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Russia getting on with World Cup job as FIFA fights scandal

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — As he shared the stage with FIFA’s departing president Sepp Blatter, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message was simple. FIFA may be in chaos, but Russia is getting on with the job.

“I’d like to emphasize again that all the plans to prepare for the World Cup will be fulfilled,” Putin said, standing alongside the embattled Blatter at Saturday’s preliminary draw for the 2018 tournament. “Hosting it is one of our key tasks.”

Against the backdrop of Swiss authorities investigating how the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, the draw was held in St. Petersburg, both Putin’s home town and the site of the most troubled of all the 12 World Cup stadiums.

For years, the construction of St. Petersburg’s 68,000-seat arena — due to host a semifinal in 2018 — was a costly, repeatedly delayed symbol of Russian state inefficiency, so bad that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly said it looked “disgraceful.”

Finally, almost a decade after construction began, it is close to completion. Estimated at 75 percent ready by project chief Vitaly Lazutkin, much of the remaining work is focused on installing seats and finishing off complex systems such as the retractable roof and movable pitch.

The final stages of the St. Petersburg build coincide with optimism that the 2018 World Cup, while beset by controversies over corruption allegations and racism by fans, will at least avoid the construction chaos that marred preparations for last year’s tournament in Brazil.

FIFA's President Blatter addresses next to Russia's President Putin during the preliminary draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg

It’s a “relaxing situation,” FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who expects to leave office in February along with his longtime boss Blatter, told journalists Friday.

“Russia is really way on track and I have no concern. The next FIFA secretary general should be happy with the work that I give him because he will have a very organized World Cup.”

Russia getting on with World Cup job as FIFA fights scandal

The Petersburg stadium, provisionally titled the Zenit Arena, is set to cost 38 billion rubles ($650 million). Until the ruble dropped sharply in value last year against the backdrop of international sanctions and a low oil price, the same ruble budget was worth over $1 billion, which ranked it among the most expensive football stadiums in history.

Originally planned as a 45,000-seat arena by Zenit St. Petersburg’s owner — the Russian state-controlled company Gazprom — Russia’s successful bid to host the World Cup brought problems. Hosting a semifinal required an increase in capacity to 68,000, sending the partially-built project back to the drawing board.

FIFA, Blatter get back to World Cup business at Putin home

“The main problem that delayed the construction was that the stadium was redesigned three times,” project director Lazutkin said Monday. “That required quite a long time for redesign work and also for rebuilding the stadium.”

Since a Soviet-era stadium on the site was demolished in 2006, the Zenit Arena project has seen not only cost rises, but fraud investigations into subcontractors, the death of Japanese architect Kurio Kurosawa and political disputes.

MOS07. St.petersburg (Russian Federation), 25/07/2015.- Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and FIFA President Joseph Blatter (R) attend the Preliminary Draw of the FIFA World Cup 2018 at Konstantinovsky palace outside St.Petersburg, Russia, 25 July 2015. St.Petersburg is one of the host cities of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia which will take place from 14 June until 15 July 2018. (Rusia) EFE/EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

Now the stadium’s roof has been fitted and work is under way to put in the seats, Lazutkin says the first games could be held in little more than a year’s time.

Calling the stadium “disgraceful” is no longer possible, he insists, adding: “Mr Medvedev said that earlier. Now he has a different opinion, as far as I know.”

One of Russia’s 12 World Cup arenas is raising concerns, however. Construction is fully under way at every stadium but the one in the western exclave of Kaliningrad, near the Polish border.

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That stadium was caught in a political tug-of-war between the regional and federal governments over its location. By the time the regional authorities’ costlier plan to put the stadium on an island prevailed, precious time had been lost.

The stadium’s design has only been signed off by a federal architecture watchdog in recent days, allowing work to begin. Worries over the stadium lying empty after the tournament also led to a cut in capacity by 10,000 seats to 35,000. Organizers say the reduced size will allow construction workers to make up for lost time.

“We have absolutely no doubts that the stadium will be ready on time and that everything will be up and running there soon,” organizing committee CEO Alexei Sorokin said Monday.

With less than three years to go until the tournament, Russian government revenues have contracted sharply under pressure from the low oil price, meaning that organizers are keen to save money.

A fall in the value of the ruble has meant organizers are swapping costlier imported materials and equipment for cheaper local alternatives, while many hotels and some infrastructure projects have been cut from Russia’s plans, reducing the total budget to 631.5 billion rubles ($10.8 billion).

The reason for removing the hotels, organizers say, was fears that luxury establishments could end up lying empty after the World Cup.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday that one of Russia’s main problems is that organizers don’t always know who to talk to at a rapidly-changing FIFA. At a time when officials are in custody and Blatter due to leave, Mutko said communication is “somewhat thwarted.”

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Sepp Blatter could make extraordinary move to stay on as FIFA president

Sepp Blatter stands down as FIFA President

Sepp Blatter may seek to stay on as the president of FIFA, a Swiss newspaper reported on Sunday, less than two weeks after Blatter said he would step down over a major corruption scandal at the organisation.

However, Domenico Scala, the official overseeing the process of choosing a new president, said that Blatter’s departure was an ‘indispensable’ part of planned reforms to soccer’s governing body.

Blatter is under pressure to step down for good as U.S. and Swiss authorities widened their investigations into bribery and corruption at the sport’s global governing body. EU lawmakers are among those calling for his immediate departure.

Blatter said he would step down in a speech made on June 2 but has not ruled out remaining in office

But according to the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper, Blatter had received messages of support from African and Asian football associations, asking him to rethink his decision to step down.

Blatter was honoured by the support and had not ruled out remaining in office, the newspaper said, citing an anonymous source close to him.

Blatter said on June 2 he would step down as FIFA president in the wake of the corruption investigation, having led soccer’s world governing body since 1998, although he would stay on until a successor was elected.

FIFA, in an emailed statement, referred Reuters to the speech Blatter made on June 2 and said they had ‘no further comment to make’.

In his speech, Blatter said: ‘I have decided to lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress. I will continue to exercise my functions as FIFA President until that election.’

The 79-year-old (left) has received close support from various African and Asian football federations

He also added: ‘Since I shall not be a candidate, and am therefore now free from the constraints that elections inevitably impose, I shall be able to focus on driving far-reaching, fundamental reforms that transcend our previous efforts.’

But Scala, head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, said in a statement that Blatter needed to stick by his pledge that he would not stand again.

‘For me, the reforms are the central topic,’ he said, without referring to the interview directly.

‘That is why I think it is clearly indispensable to follow through with the initiated process of president’s change as has been announced. ‘

Blatter has changed his mind in the past. When he began his fourth mandate in 2011, he said it would be his last, but he later backed down, stood again and was re-elected in May.

FIFA is expected to pick his replacement at an extraordinary congress in Zurich between December and February. . The exact date will be decided by an executive committee meeting on July 20.

Blatter’s renewed interest in the job was also a reason for the departure of Walter de Gregorio as FIFA’s director of communications, since he had argued for a completely new start and advised Blatter to go, the Swiss newspaper said.

De Gregorio declined to comment to the newspaper.

A dark day for Fifa after claims of arms deals for World Cup votes

The shockwaves from the corruption scandal that brought down Sepp Blatter continue to reverberate, with claims in Germany that the 2006 World Cup vote was influenced by a shipment of rocket-propelled grenades and allegations in Egypt that a Fifa executive solicited bribes during the 2010 bidding race.

As seven Fifa officials continued to fight extradition to the US over claims they were involved in a “World Cup of fraud”, Blatter’s right-hand man Jérôme Valcke remained at the centre of speculation over what he knew about a $10m payment to the disgraced former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner.

And pressure on the Football Association of Ireland also grew amid the fallout from its admission that it agreed a secret €5m (£3.6m) payment after threatening legal action in the wake of Thierry Henry’s handball that led to the goal that ended their chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

The FAI chief executive, John Delaney, said the payment was agreed after he confronted Blatter about Henry’s role in Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat. Fifa has claimed the payment was a loan towards the construction of a stadium that was later written off.

The Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, called on Delaney to provide more detail about the situation, after Delaney admitted receiving the payment in a radio interview on Thursday.

“This is quite extraordinary,” said Kenny.

“But I would say that any questions that need to be answered here in the interests of transparency and accountability … John Delaney should answer and will answer all of those questions, I’m quite sure.”

As it emerged that the Ireland players had no knowledge of the payment, amid calls for Delaney to explain why it was not revealed at the time, Kenny said he believed the FAI chief executive’s position remained “tenable”.

The FAI last night released a detailed statement and bank documents to prove it had acted properly, also arguing it had suffered reputational damage after Blatter made light of an earlier meeting at a press conference.

Elsewhere, the downfall of Blatter has sparked an avalanche of claims about major decisions taken by Fifa in recent years. The German newspaper

Die Zeit reported on Friday that the then chancellor Gerhard Shröder supplied arms to Saudi Arabia in return for support in Germany’s World Cup bid, in which it defeated South Africa 12-11 in the final round in controversial circumstances.

The claims alleged that the government lifted arms restrictions days before the vote in order to make the shipment and help swing Saudi Arabia’s vote to Germany.

The claims mean that the votes for the 1998, 2006, 2010, 2018 and 2022 tournaments are now under scrutiny in some way. Brazilian authorities and the FBI are also looking into the contracts signed in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup.

FBI sources have confirmed that it is investigating claims relating to all of those tournaments except 2006 and Egypt, one of the bidders for 2010, has now alleged that Warner – who has vigorously denied wrongdoing but was charged in the US indictment – asked for a $7m bribe.

“I did not imagine that Fifa was so corrupt,” the former Egypt sports minister Aley Eddine Helal told ONTV in Cairo. “Jack Warner demanded $7m before the voting. Egypt’s FA president El-Dahshori Harb met with the Fifa official in the United Arab Emirates and informed me that he wanted a $7m bribe.”Helal said he and other officials on the 2010 bid committee have been silent for the 11 years since losing because they did not have any proof to back “the suspicions we have always had about the disgraceful way we lost”.

Egypt failed to poll a single vote and the tournament was awarded to South Africa, which was desperate to clinch the right to host the World Cup after losing out so narrowly to Germany for 2006. New evidence has also emerged that appears to confirm that Danny Jordaan, the leader of the 2010 World Cup bid and organising committee, and the Fifa secretary general, Valcke, knew about a disputed $10m payment to Warner’s Concacaf confederation.

In a statement this week, Fifa insisted that neither Blatter nor Valcke initiated the payment but a letter quickly emerged that showed the Fifa general secretary was aware of the detail in 2008. A new leaked letter from Jordaan, dated December 2007, appears to be the first time he outlines the scheme to Valcke.

He suggests that the $10m, which the US alleges ended up in Warner’s Bank of America account, be deducted by Fifa from the monies owed to the World Cup organising committee and sent to Concacaf.

Fifa and the South African Football Federation have denied wrongdoing, claiming the payment was made in good faith to support the World Cup’s Diaspora Programme in the Caribbean. Valcke insisted this week he was “beyond reproach”.

Uefa’s president, Michel Platini, arrived in Zurich on Friday to consider his options a week after frustration at seeing his chosen challenger to Blatter, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, defeated turned to relief at seeing Blatter deposed.

All six global confederations are lying low, biding their time as they work out how to best calibrate their positions while Blatter attempts to cling on to power until promised elections between December and March.

The FBI investigation is ongoing and further indictments are expected to follow, while US investigators and Swiss prosecutors are looking into the 2018-22 bidding race.

David Gill, the Football Association vice-chairman, has ruled out standing for the Fifa presidency.

Switzerland Says FIFA’s Blatter Not Under Investigation

Activists with a mask of FIFA president Sepp Blatter are pictured in front of the Hallenstadion in Zurich where the world soccer body held its congress last week.

ZURICH—Swiss authorities said FIFA President Sepp Blatter isn’t a subject of their investigation into potential irregularities regarding World Cup hosting rights, even as U.S. officials aim to widen a parallel investigation of alleged corruption at world soccer’s governing body.

Mr. Blatter stunned the sports world Tuesday when he announced he would step down as head of FIFA amid mounting pressure following criminal charges announced last week against more than a dozen current and former officials of the sports body by U.S. authorities. Switzerland is conducting its own investigation, as well as supporting the U.S. probe.

The U.S. Justice Department didn’t name Mr. Blatter in its indictment of 14 individuals last week. The acting head of the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which is leading the case, said last week’s arrests at a Zurich hotel marked the “beginning” of the effort rather than the end.

In a statement Tuesday night, the Swiss attorney general’s office said it had “taken note” of Mr. Blatter’s resignation.

The “announced resignation will have no influence on the continuing criminal investigation” into potential irregularities related to how hosting rights were awarded to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the Swiss authorities said.

Mr. Blatter’s resignation is the latest development in a series of events that have shaken world soccer since a team of undercover police arrested FIFA officials in a dawn raid at a Zurich luxury hotel a week ago.

The arrests, coordinated with the U.S., came just ahead of FIFA’s annual congress at which Mr. Blatter was elected to a fifth term as president.

Swiss investigators are looking into suspected criminal mismanagement — a legal term for unjust enrichment — and money laundering related to the awarding of the World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The Swiss attorney general’s office opened the investigation in March after FIFA lodged a complaint in November.

The FIFA complaint highlighted suspected irregularities in the allocation of the two World Cups, global soccer’s biggest event. The centerpiece of the FIFA complaint is a FIFA-commissioned investigation carried out by Michael Garcia, a former U.S. prosecutor, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The attorney general’s office has already questioned 10 people who were members of FIFA’s executive committee in 2010, when the decisions were made. The 10 people, all of whom are non-Swiss residents, may be questioned again, along with others, the person said.

The Swiss investigators may also seek international legal assistance from other countries, including the U.S., as part of their investigation.

Whether the Swiss investigation will lead to criminal charges is an open question and the investigation will likely take several months, the person said.

Separately, Switzerland is also supporting a U.S. investigation into media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments held in the U.S. and Latin America.

Speaking at a hastily convened news conference Tuesday evening, Mr. Blatter said his decision to resign as FIFA’s president was motivated by his desire to do what was best for the organization and the sport.

“I cherish FIFA more than anything,” he said. “I want to do only what is best for FIFA and for football.”

The attorney general’s office, which had previously said it wasn’t seeking to question Mr. Blatter as part of its probe, said Mr. Blatter isn’t under investigation.

Sepp Blatter resigns as FIFA president amid bribery scandal

Blatter made the announcement at a hastily organised press conference this afternoon, saying he had made the decision after considering what was best for football

World football’s most powerful man will call a FIFA congress to vote on his replacement… just days after being re-elected

Sepp Blatter today stepped down from FIFA amid the corruption scandal that has rocked world football.

The Swiss revealed at a press conference in Zurich on Tuesday afternoon that he would call an extraordinary congress to vote in his replacement with a need for “profound restructuring” of FIFA.

Jerome Valcke (left) has a word in the ear of FIFA president Sepp Blatter in December 2014

“I have thoroughly considered my presidency and about the last 40 years in my life, these years were closely related to FIFA,” said Blatter.

“I only want to do the best for football. The elections are closed but the challenges we are facing have not.

“FIFA needs profound restructuring.

Közvetlen hivatkozás a képhez

“I will call an extraordinary congress … to elect a new president”

When the press conference had been abruptly called on Tuesday afternoon, the expectation was that general secretary Jerome Valcke may resign.

A key Blatter ally, Valcke had found himself under huge pressure to step down over his suspected of involvement in a US$10million payment central to the FBI’s bribery investigation.

Sepp Blatter to stand down as FIFA president

But after FIFA had finally denied his involvement on Tuesday morning, instead pinning the authorisation of such a payment on the now-deceased Argentine Julio Grondona , a letter has emerged – addressed to Mr Valcke – confirming the payment.

Valcke has previously told the New York Times that he had NOT authorised the payment and didn’t have the power to do so.

FIFA reacted to the letter insisting the finance committee made the final approval.

Közvetlen hivatkozás a képhez

A FIFA spokesperson said via email: “The letter is consistent to our statement where we underlined that the FIFA Finance Committee made the final approval.

“In general, the FIFA Secretary General is the recipient of all letters and requests to the administration and acts in accordance with FIFA’s regulations.

AFP PHOTO / VALERIANO DI DOMENICO

“We would like to reiterate that neither the Secretary General Jerome Valcke nor any other member of FIFA’s senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the Diaspora project.”

However, FIFA eventually decided that Valcke’s position had become untenable and he stepped down from his role.

Earlier on Tuesday, FIFA had said that Julio Grondona, the former finance chief of the organisation and a long-time ally of president Sepp Blatter, was the person who authorised a US $10million payment that is at the heart of the bribery scandal.

Chuck Blazer (centre) received $750,000 of a promised $1million from Jack Warner

Grondona, from Argentina, died last year aged 82 having been a FIFA executive member for 26 years, many of them as chairman of the finance committee. Blatter described him as “a lifelong friend” after his death.

Sepp Blatter’s Re-Election Rocked by Bomb Scare at FIFA Congress

Zurich vote FIFA
AFC members hold 47 of the 209 votes in the FIFA election

Sepp Blatter is calling for unity among FIFA’s 209 members as the world soccer body holds its annual Congress in Zurich.

Zurich: Swiss police are investigating a bomb threat at the FIFA congress, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

“I can confirm there has been a bomb threat against the FIFA congress, officers have been dispatched” the spokeswoman for the city police said.

Meanwhile, world soccer boss Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected on Friday, defying growing calls for him to step down in the face of corruption scandals engulfing the sport’s governing body.

Addressing FIFA delegates at the body’s annual Congress in Switzerland, where members will later vote to decide the organisation’s presidency, Blatter promised more transparency and urged members to remain unified.

He also said that FIFA would probably not be facing its present problems if Russia and Qatar had not been awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively.

“Today, I am appealing to unity and team spirit so we can move forward together,” he said, in a low key-address that contrasted with his more defiant reaction on Thursday.

Blatter also sought to distance himself from the scandal, the biggest crisis FIFA has faced in its 111-year history.

U.S. authorities have accused top FIFA figures and sports executives of corruption, while Switzerland is separately investigating the award of the next World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar.

The human toll of FIFA’s corruption

In the end, it only took a $150 million scandal to make Americans care about soccer. FIFA, the notoriously corrupt and yet seemingly invincible governing body of world soccer, has finally landed itself an indictment that some would say is worthy of its reputation.

The charges against a handful of senior FIFA officials include money laundering, racketeering, bribery and fraud. In short, the federal lawsuit alleges what millions of soccer fans have suspected all along: that FIFA officials have been using the organization’s massive influence to line their pocketbooks.

On the surface, it’s just another white collar crime story: rich, powerful men making themselves richer and more powerful. But a closer look suggests that there is a lot of real-world suffering happening as a direct result of FIFA’s decisions.

For the most obvious example of this, look to Qatar. The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to the rich Gulf state with a terrible human rights record was a controversial one right out of the gate. There have been extensiveallegations of bribery: why else, some figured, award the Cup to a tiny country with sweltering summer heat and no soccer culture to speak of?

A rendition of a planned World Cup stadium in Qatar. (AP Photo/Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)

Human rights advocates’ worst fears about Qatar seemed to be confirmed as Qatar began building the infrastructure to host the Cup, and reports of migrant worker deaths started to pile up. The numbers, to the extent that we know them, appear startling:

A Guardian investigation last year revealed that Nepalese migrant workers were dying at a rate of one every two days. In sum, the Guardian put the total Qatar death toll of workers from Nepal, India andBangladesh at 964 in 2012 and 2013.

It is hard to know how many of those are specifically World Cup associated. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come to Qatar each year, and there could be hundreds of deaths even without a World Cup — figures from the Indian embassy show, for instance, that 200+ Indian workers died in Qatar in 2010, before the World Cup announcement.

But the numbers could also be worse: a report by the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated 1,200 deaths so far, with up to 4,000 additional worker deaths by 2022.

In the chart below, I’ve compared those fatality numbers for Qatar with worker fatality estimates for other major international sporting events in recent years. Some of these numbers (like Sochi’s) are third-party estimates, others (like Beijing’s) are based on official numbers that are almost certainly an undercount.

And it’s tough to do an apples-to-apples comparison here, since the Qatar estimates include the deaths of all migrant workers after the announcement of Qatar’s successful bid in 2010, while other countries’ figures may only include deaths directly related to, say, stadium construction.

If current trends continue, the ITUC estimates that 4,000 workers will die in Qatar by the time the World Cup is actually held in 2022. Qatar officials have previously pledged to address worker safety concerns.

“We believe that the people helping us build our country deserve to be fairly paid, humanely treated and protected against exploitation,” the country’s labor ministry told the Guardian.

“That is why we are reforming our labour laws and practices.”

Still, it’s clear that Qatar has a troubled record when it comes to poor worker safety. Conditions for migrant workers there are so bad that the International Trade Union Confederation has called the state “a country without a conscience.”

Many of the abuses of migrant workers in Qatar and other Gulf countries are related to a governing system called “kafala,” which dictates how migrant workers may enter the country.

The system has been criticized for essentially placing workers under the complete control of their employers and leaving the door wide open for exploitation and abuse.

In the light of the new Justice Department investigation, Swiss authorities are announcing a new inquiry into the process that gave Qatar the cup in 2010. If FIFA board members did indeed accept bribes from Qatar to let it host the 2022 cup, it would show how backroom corruption can have real human consequences.

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