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Author Archive for David Conn

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PSG chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi accused of World Cup bribery by Swiss prosecutor

• Swiss attorney general also opens proceedings against Jérôme Valcke
• Investigation relates to World Cup media rights for 2026 and 2030

The chairman of Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain and the sports broadcaster beIN, Nasser al-Khelaifi, has been accused in Switzerland of criminally bribing the former Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, to buy World Cup TV rights. Khelaifi, now one of the most powerful figures in European and world football, has been implicated in the Fifa corruption scandals for the first time, accused of bribing Valcke in connection with the award of TV rights for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments, whose hosts have not even been decided yet .

In an explosive announcement which revealed a new dimension to the in-depth criminal investigations into alleged corruption at football’s world governing body, the Swiss attorney general’s office (OAG) said it also opened a criminal proceeding against Valcke himself. An unnamed figure in the sports rights business is also accused of having bribed Valcke in connection with the award of media rights for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 2022 in Qatar, and the 2026 and 2030 tournaments.

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Despite what football clubs say, the support for rejected boys is not there | David Conn

Football club academies are taking in boys as young as five but ‘just throw them on the scrapheap’ further down the line according to one parent
Tell us about your experience of football academies

The response from football people to the Guardian’s report about the industrialised disappointment delivered to young people by the game’s “academy” system has been dispiriting and alarming. Both the Premier League and Football League, whose clubs have 12,000 boys in intensive training from the age of eight, many more in “development centres” from – preposterously – the age of five, pride themselves on providing a “holistic” experience for the children. Undoubtedly the “elite player performance plan” (EPPP) does incorporate child protection procedures, welfare provision and sophisticated coaching policies, and there are many dedicated staff who care and do their best.

Related: ‘Football’s biggest issue’: the struggle facing boys rejected by academies

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Howard Wilkinson calls for review and overhaul of academy system he designed

• Wilkinson says clubs failing in their ’moral responsibility’ to young players
• Guardian report highlighted mental health problems of academy players

Howard Wilkinson, the architect of English football’s modern youth development programme, has called for the system to be reviewed and overhauled, accusing the top clubs of failing in their “moral responsibility” to give young players opportunities. Wilkinson, who as the Football Association’s technical director in 1997 designed the current system, in which 12,000 boys are being trained by clubs from the age of eight, said he recognises that the very high “release” rate causes mental health difficulties to some, which can endure for years.

“What is needed is a serious reasoned review and a commitment from the whole game to commit to the implementation of recommendations which are designed to give these boys a morally deserved crack of the whip,” Wilkinson said. “Change has to come from the top.”

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Kick It Out received more football abuse reports in 2016-17 than ever before

• Total of 469 reports is 16.7% higher than figure for previous year
• Racist, sexist and other forms of abuse at all levels of football included

Kick It Out, football’s anti-discrimination campaign,received more reports of racism, sexism and other forms of abuse in 2016-17 than any previous season in which numbers have been collected. Issuing the details for incidents reported at all levels of the game last season, Kick It Out said it received 469 reports, an increase of 16.7% on the 402 reported in 2015-16.

Complaints of discriminatory behaviour were made by people attending Premier League, Football League and Women’s Super League matches, as well as reported incidents at non-league and grassroots football, although the campaign believes most grassroots abuse goes unreported. The total, a record since the organisation began to act as a reporting vehicle in 2012-13, also included some complaints about discriminatory posts on social media.

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‘Football’s biggest issue’: the struggle facing boys rejected by academies

Thousands of players wash through the system every year, their dreams of a professional career shattered. Are clubs doing enough to look after them?

In March 2013 a young man killed himself after suffering years of mental health difficulties following his release by a Premier League football club’s academy at the age of 16. The summing up by the coroner who presided over the inquest into his death could hardly have been a stronger or more salutary warning about the potential dangers of English football’s youth development system.

Relentlessly ambitious and commercialised professional clubs recruit thousands of boys into intensive, four‑times‑a‑week training from the age of eight, in numbers still broadly based on those first sanctioned by the Football Association’s “Charter for Quality” 20 years ago this month. Hundreds of these boys are released each year, as the clubs narrow their focus on who might have a faint chance of making a career in professional football and becoming a valuable financial asset. Despite the huge numbers housed in this system, currently 12,000 boys, the chinks of first-team opportunities have diminished every year since 1997. In each transfer window, most Premier League clubs overlook their young graduates and instead spend multimillions of pounds on fully formed overseas stars.

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Premier League clubs block big six’s bid for bigger share of TV cash

• Proposal would see end to equal sharing of money from international rights
• Eleven of 14 ‘smaller’ clubs oppose plan presented by Richard Scudamore

The Premier League’s six richest clubs are facing stubborn resistance against their efforts to seek a greater share of income from the next round of multibillion‑pound TV deals.

In a plan believed by the 14 other clubs to be supported by Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, the Premier League is proposing to end the system by which money from international TV rights sales is shared equally by all 20. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chairman, is understood to have presented a proposal to a meeting of the other 14 clubs held at the Pullman Hotel in London on Wednesday, for 35% of the next international TV money to be distributed according to “merit” – where clubs finish in the league.

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Thousands of Qatar World Cup workers ‘subject to life-threatening heat’

• Human Rights Watch says hundreds of workers dying every year
• Statutory work breaks in summer midday hours not sufficient

Many thousands of migrant workers on construction sites in Qatar, including those building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, are being subjected to potentially life-threatening heat and humidity, according to new research on the extreme summer conditions in the Gulf. Hundreds of workers are dying every year, the campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a strong statement, but they claim that the Qatar authorities have refused to make necessary information public or adequately investigate the deaths, which could be caused by labouring in the region’s fierce climate.

HRW argues that millions of workers are in jeopardy, including those in the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – because statutory work breaks imposed during summer midday hours do not protect them sufficiently. An analysis of the weather in Doha last summer has also shown that workers on World Cup construction projects were in danger, despite the more advanced system used by the tournament organiser, Humidex, which measures safety levels of heat and humidity.

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Amazon and Facebook keen on Premier League rights, say Manchester United

• Tech companies’ interest will escalate financial boom for top clubs
• Ed Woodward announces record income made by United

The internet giants Amazon and Facebook are likely to bid for Premier League football streaming rights, which will further escalate the huge financial boom for England’s top clubs, the Manchester United vice-chairman has said.

In his quarterly call with bank executives who invest in United’s shares on the New York stock exchange, Ed Woodward said the technology companies were very interested in the last round of rights deals for 2016-19, which the Premier League sold primarily to BSkyB and BT for £8.4bn.

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Fifa president Gianni Infantino accused of bad governance by former employee

• Navi Pillay stepped down over ‘improper interference’
• Commons select committee hears complaints over Fifa leadership

The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, and secretary general, Fatma Samoura, were accused of “violating the norms and standards of good conduct” by a governance committee member who resigned, alleging they had improperly interfered with a decision.

Navi Pillay, a renowned International Criminal Court judge and former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, accused Infantino and Samoura of “undue influence” in her letter of resignation from the governance committee after its chairman Miguel Maduro was replaced without notice in May. Maduro told the House of Commons select committee for culture, media and sport on Wednesday that Infantino and Samoura had interfered and pressured him to change a decision to bar the Russian deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, from standing for the Fifa council.

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Fifa’s Gianni Infantino accused of interfering with governance committee decisions

• President was against banning Russia’s Vitaly Mutko from the Fifa council
• Accusations made by sacked governance committee chairman Miguel Maduro

Gianni Infantino attempted to interfere with an independent decision to bar Russia’s deputy prime minister from the Fifa council because he feared for his own survival as the president of world football, the ousted chair of the organisation’s governance committee has claimed.

Miguel Maduro, sacked as Fifa’s governance committee chair in May after only eight months, said that Fatma Samoura, Fifa’s secretary-general, had argued with him that barring Vitaly Mutko from the council could jeopardise next year’s World Cup in Russia and Infantino’s own presidency.

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Supporters Direct lobbies for tougher ‘fit and proper people test’ for owners

• National fan roadshow kicks off on Tuesday in Blackpool
• Proposals a reaction to matters at Leyton Orient, Coventry and Blackpool

The Football Association should introduce a rule requiring owners of clubs to comply with “basic standards of good stewardship” or face a range of sanctions including fines or ultimately a ban, according to proposals by the campaigning organisation Supporters Direct.

Under the proposal, contained in detailed recommendations to be presented at a series of national fan events starting on Tuesday in Blackpool, owners would have a duty “to safeguard and protect the identity and existence of their club and to promote good relations, and a positive contribution, to the local community”.

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Uefa opens formal FFP investigation into PSG’s transfer activity

• Governing body will focus on PSG’s compliance with break-even requirement
• Neymar and Kylian Mbappé have moved to French capital this summer

Uefa has announced a formal investigation into the multi-million pound transfer window spending of Paris Saint- Germain, and whether it has complied with financial fair play (FFP) rules requiring clubs to break even.

The decision to investigate now, rather than wait for the normal retrospective look at clubs’ financial years which begins in March, follows widespread concern and complaints from Barcelona, Real Madrid and the Spanish league president Javier Tebas, that PSG are flouting the rules. The £198m signing of the Brazilian striker Neymar from Barcelona last month was by far the most paid for any footballer ever, and PSG followed that this week with a complicated £167m signing of the 18-year-old forward from Monaco, Kylian Mbappé.

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Paris St-Germain signing of Kylian Mbappé looks like defiance of Uefa

Having spent a world transfer record £198m for Neymar, PSG have bought the young Frenchman for £167m, raising questions about the club and financial fair play

Where do Paris Saint-Germain’s signings of Kylian Mbappé and Neymar put them in this summer’s scale of transfer spending?

The signings by English Premier League clubs with the bounty from their 2016-19 £8.4bn TV deals are enormous by historic standards, but even their extravagance is being vastly exceeded by PSG. Manchester City’s £50m to sign Kyle Walker can be seen as a measure of inflated Premier League values, while Manchester United’s initial £75m for Romelu Lukaku remains currently the most paid for a player from a Premier League club. That was exceeded by £123m in the staggering £198m PSG paid to sign Neymar, and now by almost £100m with the £167m pledged for Mbappé, 18, who sat on the bench against Marseille on Sunday and has started only 20 league games.

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Why Girona? Manchester City’s deal with Pep Guardiola’s brother raises questions | David Conn

Of all the football deals in all the world, what attracted Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owner and executives to go into business with their manager Pep Guardiola’s brother and agent?

Manchester City’s purchase of the La Liga club Girona last week combined a billionaire’s swagger with an uneasy impression of keeping business in the family. The unprecedented deal presents a dizzying clutch of questions, the most glaring one concerning the partnership with the agent Pere Guardiola in the joint 88% acquisition of another club. Of all the football deals in all the world, what attracted Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owner and executives to go into business with their manager Pep Guardiola’s brother and agent?

Inquiries of the Football Association, which has detailed regulations seeking to prevent agents, managers and clubs working incestuously together and having conflicts of interest, produces the answer that no rules have been broken. Pere Guardiola, agent to Luis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta and many other mostly Spanish players including two at City, is a registered intermediary (the new term for agent) with the English and Spanish FA.

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Southampton welcome new Chinese owners but how much will they invest? | David Conn

Katharina Liebherr believes Jisheng Gao and his daughter Nelly are the right people to take the club forward after their £210m takeover marked the latest Chinese investment in English football

Not a lot was known in England about the Chinese businessman Jisheng Gao before he began negotiating to buy Southampton football club last year, and confirmation that he has paid £210m for an 80% stake has been accompanied by familiar Premier League levels of Googling. Of Gao and his company, Lander, nothing greatly notable is revealed, except for reported links to past corruption allegations which the Premier League sought to clarify before allowing him to buy Saints, in a letter leaked to the Sun in April.

Gao was alleged in Chinese media reports to have been implicated in the corruption of Xu Maiyong, a notorious mayor in the booming Xiaoshan province of Hangzhou, who was known as “Xu three more” due to his outsized appetites for money, property and sex. Xu and Jiang Renjie, the vice-mayor of Suzhou, were both convicted of accumulating huge private wealth corruptly and executed by the Chinese authorities on 19 July 2011.

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How fans were betrayed as Premier League club owners made fortunes | David Conn

When the Premier League was established with great fanfare 25 years ago, no mention was made of top club owners being allowed to walk away with millions

In the Football Association brochure that sanctioned the breakaway Premier League 25 years ago at the dawn of the first pay-TV deal, no mention was made of the personal fortunes it would make for the owners of the bigger clubs. Led by the self-appointed “Big Five” of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, the First Division clubs had angled and threatened throughout the 1980s to leave the century-old Football League, so as not to share the new TV millions with the clubs in the three lower divisions. The FA’s culture had narrowed and curdled through that decade, which ended in 96 people being unlawfully killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final which the governing body itself had commissioned at Hillsborough.

Related: Premier League at 25: what have been your club’s best and worst moments?

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Fifa ethics committee was investigating Gianni Infantino over election expenses

• Fifa president allegedly under-declared money spent on election campaign
• Infantino organised removal of committee’s chairman and members in May

The Fifa ethics committee was investigating the president, Gianni Infantino, for allegedly under-declaring the money he spent on his election campaign, before he organised the removal of the committee’s chairmen and members in May.

The declaration of his election expenses was the second issue for which Infantino was under investigation; the ethics committee had also started preliminary inquiries into whether he improperly sought to influence the election in March of a new Confederation of African football president.

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Fifa ethics committee was investigating Gianni Infantino over election expenses

• Fifa president allegedly under-declared money spent on election campaign
• Infantino organised removal of committee’s chairman and members in May

The Fifa ethics committee was investigating the president, Gianni Infantino, for allegedly under-declaring the money he spent on his election campaign, before he organised the removal of the committee’s chairmen and members in May.

The declaration of his election expenses was the second issue for which Infantino was under investigation; the ethics committee had also started preliminary inquiries into whether he improperly sought to influence the election in March of a new Confederation of African football president.

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How Bahrain uses sport to whitewash a legacy of torture and human rights abuses | David Conn

Campaign groups argue that Bahrain’s association with glamour sport is used to ‘launder’ a more wholesome image for the country

The cyclist Sonny Colbrelli secured prominent exposure for the name of his Bahrain Merida team early in the Tour de France, heading the group sprint at the end of the second stage in Liège before finishing a creditable sixth. The team’s leader, Ion Izagirre, crashed out on the first day, but Bahrain Merida has already established itself on the world tour, after star signing Vincenzo Nibali competed through three spectacular weeks in May to claim a third place finish in the Giro d’Italia.

The cycling team, launched in January with an estimated £13.7m budget by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a son of the ruling King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is the latest venture which will help promote the autocratically ruled, troubled country through an association with globally televised sporting events.

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Premier League remains world’s richest courtesy of huge TV revenue growth

• Total earnings of 20 top-flight clubs in 2016-17 expected to exceed £4.5bn
• Premier League earned almost €2bn more than any other European league

The Premier League is set to remain by far the world’s richest football league, its clubs earning approximately €2bn (£1.7bn) more collectively than those in Europe’s second richest, the German Bundesliga, according to the annual review of football finances by the consultants Deloitte.

The total £3.6bn earnings of Premier League clubs in 2015-16, as reported by the Guardian’s own review of the clubs’ most recently published accounts are projected to have increased to £4.5bn last season, the first of the league’s vastly more lucrative 2016-19 TV deals.

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