminent tournament, and coach Didier Deschamps led the team from the Air France plane to the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Airport personnel and French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, a former champion fencer, were the first to tell them “merci” on behalf of a grateful nation that was sorely in need of a boost.

“Eternal Happiness” read Monday’s headline in French sports daily L’Equipe, summing up the mood of many who hope the euphoria will last for months — even years. The team expected to take a victory lap down the grand Champs-Elysees, the grand Paris avenue where hundreds of thousands thronged after France’s 4-2 victory Sunday over Croatia to capture the trophy.

For a third day in a row, the avenue was transformed into a boulevard of pride and happiness following a Bastille Day parade of French military might Saturday that, in hindsight, was a preview for the elation of France’s World Cup win.

The team’s appearance on the Champs-Elysees will be followed by a reception at the presidential palace. Hundreds of guests, including people from soccer clubs connected to the French players, were invited. A club in the poor suburb where 19-year-old star Kylian Mbappe grew up is among them.

France has been short of reasons to feel proud, and now is the moment. Several Paris Metro stations were temporarily adjusting their names to honor the team and its members, the transport authority tweeted. The Champs-Elysees Clemenceau has become the Deschamps-Elysees Clemenceau to honor national team coach Didier Deschamps.

The Etoile station is, for now, “On a 2 Etoiles” (We have 2 stars), to denote France’s second victory in soccer’s World Cup. The Victor Hugo station is now Victor Hugo Lloris, after France’s standout goalie and team captain.

Celebrations were spread across the nation, and among the still-dazed French players themselves. “We are linked for life now with this Cup,” defender Raphael Varane told BFM-TV on Monday before departing from Moscow.

French President Emmanuel Macron exulted on the field in Moscow and in the locker room, hugging players as they received their medals even as the skies poured rain. Macron clearly hoped the World Cup glow would rub off on him, raising him up in the eyes of a nation where his economic reforms have drawn fierce protests.

It was the players, though, who captured the French imagination. The mostly youthful, diverse team represents a generation with which traditionalists have yet to come to terms. Flessel, the sports minister, told Europe-1 radio that the World Cup victory allows France’s youth — like those in the poor suburbs where many of the players grew up — “to dare to believe in their dreams.”

Joy over the win brightened the Monday morning commute in Paris, where young people in cars sang and shouted. In the eastern Paris neighborhood of Belleville, Vincent Simon said, “Both teams deserved to win. France won, and that’s good for the country. That will do us good for some months.”

The victory came at a time when many French were in need of good news. “It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster — the French national symbol — and a shirt with Mbappe’s No. 10 number.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said at Sunday’s festivities, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale … Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

Still, celebrations in France typically end up with a spate of violence by troublemakers, and Sunday was no exception. Broken shop windows, pillage and other destruction lined a section of the Champs-Elysees, the postgame site for revelers. Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to end the violence.

French media reported that authorities detained 90 people for questioning in the Paris region and some 290 around France.

Chris den Hond in Paris contributed.

World Cup protesters get 15 days in jail, sports event bans

July 16, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — The four protesters who barged onto the field at the World Cup final in Moscow have been sentenced to 15 days in jail. The protesters, members of the Pussy Riot punk collective, ran onto the pitch at Luzhniki Stadium dressed as police officers during the second half of Sunday’s match between France and Croatia. They called for the release of political prisoners and for more open political competition.

A court on Monday sentenced them after finding them guilty of violating the law on behavior of sports events spectators. They were also banned from attending sports events for three years.

No refuge from politics but France victory a fitting climax

July 16, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Kylian Mbappe high-fived a political protester who invaded the field during the World Cup final. French President Emmanuel Macron leapt out of his seat in a VVIP area that included a leader charged with genocide. And Vladimir Putin was drenched in a sudden downpour as the trophy was handed over to the victorious French team.

This year’s World Cup was never going to be a refuge from politics when it was being staged in Putin’s Russia, but the players did their best to keep the tournament for themselves. A final with six goals — France beat Croatia 4-2 on Sunday — was a fitting climax to a month that produced some of the most enthralling matches in World Cup history.

The lasting images will be of pure elation as the France players leapt into the crowd to collect flags, then crashed Didier Deschamps’ post-match news conference, dancing on the table and spraying champagne and water on the coach.

“Sorry,” Deschamps said. “They’re young and they’re happy.” No need to apologize. This young squad earned its right to go wild. Particularly Mbappe, a 19-year-old forward whose career trajectory should move into a stratosphere occupied for so long by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The old guard went home early; another failed challenge for World Cup titles by Portugal and Argentina. Mbappe flies home with a winners’ medal.

It’s not just about his composure on the ball, and eye for goal. Just look at the coolness early in the second half dealing with a member of the Pussy Riot activist group which protests against what they consider to be Putin’s repressive regime: A double-high five. Nothing fazes the guy who became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958.

“I’ve always been ready, mentally, to do beautiful things,” Mbappe said. “I’m free and, most of all, I enjoy it.” Not only Mbappe. Benjamin Pavard, a 22-year-old defender, will be hot property in the upcoming transfer window. Raphael Varane has also been at the heart of the defense that didn’t concede a goal in four of seven games in Russia. The starring role by Paul Pogba, who scored the decisive third goal on Sunday, was a riposte to critics of his contribution at Manchester United.

“These kids, they play like it’s a pick-up game,” said 32-year-old France defender Adil Rami, who was on the bench for the entire tournament. In so many ways, France lifting the trophy was one shred of order in this month of so much disruption. And it wasn’t just about the often-confusing use of video review on its World Cup debut. Set-pieces are back in vogue, accounting for 73 of the 169 goals, including Mario Mandzukic’s own-goal from Antoine Griezmann’s free kick that gave France an early lead in the final.

Germany’s title defense disintegrated in the group stage. Spain, in turmoil from the start, was sent home in the round of 16, signaling the end of the tiki-taka tactics behind the country’s title run in 2010. No longer is it all about keeping hold of the ball.

“The teams with the highest level of possession were all punished by fast forwards,” Deschamps said. “When you defend, you are guaranteed to have two or three opportunities on the counterattack.” Croatia bulldozed its way into the final in a sure sign of the establishment being disrupted. The gritty resolve was always evident in the final. Even at 4-1, the Croats didn’t give up on their first shot at a major soccer title, but they finally ran out of steam after three straight extra-time matches.

“I have never lived through such a World Cup,” Deschamps said. “There was a leveling at the top. And the small teams on paper arrived really well prepared athletically. My memory was that great football nations would have some difficulty and then they would grow stronger.”

Only France did, reasserting the World Cup’s status at the pinnacle of soccer over the increasingly-predictable club competitions across Europe. Even Russia, the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, managed to reach the quarterfinals.

“You have to believe it’s possible and many things have to fall into place,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said after his country’s first final. “You have to follow those dreams and ambitions and then maybe one day it will come true.”

Maybe one day politicians will not try to hog the limelight at a sporting event as they did at the Luzhniki Stadium and across Russia. FIFA allowed one of the coveted seats to be given to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Another went to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe’s last dictator.

But there was some payback from Mother Nature. By delaying the trophy presentation, leaving Croatia’s despondent players waiting even longer to depart the field, the storm clouds gathered. The downpour soaked the dignitaries.

That shouldn’t be a problem when the World Cup heads to the desert nation of Qatar four years from now, when France will hope to defend its title and the smaller nations will have been given hope by Croatia.

“Talent is not sufficient,” Deschamps said before departing to rejoin the victory celebrations. “What makes the difference is psychological.”

Pussy Riot upstages Putin with protest that halts World Cup

July 15, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Protest group Pussy Riot, long a thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side, claimed responsibility Sunday for four people who brought the World Cup final to a brief halt by running onto the field dressed in police uniforms as the Russian president and a global audience watched.

Stewards tackled the three women and one man who charged onto the field simultaneously in the 52nd minute of one of the world’s most viewed sporting events. Croatia defender Dejan Lovren pushed the man, helping a steward to detain him, and suggested the incident put Croatia off its game. The team was 2-1 down when the protest happened, and eventually lost 4-2.

“I really was mad because we’d been playing at that moment in good shape,” he said. “We’d been playing good football and then some interruption came. I just lost my head and I grabbed the guy and I wished I could throw him away from the stadium.”

Before being hauled away, one of the women reached the center of the field and shared a double high-five with France forward Kylian Mbappe. “Hello everyone from the Luzhniki field, it’s great here,” the heavily political punk performance group said on Twitter , and released a statement calling for the freeing of political prisoners, an end to “illegal arrests” of protesters and to “allow political competition” in Russia.

The four were charged with violation of spectators’ rights and illegal wearing of law enforcement symbols and could face penalties of up to 11,500 rubles ($185) or 160 hours of community service, the Interfax news agency reported.

Pussy Riot’s statement also referenced the case of Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, who was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.

The group said the police uniforms symbolized how Russian police’s actions fall short of their “heavenly” depiction in literature and called for reforms. It wasn’t clear if they used the uniforms as a ruse to enter Luzhniki Stadium amid tight security, and the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“The citizens in question were taken to the local police station,” the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said, without providing further details. A video circulated on Russian social media after the match appeared to show two of the protesters, still in police uniforms, being harshly interrogated at a police station. The Internet TV channel Dozhd identified one of them as Pyotr Verzilov, one of the group’s most prominent members.

Under barking queries from a man off camera, Verzilov says, “I am for Russia, just like you — if you are for Russia.” “I sometimes wish it was 1937,” the man off screen says, referring to the year in which Stalinist purges were at their height.

Pussy Riot rose to global prominence after several balaclava-covered female members sang a raucous song denouncing Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two of them, including Verzilov’s wife, served nearly two years in prison for the protest.

Putin was watching the game alongside his French and Croatian counterparts and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, among other dignitaries. Pussy Riot was previously known for wearing brightly colored balaclavas, though those who protested Sunday did so with their faces uncovered. The group posted a second statement later with three women, one wearing a pink balaclava, reading a statement acknowledging police had relaxed somewhat during the tournament but calling for greater restrictions on their powers .

“The World Cup has shown very well how well Russian policemen can behave,” one of the unmasked women said in the video. “But what will happen when it ends?” FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The protest was briefly shown on international TV broadcasts, even though FIFA policy is usually to cut away when fans and others run onto the field.

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