Sepp Blatter asked to intervene over player stranded in Qatar

As FIFA president Sepp Blatter completes his hand pressing jaunt to Qatar, he has been asked to intervene in the case of French footballer Zahir Belounis, who says he is being prevented from leaving Qatar in a contractual dispute with a local club.

The international players union FIFPro has been promoting Belounis’ cause and has written to Blatter saying that it remains “deeply concerned about his precarious situation”.

It said Belounis, 33, is stranded in Qatar, with his wife and two daughters, and being denied an exit visa until he agrees to drop a legal case against his former club, Al-Jaish, over his claim of almost two years unpaid wages.

Blatter, who promised to discuss the issue of workers rights on his trip to the 2022 World Cup hosts, has been uncharacteristically quiet over the case of Belounis.

In a personal letter to Blatter, FIFPro Secretary General, Theo van Seggelen, said: “FIFPro insists that Belounis be allowed to leave Qatar and receive his wages immediately.”

At the very least, Van Seggelen added, he should be freed, able to play for a new club and be guaranteed that he can claim his unpaid salary in a case before FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC).

According to FIFPro, the Belounis case is a violation of basic human rights.

It said Belounis joined Qatari side Al-Jaish in 2007. He later extended his contract until June 2015 but from November 2011 the club stopped paying his salary.

The club, it said, then put him under pressure to terminate his contract and sign a document confirming he was owed nothing by Al-Jaish.

Belounis refused, concerned his signature would invalidate any claim.

The kafala system mean that all expatriate workers in Qatar and some visitors require someone to sponsor their entry and exit from the country.

In some cases when a dispute arises between an worker and employer, the exit visa can be difficult to get hold of, or, in the case of Belounis, impossible.

There used to be a word for that kind of thing: slavery. But, no doubt in modern day Qatar, we will have to accept it as a cultural difference.

FIFA to World Cup fly samples to Switzerland

FIFA will fly blood and urine samples taken at the 2014 World Cup to an accredited laboratory in Switzerland.

Brazil, which hosts the World Cup next summer and the Olympic Games two years later, does not have a working anti-doping laboratory.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised: with stadiums unfinished, airports resembling building sites and roads awaiting completion, the prospect of the country having a fully functioning, FIFA-approved anti-doping laboratory always looked a long shot.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revoked the status of the current lab in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year.

As the lab cannot be re-accredited in time for next summer, samples will be flown to Lausanne.

FIFA said in a statement: “For next year’s World Cup, FIFA and WADA will ensure the best possible analysis of urine and blood samples and the proper implementation of the new strategy in the fight against doping by means of the steroid module of the athlete biological passport.

“FIFA is now taking the necessary logistical steps for the shipment of samples overseas.”

Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, wrote on Twitter:  “FIFA anti-doping decision wasn’t our first choice. Together with @wada_ama we had no other alternative to protect integity of #WorldCup.”

Last month, FIFA’s chief medical officer Michel D’Hooghe said it was “nearly impossible to believe” that Brazil, which also hosts the Olympic Games in 2016, does not have a facility to carry out testing.

Judging by his incredulity, D’Hooghe has clearly not been paying much attention to Brazil’s preparations for the the World Cup.

He added that sending samples to Europe would increase costs significantly and would also delay the whole testing process.

Last year FIFA said it would spend $20 million making the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the first with a comprehensive sustainability strategy to minimise the tournament’s carbon footprint.

It’s unclear how daily flights to Switzerland ferrying urine samples square with that strategy. However, given the way they operate, it would not be unreasonable to assume that FIFA’s original pledge was just the latest example of them extracting the urine in an altogether different sense.

Quote of the Day

“He is God, the best there is and he always will be, for what he has given to this team and what he has made me experience as his teammate. For me, Barca will always depend on him because he is the best in the world.”

Victor Valdes gets a little carried away with his enthusiasm for Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi.

Alexis Sanchez states the obvious

Chile forward Alexis Sanchez has criticised the football culture in England and suggested Roy Hodgson’s side have no chance of glory in next year’s World Cup.

Sanchez was paraded in front of the assembled media ahead of England’s friendly against Chile at Wembley on Friday evening.

The Barcelona forward compared his own rise to the top of the football tree from humble beginnings in Chile, with those of his pampered English counterparts.

“We are a tougher team than England,” he said. “The problem for teams like England is that everything is so easy for them. They join these academies at maybe 10 or 11 years old and everything is done for them.

“I used to wash cars for such little money just so I had enough money to buy my football boots. When you are at academies like Manchester United and Arsenal then everything is just given to you.

“If I had failed I would be working 15-hour days on construction sites and still not be earning enough to live. Football saved me, and I don’t think any England players could say that.”

Are young English players pampered? Possibly. But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have to earn a living outside of the game, if they had failed to make the grade.

The 24-year-old also cast doubt on England’s hopes of victory in next year’s World Cup in Brazil.

“I don’t think England can win the World Cup,” he said. “They have some very good players but are probably not at the level where they can beat the best.

“It will be very hard for any team outside of South America to win in Brazil, but if two teams have a chance then it is Spain and Germany. Their teams are exceptional.

“We have to believe that Chile has a chance. It is not a home tournament but we must take advantage of it being in South America. We will not have to adjust to the conditions as much as other nations.”

FIFA rules out April-May World Cup in Qatar

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke says April and May are too hot in Qatar to play the tournament there.

”Let’s not lose time on this. April-May is not an option because of the temperature,” Valcke said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Valcke is leading FIFA’s consultation to come up with possible alternative months to play after president Sepp Blatter rejected the traditional June-July World Cup period because of Qatar’s searing desert heat.

Blatter has suggested a November start, though spring is supported by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the influential European Club Association.

Qatar hosted the Under-20 World Cup for FIFA in April 1995, and its 2022 organizing committee insists it can host in mid-summer in air-conditioned stadiums.

However, FIFA’s own research into expected temperatures in Qatar seems set to rule out a World Cup in May.

”The climate studies for April and May are quite similar” to June and July, Valcke said. ”The best option is between mid-November and mid-January.”

This year, temperatures recorded in Doha topped 105 on May 11, while April daytime peaks ranged from 79 to 100.

Though Qatar staged the 2011 Asian Cup from January 7-29, Blatter has removed the January 2022 option as it would clash with the Winter Olympics scheduled that February.

In effect, that leaves November-December as the only viable option, and with it, huge disruption to the European domestic seasons.

The battle, when it finally commences, promises to be messy.

New Zealand get their excuses in early

The New Zealand national side have just arrived in Mexico ahead of the first leg of their World Cup play-off, and the press back home have accused their hosts of waging “psychological warfare” on the Kiwis..

The New Zealand Herald noted that the “crafty” Mexican Football Federation  published details of the All Whites’ arrival times and accommodation details so, despite wanting to keep their entrance as low-key as possible, the team were overwhelmed by fans and press as soon as they arrived in Mexico City.

The Herald  stated: “The Mexican Federation contacted every media organisation in the country yesterday, as well as fan websites, forums and supporter networks, informing them of the All Whites exact time of arrival and airline.”

And that’s not all.

Several New Zealand newspapers are complaining that Mexico have undermined the underdogs’ morale by refusing to let them wear their all-white home kit for the game on Thursday evening.

Mexico play in white shorts and white socks meaning that, by FIFA’s decree, New Zealand are going to have to wear their change strip.

The problem with the away kit is that it is all black, which the press fear will make their players overheat in the stifling atmosphere inside the Estadio Azteca.

There’s a good background piece to Mexico’s current predicament in today’s Guardian. It explains why the Central American outfit have gone through four coaches in their last five matches and how for a nation that has qualified for every World Cup since 1982*, failure to do so this time around is unthinkable.

*Mexico did not participate in the 1990 World Cup as they were thrown out of the competition for fielding overage players in a youth tournament.