Sepp Blatter meets Pope Francis

Blatter took time out of his busy schedule to squeeze in a visit to Pope Francis in Rome along with members of the Italian and Argentine rugby teams.

Blatter said he responded to the pope’s request for FIFA to help the favelas of Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 World Cup, with a promise to ‘do what we can.’

That’ll be nothing then.

Francis, a longtime member of the San Lorenzo club in Buenos Aires, now has another football shirt to add to his collection.

“We spoke the same language and it was language of football,” Blatter said. “It was really a meeting between two sportsmen and two football fans.”

And, it should be added, a meeting between two men who  have absolute authority over their respective flocks.

“We have 1.2 billion people and (the pope) said, ‘I have no more than 1 billion,”’ Blatter said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, perhaps humbled by his encounter with God’s representative on earth Blatter also chose the occasion to speak out against the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar.

“We deplore what happened there,” Blatter said, whilst also noting that the responsibility for the workers’ fate lies not with FIFA, but with the major European companies building Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure.

“The big companies working there, they are all European,” Blatter said. “The constructor is also responsible for his workers.”

“It was political pressure from European countries to bring this World Cup to Qatar because there was so many economic interests.

“Two of these countries that made pressure on the voting men in FIFA were France and Germany. This is established. This is not new information.

“It’s easy to say all the responsibility lies on FIFA. No, we are part of this responsibility. We are now monitoring the situation and we will come back to it.”

Footballer charged over homophobic gesture

Colin Kazim-Richards has been accused of making a homophobic gesture to Brighton fans during a Championship match is to face trial.

The Turkish international, 26, is accused of making the gesture while playing for Blackburn Rovers at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium on 12 February.

The player, who currently plays for Turkish side Bursaspor, has previously denied a charge made under the Public Order Act.

His trial has been set for 14 and 15 January at Brighton Magistrates Court.

Kazim-Richards previously played for Brighton and Hove Albion until 2006 before moving to Sheffield United.

The footballer was absent from the pre-trial review hearing at Brighton Magistrates Court yesterday.

Mr Kazim Richards played 43 times for Brighton and Hove Albion between 2005/06.

Officers investigating the complaints against Kazim-Richards contacted Lancashire Police, Brighton and Hove Albion and Blackburn FC for assistance in February.

Croatia punishes Simunic for Nazi chant

Croatian public prosecutors have fined international Josip Simunic 25,000 kuna (£2700) for pro-Nazi chants he shouted following Tuesday’s World Cup play-off victory over Iceland.

At the end of the 2-0 win, Australia-born Simunic took the microphone at Maksimir Stadium, turned to the stands and shouted “for the Homeland”, to which members of the crowd replied “Ready”.

The chant is widely associated with Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime, which ruled in 1941-45 and brutally persecuted Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats.

In a statement on its website, prosecutors of the Zagreb county court said Simunic was found guilty of public disturbance and inciting ethnic hatred.

“He was aware that it symbolizes the official salute from the time of Croatia’s totalitarian regime and as such represents a racist ideology,” the statement said.

Simunic claimed, somewhat unconvincingly, that his chant had been misinterpreted.

“As a Croatian who was born and grew up outside my homeland, I associate home with love, warmth and positive struggle – everything we showed on the pitch to win our place in the World Cup,” he said.

The Jutarnji List newspaper quoted an official of FARE (Football against Racism in Europe) as saying Simunic was likely to be suspended for several games.

Local media also reported FIFA was looking into official match and FARE reports before ruling on Simunic.

Goal of the Day

Good work down the left followed by an emphatic finish into the roof of the net from Santiago Silva, sets Lanus on the way to a 2-1 win over Libertad.

Quote of the Day

“I was like a little kid. I was injured, so it was a few more days before I had the chance to train with him. And I was getting really excited. A great player’s coming and one you know you’re going to fit with, enjoy playing with. I was a fan, looking forward to it.”

Santi Cazorla was like a kid at Christmas when he heard that Mesut Ozil might be joining Arsenal.

Portugal complain about ‘flawed’ Ballon d’Or process

FIFA’s Ballon d’Or concept has been labelled “flawed” by Portuguese football federation president Fernando Gomes, following the decision to extend its voting deadline.

Coaches, team captains and journalists will have until 29th November to put in their votes for the award, with the window reopened after its initial 15th November deadline.

Some observers have sensed a conspiracy afoot, although FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke denied any suggestions of manipulation.

Valcke insists the extension came after a low number of votes were cast, something that is precisely the problem according to Gomes.

“The whole process of the voting for the Ballon d’Or is not transparent”, Gomes told RTP.

”The extension of the deadline because of a poor number of votes is a sign that the people are beginning to discredit a process that is flawed from the outset.

“Hence, they are refraining from participating.”

Valcke claimed it was to enhance the credibility of the FIFA Ballon d’Or award that more votes were sought via the extension.

“We have always said that we wanted to get 75% of votes”, Valcke said. “The Ballon d’Or should have a credible opinion. Last year we had over 80% of voters.”

Whether FIFA have devalued the award or whether the hype surrounding it  has rendered it farcical, is hard to say. One things’s for sure though, the annual award, when it was organised by France Football magazine, never attracted this kind of controversy.