Friday, May 29, 2015

THE LATEST: Handshake For Palestinians, Israeli Soccer Chiefs

Activists have set up wooden crosses during a protest called "Red Card for FIFA. No World Cup in Qatar without Workers rights!" that was organized by the Swiss trade union UNIA in front of the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, Friday, May 29, 2015. The demonstrators ask FIFA to improve conditions for workers at the stadium's construction sites. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)


ZURICH (AP) — The latest on FIFA developments:
4:10 p.m. (1410 GMT; 10:10 a.m. EDT) It took several awkward minutes, but finally there was a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs at FIFA's congress in Zurich. Applause broke out after the handshake Friday between Jibril Rajoub and Ofer Eini, the respective soccer association presidents of the Palestinians and Israel.
Eini made the offer after Rajoub withdrew a motion to ask FIFA to suspend Israel from world soccer and both sides pledged to work together to overcome their differences. But Eini had to wait for several minutes while FIFA debated vote procedure, before walking over to Rajoub's seat to get the handshake done.
3:45 p.m. (1345 GMT; 9:45 a.m. EDT)
The Palestinian soccer federation has withdrawn its motion asking FIFA's congress to suspend the Israeli soccer association from FIFA and world soccer.
Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian soccer body, said he decided upon that action after talking to many of FIFA's 209 members, who urged unity over discord.
The Palestinians say Israel restricts the movement of players in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has cited security concerns, especially regarding movement in and out of Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Rajoub told the delegates "I am here to play football rather than play politics. I don't want to score goals, I want to end suffering."
Israel said it was delighted at the move and would work together with the Palestinians in the best interests of world soccer.
3:20 p.m. (1320 GMT; 9:20 a.m. EDT)
FIFA delegate Iesha Johansen of Sierra Leone has given a moving statement of thanks to FIFA, President Sepp Blatter, the English soccer delegation and others for their financial and emotional support as her nation struggled to fight the world's worst-ever outbreak of Ebola.
"Football is more than just a game, it is about bringing people together," she told delegates Friday at the FIFA congress in Zurich. "We all need to give peace a chance."
More than 11,000 people have died since the Ebola epidemic emerged in Guinea in December 2013. Guinea and Sierra Leone are now the only West African countries still reporting new Ebola cases.
2:55 p.m. (1255 GMT; 8:55 a.m. EDT)
Ahead of a FIFA debate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly defended his nation.
On FIFA's agenda Friday in Zurich is a proposal by the Palestinian soccer federation to suspend the Israeli soccer federation from FIFA and world soccer. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said he does not support the request.
Netanyahu says on his Facebook page that the dispute "stems from their very objection to our existence."
The Israeli leader says "if FIFA harms Israel, it will be harming itself. Other countries, too, will use FIFA to settle scores with their adversaries, and instead of the spirit of international sport that is supposed to transcend politics, we will get the destruction of soccer."
2:30 p.m. (1230 GMT; 8:30 a.m. EDT)
British Prime Minister David Cameron says FIFA president Sepp Blatter must resign and "the sooner that happens the better."
Asked about the FIFA scandals at a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cameron said it was "unthinkable" that Blatter was the right person to take the world soccer body forward after this week's corruption accusations.
Cameron added: "Frankly, what we have seen is the ugly side of the beautiful game."
Merkel called for FIFA to make a clean break with corruption but stopped short of saying that Blatter should resign.
Blatter is running for a fifth, four-year term as FIFA president later Friday against challenger Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. Most European nations back the prince but Blatter is expected to win anyway.
2:10 p.m. (1210 GMT; 8:10 a.m. EDT)
Qatar is defending its integrity in its first statement since Swiss police on Wednesday opened a criminal investigation into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 event to Qatar.
Qatar's World Cup committee says "our aim through hosting the FIFA World Cup is to utilize the positive power of sport to unify people" and to show the region's passion for soccer.
The statement said Qatar has "fully complied with every investigation that has been initiated concerning the 2018/2022 bidding process and will continue to do so." It added "we conducted our bid with integrity."
Qatar, which is building a huge amount of infrastructure to host the World Cup, has been strongly criticized by worker's groups for its poor treatment of foreign workers.
1:45 p.m. (1145 GMT; 7:45 a.m. EDT)
Swiss police say a bomb threat has been made against the venue where the FIFA congress is being held. Zurich city police spokesman Peter Sahli says a police operation is ongoing but declined to provide further details.
An AP reporter at the scene says the Hallenstadion's concert hall auditorium was cleared but the building itself was not evacuated.
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said "an anonymous threat against the FIFA congress was received." The meeting then resumed after lunch.
1:40 p.m. (1140GMT; 7:40 a.m. EDT)
The math is simple for FIFA's presidential election — and it favors incumbent Sepp Blatter.
FIFA's 209 members will be choosing a new leader later Friday, either giving 79-year-old Blatter a fifth, four-year term in office or electing his 39-year-old challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
To win in the first round of voting, a candidate needs at least two-thirds of the vote — that's 140 votes if all 209 members voted. If no one candidate reaches that, only a simple majority is needed in the second round to win.
Africa has 54 votes, Europe has 53 votes, Asia has 46 votes, North and Central America and the Caribbean have 35 votes, Oceania has 11 votes and South America has 10 votes.
While most of Europe is backing the prince, Africa, Asia and Oceania are strongly backing Blatter, who is also expecting some support from North, Central and South America.
1:25 p.m. (1125GMT; 7:25 a.m. EDT)
Britain's Serious Fraud Office says it is assessing "material in its possession" relating to allegations of FIFA corruption.
It said Friday it stands ready to "assist ongoing international criminal investigations" related to FIFA corruption. On Wednesday, U.S. officials indicted 14 people in a FIFA corruption probe that arrested seven FIFA officials in Zurich.
The Serious Fraud Office would not comment on the material it is holding. Several British-based international banks, however, are mentioned in the U.S. indictment of FIFA officials.
The fraud office is responsible for handling complex, major investigations into financial wrongdoing. The announcement stops short of announcing that proof of criminal activity has been found.
12:30 p.m. (1030 GMT; 6:30 a.m. EDT)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is calling for unity among FIFA's 209 members as the world soccer body holds its annual Congress in Zurich and prepares to elect a leader for the next four years.
Blatter on Friday acknowledged a tumultuous week — one in which 14 FIFA officials were indicted for corruption by U.S. authorities and seven of them arrested in Zurich. In addition, Swiss authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Blatter says these events "have unleashed a true storm." Still he says "I am appealing for team spirit and unity so we can move forward together. It may not always be easy but it is for this reason that we are gathered here together today to tackle the problems."
Blatter, 79, is running for a fifth term against 39-year-old challenger Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. The vote is taking place later Friday.
12:05 p.m. (1005 GMT; 6:05 a.m. EDT)
The head of FIFA's financial oversight panel has challenged world soccer officials to change the culture of the scandal-hit sport.
Swiss industrialist Domenico Scala told FIFA members Friday at their meeting in Zurich that cleaning up their culture must become "part of a new DNA" for the organization. Scala said delegates should ask themselves if they "would be comfortable if my conduct appeared in the media?"
As chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee since 2012, Scala has monitored all FIFA's spending and commercial contracts.
11:50 a.m. (0950 GMT; 5:50 a.m. EDT)
A small group of protesters are demonstrating in Zurich outside the FIFA Congress hall, chastising FIFA for not doing more to prevent the abuse of migrant workers as Qatar builds the infrastructure needed to host the 2022 World Cup.
Signs reading "fans against apartheid" were put up by fans of Premier League champion Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, among others.
Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, says FIFA President Sepp Blatter should resign amid all the corruption charges and Swiss authorities should place FIFA under judicial supervision.
But she also said in a statement this week that despite the FIFA corruption charges "the world also mustn't forget that migrant workers in Qatar are still being worked to death ... FIFA has failed to make labor rights a condition of Qatar hosting the World Cup and impoverished workers there are paying the price."
10:30 a.m. (0830 GMT; 4:30 a.m. EDT)
Germany's Justice Minister has been quoted as saying that FIFA's decision to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar can't stand if it turns out that votes were bought.
Swiss authorities announced this week that they have opened a criminal probe into alleged wrongdoing by soccer officials during the 2010 vote on who should host those two World Cups.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the German daily Bild in an interview Friday that "the awarding of a World Cup shouldn't depend on who pays the highest bribes."
Maas also said FIFA President Sepp Blatter is the wrong man to investigate alleged graft inside his own organization, one that he has led for 17 years. Maas was quoted as saying that FIFA needs "a fresh start."
10:17 a.m. (0817 GMT; 4:17 a.m. EDT)
The FIFA presidential election pitting Sepp Blatter against Prince Ali bin al-Hussein will be decided by a full slate of 209 national soccer federations.
FIFA member federations voted 183-16 to allow Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Montserrat and South Sudan to take part in the presidential ballot later Friday. Their participation was in doubt because of eligibility rules requiring federations to have played in at least two FIFA competitions in the previous four years.
South Sudan was a "special case" because it joined FIFA only in 2012, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.
Prince Ali's home federation, Jordan, withdrew a request to speak to the hall.
In 2011, only 206 of a then 208-strong membership were eligible to vote when Blatter was the only candidate. He got 186 of the 203 valid votes cast.
09:56 a.m. (0756 GMT; 3:56 a.m. EDT)
A pro-Palestinian activist briefly disrupted the FIFA congress after President Sepp Blatter's opening address.
An activist held up a red card and shouted "Red card to racism!" to draw attention to a campaign that aims to stop Palestinian players from being detained by Israeli security forces. Blatter called for security to remove the demonstrator.
Israeli security officials say a Palestinian player was briefly detained last week while leaving the country because he had served as a courier for Hamas in the past.
Item 15 on the FIFA agenda is a proposal by the Palestinian soccer federation to suspend the Israeli soccer federation from FIFA and world soccer. Blatter has said he does not support the request. Israel says the Palestinians are trying to politicize soccer.
09:10 a.m. (0710 GMT; 3.10 a.m. EDT)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter seemed to be ahead in a small straw poll of soccer officials arriving for their election congress on Friday.
It's a small sample, but most delegates prepared to give opinions as they entered seem to be loyal to Blatter, the FIFA president of 17 years, despite the latest slew of corruption allegations rocking the sport. Delegates from Curacao, Belize and Malawi said they were supporting Blatter.
Blatter's opponent, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, has promised a fresh start for FIFA and can expect strong support from Europe. Still, he must pick up votes from the Caribbean and Africa to post a serious challenge.
Prince Ali's supporters hoped to gain momentum in the fallout from the U.S. and Swiss federal probes of soccer corruption which were unleashed in Zurich on Wednesday.
FIFA's 209 member federations will vote on Friday afternoon.
09:05 a.m. (0705 GMT; 3:03 a.m. EDT)
Whoever wins the FIFA presidential election Friday won't have to face media questions immediately after their victory, according to FIFA.
FIFA has canceled a news conference that was scheduled to take place following the congress. A replacement news conference is now scheduled for Saturday morning after a meeting of the newly-composed FIFA executive committee.
That executive session should decide to allocate qualification slots by continent for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is seeking to extend his 17-year reign for a fifth term. He is being challenged by Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
Post a Comment