Copa América Final Offers Chile a Chance at Redemption

July 3, 2015

by AQ Online

When Chile takes the field against Argentina in this Saturday's final of the Copa América football competition, they can do more than just win. They can redeem a "golden generation" that went before them, and make good on decades of missed opportunity.

It was a 1989 World Cup qualifying match in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium and things were not looking good for Chile. Down 1-0 to Brazil, the team known as La Roja had to win in order to qualify for the World Cup set to take place the following year.

“The game was slipping away,” Chile’s goalkeeper Roberto “Condor” Rojas told The New York Times four years later. “I was waiting for the right opportunity.”

With 20 minutes left to play, Rojas spotted his chance, and what followed would change Chilean soccer for a generation.

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Tags: Chile, copa america, FIFA

Is Brazil’s World Cup Next on the List?

May 29, 2015

by Flora Charner

The U.S. Justice Department accused more than a dozen people this week of being involved in a massive FIFA corruption scandal that spanned more than two decades. Several high-level officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel Wednesday, including former Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation—CBF) President José Maria Marin.

“Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives’ pockets with bribes,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference Wednesday in New York. “These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games; where the games would be held; and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”

Marin, who led the jogo bonito’s governing body from March 2012 to April 2015, is facing charges of corruption, racketeering and bribery. According to the indictment, Marin split an $110 million kickback with four others in order to help Uruguayan company Datisa secure global distribution rights for next month’s Copa América and the four future editions of the tournament, including the special centennial cup to be held in the U.S. next year. He also allegedly requested bribe payments from Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic for distribution rights of the country’s Copa do Brasil.

Others arrested Wednesday were accused of taking bribes to influence the winning bids of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup, with the latter’s  selection facing scrutiny for its poor human rights record.  Most of these transactions were done using U.S. bank accounts, which triggered the alarm of American authorities in the FBI, IRS and DOJ.

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Tags: FIFA, FIFA corruption, Brazil, World Cup

FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges

May 28, 2015

by AQ Online

Swiss authorities arrested fourteen people—including a number of top FIFA officials—in Zurich on Wednesday on corruption charges involving the international soccer governing association. Twelve of those arrested are from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The U.S. Justice Department in New York issued the charges, which included accusations of money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering. Those indicted—including Jeffrey Webb, who is president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONACAF)—have been accused of receiving bribes totaling more than $150 million over the past 20 years to determine where matches would be held and who would televise games, among other decisions. All FIFA officials arrested in Zurich are resisting extradition to the United States.

Following the arrests, a second, separate investigation was opened by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups scheduled to take place in Russia and Qatar.

Latin American football fans and soccer stars like Argentina’s Diego Maradona and Brazil’s Romario have publicly welcomed the corruption charges. While the arrests could potentially affect the Copa América tournament in Latin America, set to begin on June 11 in Chile, so far the tournament is set to continue.

President of FIFA Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election to a fifth term on Friday and has resisted calls to step down, was not among those charged. FIFA issued a statement supporting the investigation and “welcoming actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.”

Read more about FIFA in Americas Quarterly Hard Talk: Does FIFA’s corruption hurt the beautiful game?

Tags: Soccer, FIFA, corruption

Eleven Arrested in World Cup Ticket Scalping Operation

July 3, 2014

by AQ Online

Police dismantled a World Cup ticket scalping operation with the arrest of 11 individuals in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in a raid Tuesday night. After a three-month investigation, twenty search warrants were granted and police raided a mansion in Santa Mônica, Barra da Tijuca, seizing close to $10,000 reais and 100 World Cup tickets that were originally meant for NGOs, sponsors and national delegations, as well as computers, cell phones and documents used in the operation.

Among those arrested was the suspected leader of the operation, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, an Algerian national, naturalized French citizen who former played second division soccer in Canada. Fofana allegedly sold the tickets to tourist agencies at elevated prices through an organization called Atlanta Sportif with branches in Atlanta and Dubai. While legitimate tickets to the final match at Maracanã stadium were selling for $440 to $900, Fofana’s agency was selling them for up to $35,000. According to the police investigator, Fábio Barucke, those arrested in the raid confessed to participating in illegal ticket sales for the past four World Cups and have made close to $200 million reais per tournament, and $1 million reais per game.

The organization's relationship with FIFA is also under investigation as Fofana had a special sticker giving him access to FIFA-restricted areas during the tournament, and calls were also traced from Fofana to FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. “We have reason to believe that a member of FIFA was involved with the group,” said Inspector Barucke.

The individuals detained have been charged with money laundering, illegal money changing and organized crime, which carry a maximum of 18 years in prison if convicted.

Tags: World Cup, Mohamadou Lamine Fofana, FIFA

Uruguay’s Suárez Faces Possible Suspension for Bite

June 25, 2014

by AQ Online

FIFA announced early Wednesday that it is launching an investigation to determine whether Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez bit an opposing player during Uruguay’s World Cup match against Italy on Tuesday. FIFA has given the Uruguayan national team until tomorrow afternoon to present evidence, and announced that it would issue a ruling before Uruguay plays Colombia in the Round of 16 on Saturday. Suárez could face a ban from international competition for up to 24 matches, or two years.

In the 80th minute of yesterday’s group stage match, Suárez got tangled up with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and appears to have bitten Chiellini in the shoulder before both players fell to the ground. No foul was called at the time, and Uruguay went on to win 1-0, sending the team through to the knockout stage of the Cup and eliminating Italy.

"These are things that happen on the pitch, we were both in the area, he thrust his shoulder into me," Suárez said in his defense in a press conference after the match. Chiellini said the no-call was “ridiculous” and insisted that he had teeth marks to prove the bite.

Suárez is no stranger to controversy on the field. In 2013, he was banned from 10 matches for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and in 2010, he served a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal. He also was banned from eight matches and fined $68,000 for using racial slurs against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. But Suárez is perhaps best known for purposefully using his hands to prevent a Ghana goal in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, for which he received a red card.

Tags: Luis Suarez, World Cup, FIFA

Qatar Denies Bribery over World Cup Bid

March 19, 2014

by AQ Online

Qatar’s World Cup 2022 Bid Committee said on Tuesday that it was not aware of alleged bribes paid by the former head of the country’s football association, Mohamed Bin Hammam, to former FIFA Executive Committee member Jack Warner. The statement comes as a response to a March report in the London-based Daily Telegraph that claimed that a company owned by Bin Hamman paid Warner $1.2 million for his vote as a member of the bid selection  committee.

Qatar's organizing committee said in a statement that "The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA's bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics," and that it was unaware of “any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals.”

Months after the December 2010 vote that granted hosting duties to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively, FIFA President Sepp Blatter admitted that the governing body had made a “bad mistake” in the bidding process, and suspended two FIFA Executive Committee members—Oceania representative Reynald Temarii and African executive committee member Amos Adamu—due to bribery allegations.

Bin Hammam later ran against Blatter in the 2011 election for FIFA president, but days before the vote, Bin Hammam was accused of bribing Caribbean FIFA officials to vote for him in a plot allegedly involving Warner. As a result, Blatter ran unopposed and was elected to a fourth presidential term, while Bin Hammam was banned for life from FIFA activities and Warner resigned from the executive committee and as president of CONCACAF, the North American football governing body.

Qatar will become the smallest nation to host the tournament, though its bid has drawn criticism from human rights groups, as 1,200 Indian and Nepalese migrant laborers have died in recent months due to substandard work conditions.

Read a debate in Americas Quarterly about whether FIFA’s corruption has hurt the beautiful game.

Tags: FIFA, Word Cup 2022

World Cup Tickets Close to Being Sold Out

March 13, 2014

by AQ Online

Two-thirds of the 345,000 remaining World Cup tickets were sold within three hours of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s final sales phase on Wednesday.

Tickets were made available for 60 of the 64 World Cup matches set to take place in June and July. The fastest selling tickets were to Brazil matches, followed by games for England, Germany, and the United States. Countries with the most purchases were Brazil (143,085), the United States (16,059), Australia (5,357), Colombia (4,574), and Argentina (3,800). Due to the influx of online customers, fans had to wait almost an hour in some cases to place their virtual purchases. Ticket sales will close on April 1 and a final round of last-minute ticket sales will open on April 15.

Prior to the final sales phase, 2.3 million of the total 3.3 million tickets had already been sold and distributed, including all tickets to the opening and closing matches in São Paulo and at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, as well as the semifinals.

Brazil passed the 100 days to the World Cup mark last Monday and currently is still awaiting final construction on three of its stadiums. The ninth World Cup stadium, Arena da Amazônia, was inaugurated on Sunday, leaving Itaquerão, the Arena Pantanal, and the Arena da Baixada stadiums in São Paulo, Cuiabá and Curitiba, respectively, to be finished.

Tags: World Cup, Brazil, FIFA

Curitiba Narrowly Hangs on to World Cup Host Claim

February 19, 2014

by AQ Online

Curitiba, Brazil narrowly avoided losing its spot as a 2014 World Cup venue city on Tuesday, after the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) threatened to exclude the city from the tournament. The news comes one month after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that the delays in construction of Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada amounted to a “emergency situation.”

With less than four months before Iran and Nigeria play the first group stage match in Curitiba on June 16, organizers have imported hundreds of extra workers to complete the 43,000-capacity stadium. After speaking with representatives the city of Curitiba, its local football club Atlético Paranaense, and the State of Paraná, Valcke confirmed yesterday that the stadium will be ready for the tournament, calling the Curitiba "a special city in terms of sustainability and passion for football” and confirming that it will remain part of the FIFA World Cup lineup.

However, Valcke made clear that the remaining construction must continue at the “highest pace,” and that the process will require “regular monitoring.”

Of the six stadiums that missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA, Curitiba’s was the furthest behind schedule. Construction still has to be completed on four other stadiums, including the Arena de São Paulo, which will host the World Cup opener on June 12, even though the stadium is not expected to be finished until April.

In addition to the June 16 match, the Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host four group stage matches, including Honduras vs. Ecuador (June 20), Australia vs. Spain (June 23) and Algeria vs. Russia (June 26).

Tags: World Cup, Curitiba, FIFA

FIFA Threatens Curitiba Over World Cup Readiness

January 22, 2014

by AQ Online

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) warned officials in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday that it could be excluded as a host site of the 2014 World Cup if preparations remain behind schedule.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that renovation of the 43,000-capacity Arena da Baixada stadium is so far behind schedule that it represents an “emergency situation.” FIFA will decide on February 18 whether to keep Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, as a host city. The Paraná state government and FIFA have pledged to invest an extra $17 million in the renovations to speed up progress.

Curitiba’s stadium is one of six venues in Brazil that missed FIFA’s December 31 deadline for completion and are still not tournament-ready. Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host its first World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, as well as Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, and Algeria vs. Russia.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended the country’s preparedness for the World Cup earlier this month, saying via Twitter, “We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups.” President Rousseff was responding to an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter published by the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.

Tags: Brazil, 2014 World Cup, FIFA, Curitiba

Rio’s Maracanã Stadium Reopens to Tourists

October 15, 2013

by AQ Online

The Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho in Rio de Janeiro—better known as the Maracanã—reopens its doors to tourists today, almost three years after it was closed for renovations. Visitors can now take a guided tour of the historic stadium where nearly 200,000 people watched Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup Final—the largest crowd ever to attend a sporting event. The stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 World Cup, as well as the final match scheduled for July 13.

According to historian and lead tour guide Bruno Lucena, “it took too long to reopen the stadium for tourists. A place as important for soccer history as Maracanã should always be open to the public.” The tour includes a visit to the honor tribune, the press box, the locker rooms and VIP areas and costs between 15 reais ($7) and 30 reais ($14). Maracanã reopened for play in April 2013 with a “legends” match featuring Brazilian greats like Ronaldo and Bebeto, and hosted the Confederations Cup in June when Brazil won with a 3-0 victory over Spain. The stadium’s reopening followed controversy over delays, costs and the future privatization of the site as well as threats to close the venue amid fears that it does not meet minimum safety standards.

Other Brazilian World Cup stadiums are far from being complete. Five venues are currently facing construction delays: Manaus, Curitiba, Cuiaba, Porto Alegre and Natal. According to Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, “We cannot keep on the same rhythm or we will not deliver them on time” for FIFA’s December deadline.

Tags: Brazil, Maracana Stadium, FIFA, 2014 World Cup