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Category: Middle East and North Africa

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Saudi football stadium welcomes women for first time

Al-Ahli v Al-Batin match at Jeddah stadium makes history as first to allow women to sit in designated family standsSaudi women have attended a football match in Saudi Arabia for the first time, as part of reforms spearheaded by the kingdom’s crown prin…

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Omani football fans injured as stadium’s glass barrier breaks

About 40 people hurt during celebrations following Oman’s victory over United Arab Emirates in Gulf Cup final in KuwaitAlmost 40 football fans from Oman have been injured in Kuwait after a glass barrier broke during celebrations following the country’s…

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Chess champion to miss Saudi Arabia tournament over women’s rights

Anna Muzychuk won’t defend her titles because she doesn’t want to be treated like a ‘secondary creature’Two-time world chess champion Anna Muzychuk has said she will not attend a tournament held in Saudi Arabia because of the way the kingdom treats wom…

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Manchester City’s plan for global domination

Football has already been transformed by big money – but the businessmen behind Man City are trying to build a global corporation that will change the game for ever. By Giles TremlettOn 19 December 2009, Pep Guardiola stood and wept in the middle of Za…

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Qatar World Cup bosses offer no explanation for British worker’s death

Zac Cox’s relatives have waited 10 months for official account of why he died in accident at Khalifa stadiumA 10-month effort to find out how a Briton was killed while building Qatar’s Khalifa stadium for the World Cup has been met with a wall of silen…

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Saudi Arabia to allow women into sports stadiums as reform push intensifies

Announcement that sporting events will be open to women for first time comes a month after historic decision to allow women to driveSaudi Arabia will allow women into sports stadiums for the first time from next year, authorities said Sunday, in a land…

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Qatar World Cup workers’ rights to improve with end of kafala system, claims union

• System described as modern slavery by trade union body• News greeted cautiously by expert on migrant workers’ issues in the GulfThe International Trade Union Confederation claims to have secured the agreement of the government in Qatar to significant…

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Fifa’s World Cup money-grabbing may be running into the sand in Qatar | Marina Hyde

Our heroes’ formula of leaving with all the cash and paying no tax could be coming awry in the Middle East as a Dubai official suggests Qatar should give up the World Cup

Exciting territory for the Middle East ingenues at Fifa, as the Qatar World Cup is elevated to the status of geopolitical bargaining chip. I know! It’ll be hard to know whether to qualify for it or sign a triple entente in the hope it’ll see us through the group stage.

But first, a recap. Back in June, several countries in the region – including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – instituted a blockade of Qatar, severing diplomatic relations and cutting off trade routes and so on. This, they said, was a response to the country’s support for terrorism and closeness to Iran. Among their various demands was that Qatar shut down the Doha‑based al-Jazeera and align itself far more tightly with other Gulf countries. Eye‑catchingly, Dubai’s high-profile security chief has now upped the stakes and claimed the blockade would end if Qatar gave up the World Cup. “If the World Cup leaves Qatar,” reasoned Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan last Sunday, “Qatar’s crisis will be over … because the crisis is created to get away from it.”

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Crushed but for 120 minutes united: qualifier lets Syrians forget war

The national team’s progress into a World Cup play-off was a chance to focus on something other than division and destruction

For a moment on Tuesday, Ahmad Mohammad Mohammad, a 19-year-old Syrian from Aleppo, was able to forget about the war.

The Syrian national football team bowed out of 2018 World Cup qualification after a 2-1 loss to Australia on Tuesday, after an unlikely run that saw them progress to a qualification play-off.

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‘How can I support this team?’ Divided loyalties for Syrians haunted by civil war

Like the country itself, feelings about Syria’s national football team, who play Australia tonight, are complex

When the Syrian national football team walks onto the pitch in Sydney tonight , Obay Al-Akul won’t be inside the stadium cheering but outside protesting.

He won’t be alone. A Syrian national who grew up in Damascus before arriving in Australia in 2014, Al-Akul is one of the 5.1 million people who have fled Syria’s civil war as refugees.

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Football: ‘This is not Assad’s team, it’s Syria’s team’

Syria’s players have much more than football on their mind in tonight’s World Cup playoff against Australia

Syrian midfielder Zaher Midani and his colleagues will have more than football on their mind in tonight’s first leg World Cup playoff against Australia.

“We have a huge motivation: to make the Syrian people happy,” Midani said. “The players and management hope we’ll be able to unify our people.

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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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Iranian MPs speak out as women are barred from World Cup qualifier

Syrian women are allowed into stadium but Iranian women are kept out, despite initially being allowed to buy tickets

Female Iranian MPs have spoken out against a ban on women entering sports stadiums after some fans were prevented from watching a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran between Iran and Syria.

Both genders were initially allowed to purchase tickets for Tuesday night’s game, but the option for women to make purchases was removed by officials who blamed a “technical glitch”.

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Mixed feelings for Syrian exiles as footballers hold on to World Cup dream

Syrians living in Lebanon are proud of their national side but say regime has co-opted its success

Minutes after a late equaliser sent the Syrian football team to a World Cup playoff, Tareq – a football fan and regime critic – was unsure about what to feel, or how to react.

Alongside him in Beirut, two other Syrian exiles, Akram and Hashem, were just as conflicted. All three men, in their late 20s, had fled with their families as war engulfed Syria in 2011. And in six wrenching years since, feelgood moments had been rare, and often contrived.

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Syria reach World Cup play-off with Australia after late equaliser in Iran

• Iran 2- 2 Syria
• Sardar Azmoun, 45 64; Tamer Haj Mohamad 13, Omar Al Somah 90

Syria scored deep into stoppage time at Iran to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time amid an ongoing civil war at home.

With Syria facing elimination from Asian qualifying, Omar Al Soma marked his return to the team after a five-year absence to clinch a 2-2 draw and a place in the playoffs. Players, with Syria rather than names emblazoned across the back of their red jerseys sank to their knees on the turf in Tehran. From the bench, members of the back-up staff with flags streamed on to the field.

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A £198m transfer is not about football. It’s about soft power | Simon Chadwick

The collosal Neymar deal, funded by Qatar Sports Investments, shows how far governments will go to secure global influence

• Simon Chadwick is professor of sports enterprise at Salford University

In 1905 my club – Middlesbrough – broke the world transfer fee record when it paid Sunderland £1,000 to sign Alf Common. It was the first time in history a football player had been sold for four figures. Now, 112 years later, the record has been smashed for the second summer running, with Paris Saint-Germain paying £198m for Brazilian superstar Neymar, the highlight of the latest period of transfer hyperactivity that ended yesterday. This phenomenon transcends sport. How can an individual in any sphere be worth £198m? Who would pay that and why? What does the now normalised outlay of mind-boggling fees and salaries say about society? How did we get here?

Related: China’s money men prove fluent in English football’s first language | Richard Williams

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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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More than half of NFL players booked for Israel PR trip withdraw

  • Six players scheduled to visit Israel withdraw from week-long trip
  • Michael Bennett accused government of using him for PR purposes

The Israeli government has suffered an embarrassing blow after it emerged that only five of 11 NFL players turned up for an all-expenses paid PR trip organised to improve Israel’s image.

A storm of criticism had developed last week after the Israeli tourism minister claimed the players making the trip would serve as “ambassadors of goodwill for Israel”. Michael Bennett, the Seahawks defensive end, withdrew from the trip on Friday in protest at being “used” in such a way. He said he would visit Israel in his own time.

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More than half of NFL players booked for Israel PR trip withdraw

  • Six players scheduled to visit Israel withdraw from week-long trip
  • Michael Bennett accused government of using him for PR purposes

The Israeli government has suffered an embarrassing blow after it emerged that only five of 11 NFL players turned up for an all-expenses paid PR trip organised to improve Israel’s image.

A storm of criticism had developed last week after the Israeli tourism minister claimed the players making the trip would serve as “ambassadors of goodwill for Israel”. Michael Bennett, the Seahawks defensive end, withdrew from the trip on Friday in protest at being “used” in such a way. He said he would visit Israel in his own time.

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Qatar spending $500m a week on World Cup projects

Country’s finance minister says the rate of spend could continue for the next four years to get country ready for tournament

High-spending World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar are laying out almost $500m every week on major infrastructure projects for football’s biggest tournament, the country’s finance minister said.

That eye-watering level of spending could continue until 2021, Ali Shareef Al-Emadi said on Tuesday.

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