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FIFA and the politics of a Gulf feud | FIFA




In late January, a British football fan was arrested in the United Arab Emirates for wearing a Qatar t-shirt at an Asian Cup match played in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi. Ali Issa Ahmad was allegedly unaware of a decree that could have forced him to pay a large fine and seen him jailed for up to 15 years for displaying sympathy for Qatar. Perhaps he also did not clock that there were no Qatari fans in the stands.

That is because in June 2017, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, launched a land, air and sea blockade of their Gulf neighbour. Qataris living in the four countries were abruptly kicked out and not allowed back. The “no sympathy” decree followed shortly thereafter.

The unfortunate fan probably also found it curious and possibly upsetting that the Qatari national anthem was drowned out by boos and that each time Qatar scored, the team was showered with verbal abuse, shoes and plastic bottles. A few days later, in a moment of karmic justice, Qatar whipped the UAE 4-0 and then went on to claim the cup with another convincing win against Japan.

Rather like that fan, FIFA, I am sure, had no inkling when it awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010 that it was about to enter the twilight zone of Gulf politics.

Shortly after the announcement, allegations that the Qataris had bribed their way to football and sports’ most prized asset started circulating. This coincided with an FBI investigation in the US of a dozen FIFA officials accused of receiving illegal payments for distributing media and marketing rights in the Americas.

More allegations were made against Qatar, which it categorically denied. Since then, the Qataris have been assiduous in shoring up support and addressing issues concerning the World Cup. One of their biggest critics, the International Trade Union Confederation, is now onside after Qatar agreed to dramatically improve conditions for the million migrants working on cup infrastructure.

The Qatari authorities and various media organisations have also started uncovering evidence of a premeditated smear campaign against the country, aimed at revoking its award of the 2022 World Cup.

The UAE, in particular, has never quite gotten over the thought that it should have been it and not Qatar that secured the first World Cup to be played in the Arab world, despite the fact that it never got around to putting a bid in. The Qatari-Emirati rivalry started way before the 2017 blockade and dates back to the early 1970s when the two countries were established. It extends to various fields: from economy to regional politics, world standing and clout, and now even sports.

The UAE would like nothing better than to see the World Cup pulled from Qatar. It has launched numerous initiatives to that effect, including fake news sites and “independent” reports aimed at spreading the narrative that Qatar cannot manage the cup.

Abu Dhabi has also recently stepped up its game with FIFA President Gianni Infantino. It is pushing to expand the number of teams from 32 to 48, an idea that the new FIFA president has encouraged. Emirati officials have repeatedly declared that they are ready to “cohost” the World Cup, while Infantino has suggested that if Qatar agrees to share the matches, it could enjoy better regional relations.

In getting involved in the dispute between Qatar and the UAE, the FIFA president is going against a major principle the federation has been committed to – keeping politics out of football.

Last year, despite the diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, FIFA went ahead with the World Cup as planned. It also showed little tolerance for politics on the pitch. It disciplined three Swiss players for political gestures aimed at the stands and fined the Serbian Football Federation after their fans displayed “discriminatory banners and messages” during a match against Costa Rica. The Argentine Football Association was also slapped with a fine after its fans were involved in “fights, throwing objects and homophobic and insulting chants” following their 0-3 defeat by Croatia.

Given its tough stance on these incidents, the FIFA leadership cannot overlook the unacceptable behaviour of the Emirati fans at the Asian Cup and the fact that it was very much provoked by official government views and the Emirati media whipping up anti-Qatar feeling. It should observe closely how its regional body, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) deals with the problem.

FIFA should not allow the AFC to go easy on the Emirati football authorities. The fact that the president of the AFC, Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, is a senior member of Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family, which is deeply indebted to the UAE for helping keep their battered economy afloat, should not influence the confederation’s decision.

With the Emiratis and the Saudis showing no interest in ending the feud with Qatar, Infantino may want to think a little more before allowing FIFA to be drawn into the dispute. The organisation he heads is still reeling from the corrupt mess left by his predecessor Sepp Blatter. His focus should be on cleaning up FIFA’s Augean stables, not blithely accepting the Emirati push to expand the World Cup pool by a third in 2022. That is a political trap he and FIFA would do well to avoid.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day




The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat




In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic




TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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