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Category: Middle East and North Africa

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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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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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Qatar to give World Cup workers hats that reduce body temperature

Solar-powered fan reduces skin temperature by up to 10 degrees, which in the height of summer in Qatar means the difference between 50C and 40C

World Cup 2022 labourers in Qatar are to be given “cooling” hard hats which reduce their body temperature as they build football stadiums in the fierce desert heat.

The innovative technology uses a solar-powered fan to reduce the skin temperature by up to 10 degrees, said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body overseeing the controversial tournament’s organisation.

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Doha anti-doping laboratory suspended for four months by Wada

• Suspension prohibits lab from carrying out any anti-doping activities
• Qatar lab failed to comply with international standards

Doha’s anti-doping laboratory has had its accreditation suspended for four months after it failed to comply with international standards, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said in a statement on Monday.

Related: IOC washes over farcical findings of Wada’s Rio 2016 anti-doping report

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Fifa faces legal challenge over Qatar migrant workers

FNV union says football body should have demanded abolition of kafala migrant labour system ahead of 2022 World CupFifa is facing legal action in the Swiss courts over its alleged complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the …

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Palestinian refugees chant thank you to Celtic fans for donations – video

In a video filmed by the Lajee Center, children in Bethlehem thank fans of Celtic Football Club for their recent donations to charities based in Palestine. Celtic supporters have raised more than £130,000 for charities in the region in an attempt to match an impending Uefa fine for displaying Palestinian flags at a Champions League match against an Israeli team. The centre, located in the Aida refugee camp, supports displaced young people

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Celtic fans warned not to fly Palestinian flags at match in Israel

Warning by Israeli police follows flag waving at first leg of Champions League qualifier against Hapoel Be’er Sheva

Israeli police have warned against provocation at a football match on Wednesday night between Celtic and the Israeli team Hapoel Be’er Sheva after Scottish fans waved Palestinian flags and chanted support for Palestine at last week’s first-leg qualifier in Glasgow.

Any attempt to wave Palestinian flags at Hapoel’s stadium in Be’er Sheva, a city in the Negev desert, will not be tolerated, a police spokesman said.

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Celtic fans raise more than £85,000 for Palestinian charities after flag protest

Football club facing fine by Uefa after fans displayed Palestinian flags during match against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva

Celtic fans have raised more than £85,000 for Palestinian charities in an attempt to match an impending Uefa fine for displaying Palestinian flags at a match against an Israeli team.

Related: Brendan Rodgers says Celtic have Champions League place in their grasp

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