FIFA has published results from a study that claims "the majority" of football fans would like to see more frequent World Cups just hours after UEFA said an independent survey called proposals "alarming".

Earlier on Friday, UEFA warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The messages from the two governing bodies came ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

The "independent" study that was commissioned by UEFA, which has been vehemently against the idea of biennial World Cups ever since proposals gained mainstream traction, said European national associations could see a drop in revenues of up to €3billion over four years and that 30 per cent of fans would watch less domestic and European Championship football.

Additionally, it suggested 60 per cent of fans believe the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think it would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

But FIFA's own study says fans are in favour of watching "the FIFA World Cup more frequently, for example every two years, provided that player workload does not increase".

According to FIFA, of the 30,390 people involved in the study who said football was their favourite sport, 63.7 per cent were in favour of more men's World Cups, with the 25-34 age category apparently the "most supportive", and 52.4 per cent want to see the women's tournament more often.

The results were split between continents and suggest there is more backing among the lesser-established international teams.

It is claimed Africa (76 per cent), Asia (66), North, Central America and the Caribbean (53), South America (54) and Oceania (55) all have majorities in favour of more men's World Cups, however less than half (48 per cent) of Europeans are.

Opposition is said to be especially strong in some of the leading European nations, with England's disapproval percentage at 53, Germany's at 50 and France's at 42. Those three were also considered the most disapproving of more women's World Cups.

England must play their Nations League game against Italy behind closed doors at Wembley next June – as punishment for crowd trouble at the Euro 2020 final between the teams.

Gareth Southgate's side made it to the final of the delayed showpiece event in July but were beaten on home turf by the Azzurri in a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw.

The Wembley final was marred by ugly scenes in the stands, outside, and on the concourses, and UEFA hit the English Football Association with a two-game ban on supporters as punishment in October, with the first closure to take place in England's next UEFA game.

The second closure was suspended for a probationary two-year period, while the FA received a €100,000 (£85,000) fine.

The Italy fixture on June 11 is England's next competitive UEFA home game and will be a rematch of the final and a chance for the hosts to gain a degree of revenge, but they will not have the boost of their supporters at the ground.

England's Nations League opponents were revealed on Thursday, with the Three Lions drawn against Germany and Hungary as well as Italy.

Southgate's team must also play in an empty stadium away from home in their opening match on June 4 against Hungary.

The Hungarians were served with a three-match behind-closed-doors order – one of which was suspended – following incidents at the Puskas Arena and in Munich at Euro 2020. That has since been reduced to two matches, with one game suspended.

The Three Lions' other two June fixtures are away against Germany on June 7 and at home to Hungary – with supporters allowed at Wembley – on June 14.

England then do not play in the competition again until a trip to Italy on September 23 before hosting Germany three days later.

UEFA has warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The message from Europe's governing body comes ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino recently suggested football's elite who opposed a revamping of the game were "afraid" of what change would mean for them, given their positions of power.

A study commissioned by UEFA points to a steep slide in revenues stemming from its own international competitions. It forecasts European national associations could see a drop by between €2.5billion and €3billion in a four-year cycle, also warning of a major decline in UEFA income for the women's game if more men's tournaments are to be staged.

UEFA, which was already firmly opposed to FIFA's plan, said the findings of the study by consultancy firm Oliver and Ohlbaum were "alarming" and raise "severe concerns".

The study contended that broadcast revenue will fall for each event, with advertising rates "likely to hold up" but viewing set to "likely decline".

It said research showed that around 30 per cent of fans would watch less of the European Championship and domestic football, while 60 per cent think the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think a change would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

The study warned of "lower broadcaster and sponsor willingness to pay for further tournaments, even if they deliver eyeballs", and said for the four years from 2026 to 2030, with World Cups happening every two years, the impact "would be strongly negative", even if UEFA's European Championship also shifted to become biennial.

It forecast UEFA revenues would be reduced from €4.6billion to €4.2billion if qualification took place in two blocks of games, and to €4.0billion if all qualifiers took place in a single block, with a knock-on effect on distributions to national associations.

Women's football has been on an upward growth curve in recent years, helped by the exposure its tournaments have had at times when there has been no corresponding men's event.

But the study predicted that viewership "would fall significantly" if men's events take place in the same year as women's showpieces, reducing their prospects of being in the media and public spotlight. It said income from the Women's European Championship would slide from €102m to €44m if that tournament continues to take place once every four years, or to €78m should it also become a biennial competition.

FIFA has found some support for its proposals, which have been pushed by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football at the governing body. Africa has given its backing, while there has also been positive interest from Asia and those from the CONCACAF region. Like UEFA, however, South America's powerful CONMEBOL confederation has come out firmly against FIFA's idea.

UEFA warned again on Friday of the prospect of "increasing mental and physical exhaustion of players", and of intruding on spaces in the calendar currently occupied by other sports.

"In this dark sporting context, the research conducted by Oliver and Ohlbaum projects a deeply negative outlook for European national team football, should the FIFA plan be implemented," UEFA said in a statement.

Italy were drawn to face England and Germany in a tough 2022-23 Nations League group on Thursday.

The Azzurri beat England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July and the two sides will do battle again in Group A3 of the Nations League.

They will also face Germany and Hungary home and away in matches that will take place next June and September 2022.

Holders France are in Group A1 along with Croatia, Denmark and Austria.

World champions France were crowned champions when they came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 at San Siro in October.

Spain were drawn in Group A2 and will come up against Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland in the third edition of the UEFA competition.

Belgium, who squandered a two-goal lead to lose against France at the semi-final stage of the Nations League two months ago, will take on Netherlands, Poland and Wales.

Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine and Armenia are in League B Group 1.

Russia, Iceland, Israel and Albania will do battle in Group B2, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland and Romania in Group B3.

Group B4 will see Serbia, Sweden, Norway and Slovenia lock horns as they strive to secure promotion.

Four of the six matchdays will be in June due to the scheduling of the World Cup in Qatar later in 2022.

The four group winners in League A will advance to the Nations League Finals in June 2023. The group winners in the other three leagues will all be promoted for the 2024-25 edition.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is urging footballers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that vaccine take-up is not as high among elite footballers as within the rest of society.

A story in British tabloid The Sun last week said Premier League clubs feared the government would ban unvaccinated players, suggesting there remains a reasonable proportion holding out.

The Premier League last released vaccination data in mid-October, at which point it was said only 68 per cent of players were fully vaccinated – in terms of wider society, over 80 per cent of adults aged 16 or older in England reported having been double-jabbed as early as July.

Vaccination has become an especially hot topic in the United Kingdom over the past few weeks amid the increase in football match postponements due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and UEFA is beginning a drive to promote the vaccine over the coming months.

"We've just launched a video promoting vaccination, it will go out tomorrow, I think," Ceferin told a news conference on Thursday.

"We should promote the vaccine and we will. We don't have the power to force anyone to be vaccinated, but the promotion starts today and in my humble opinion the video is good because only doctors talk in it.

"They explain why the vaccine is so important. They are experts saying the vaccine is good because of this, this and this, and that side effects are very rare. We will start promoting the vaccine now."

Bayern Munich were reported to have taken a particularly strong stance against unvaccinated players, with claims they would dock wages of anyone forced to into quarantine if they had not been jabbed.

As many as five Bayern players – including Joshua Kimmich – were said to have delayed getting the vaccine, while it emerged in October that several members of the England squad were still unvaccinated.

However, Ceferin remains hopeful that such situations will soon be a rarity.

"For me, I believe in science," he said. "I got vaccinated, and I think [the players] should get vaccinated] as soon as possible, but I still believe for now it's a personal choice.

"People aren't stupid. If you explain in a nice way, not judging them, explain why it's good.

"All figures show vaccinated people are less likely to get infected and all vaccinated people are less likely to have strong effects of COVID if they are infected.

"Sooner or later, if not all, the vast majority will understand it."

Ceferin was also asked to address the challenges of matches not being able to go ahead because of outbreaks, with particular focus on Tottenham.

Their Europa Conference League match with Rennes was unable to go ahead last week and UEFA ruled it could not find a "viable solution in order to reschedule the match".

Spurs are reportedly still attempting to find a workaround, including the possibility of playing the game in France rather than London, but they remain in a tricky situation after their clash with Leicester City was also postponed.

UEFA referred the case to their disciplinary arm and as such Spurs may have to forfeit the game with a 3-0 defeat – Ceferin accepts it may feel unjust but insisted these regulations ensure football's integrity.

"We have our regulations that are clear," he said. "Maybe they're sometimes hard to understand, but without them I don't think we could finish last season without stopping it.

"I know it sometimes looks unfair that a team has to play a certain match in a certain timeframe or the result is 3-0 for the other team, but if we didn't have clear rules then we wouldn't be able to finish the season.

"I sincerely hope we won't need those regulations soon."

Tottenham's postponed Europa Conference League group game with Rennes will not be rearranged, UEFA announced on Saturday.

European football's governing body indicated a new date for the game could not be agreed upon by the two clubs, after COVID-19 cases in the Spurs camp caused a call-off on Thursday's fixture.

It remains to be seen what UEFA rules, with Tottenham having needed a win from the Rennes game to reach the knockout stage. Rennes sit top of Group G, after three wins and two draws from their five games. All other group-stage games have been completed.

In a statement, UEFA said it had been in contact with Tottenham and Rennes in an effort "to find a viable solution in order to reschedule the match".

"Unfortunately, despite all efforts, a solution that could work for both clubs could not be found," said UEFA. "As a consequence, the match can no longer be played and the matter will, therefore, be referred to the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body for a decision to be taken in accordance with annex J of the above-mentioned competition regulations."

This section of regulations states that in the case of it being not possible to reschedule a game by a specific deadline – in this case, December 31 is the specified cut-off – UEFA may impose sanctions.

The UEFA guidelines state: "If it is not possible to reschedule the match within the final deadline... the club that cannot play the match will be held responsible for the match not taking place and the match will be declared by the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body to be forfeited by the club, which will be considered to have lost it by 3-0."

The same section of regulations states: "Moreover, the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body may take further disciplinary measures if the circumstances so justify."

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte said in midweek that eight players and five members of staff at Tottenham had contracted the virus in what he labelled a "serious problem".

Rennes released a statement claiming Tottenham had made a "unilateral" decision to postpone Thursday's clash without UEFA ratification, although the governing body later confirmed the postponement to the French club.

Rennes have two Ligue 1 matches and one Coupe de France game before they take a break over Christmas, resuming their season on January 8.

Spurs' Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday has also been postponed because of the outbreak. Unlike Rennes, they are due to play through the Christmas period.

The draw for the knockout round play-off draw is due to take place on Monday, featuring the eight runners-up from the Europa Conference League group stage and the eight third-placed teams from the Europa League group stage. One seeded place remains unresolved ahead of that draw.

Tottenham sit three points behind Dutch side Vitesse in Group G of the Conference League, as UEFA moves to bring finality to the situation.

UEFA has launched a concussion charter for both club and international competitions in order to provide more protection for players.

The governing body has urged clubs and national teams to sign the charter, which outlines the concussion procedures to be followed in cases of head injuries.

This includes a three-minute assessment from the team doctor following a head injury, the result of which will determine if the player affected should be allowed to continue.

UEFA has also encouraged the implementation of a medical video review system to provide doctors with as much information as possible. 

"Concussion is undoubtedly a serious injury which needs to be managed and treated properly," said UEFA Medical Committee chairman Tim Meyer to the governing body's official website.

"The health and safety of any players taking part in Europe’s club and national team competitions is of paramount importance not only to UEFA, but also to national associations across the continent.

"Although research studies report a low incidence in football, everyone should know how to react and what to do in the event of a concussion on the pitch.

"By signing this charter, clubs and national teams will demonstrate their support for UEFA's concussion awareness activities and take a considerable step forward in helping to protect their players."

This charter follows on from the International Football Association Board's (IFAB) implementation of concussion substitutions, allowing a team to make up to two additional changes specifically in cases of head injuries.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

To many it still sounds absurd, but on November 21, 2022, the 22nd FIFA World Cup will get under way in Qatar.

Twelve years will have slipped by since Sepp Blatter pulled a card from an envelope and declared Qatar the hosts, giving the Arab world its first crack at putting on the tournament.

When the announcement came at FIFA HQ in Zurich, former US president Bill Clinton wrestled to mask his disappointment and offered a congratulatory handshake as the Qatari delegation celebrated on the row behind him. Clinton was the US bid committee's honorary chairman. It was reported he smashed a mirror in fury after returning to his hotel suite.

The USA, Australia, South Korea and Japan had been the rival candidates to Qatar, and many in the game believed the Americans would be awarded the tournament.

Chuck Blazer, the crooked FIFA executive who was also CONCACAF general secretary at the time, smiled along as the triumphant Qataris took to the stage.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, chairman of the Qatar bid team, said: "Thank you for believing in change, thank you for believing in expanding the game, thank you for giving Qatar a chance. We will not let you down. You will be proud of us; you will be proud of the Middle East and I promise you this."

Within a fortnight, Blatter said any gay fans planning on travelling to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, should "refrain from sexual activity". He faced a swift backlash for that remark, which was supposedly made in jest.

He added: "I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years."

That sounded almost like a polite way of saying "not my problem", and as the FIFA gravy train soon hit the rails, with widespread corruption being exposed, the World Cup was indeed taken out of Blatter's hands.

Where then do we stand, with 12 months to go? Is this really a World Cup at the wrong time, in the wrong place?

Stats Perform has looked at the state of play, and the concerns that Blatter so flippantly dismissed continue to linger. Others have since sprung up and remain active worries; but at the same time, perhaps there is still cause for a little cautious optimism.

 


Can Qatar now be considered a fit and proper host for a World Cup?

May Romanos is a Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, the human rights organisation. She hails from Lebanon and lives in London.

When Qatar was handed the rights to the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty jumped at the chance to turn the spotlight on human rights concerns in the country and lobby for positive change that might spread throughout the Middle East. Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the tournament, according to a Guardian investigation. Amnesty says that around 70 per cent of those deaths have not been satisfactorily explained.

Romanos says Amnesty harboured worries about "major labour abuse and exploitation".

It is not known exactly how many of those who have died were involved in the World Cup building project, given that over 90 per cent of Qatar's workforce are thought to be migrants, but staging the World Cup has been a major project for the country and it has been reported a significant proportion would have been involved in creating the infrastructure for the event.

These are the workers who built the stadiums, the roads and the hotels. Amnesty has been pushing for these workers to be afforded rights they could reasonably expect elsewhere in the world.

"In the first few years, the calls fell a bit on deaf ears and Qatar didn't really respond to the pressure, the criticism," Romanos told Stats Perform.

"Eventually in 2018 they signed this agreement with the International Labour Organization, which definitely indicates a higher political will to commit to reform the system and make this World Cup a driving force for change and leave a positive legacy for human rights."

Qatar has managed to introduce "important legal reforms to change the system to introduce better access to justice for migrant workers, introduced the minimum wage, [and] a mechanism to monitor the payment of wages", says Romanos.

"But what we are finding is that although the laws are there, their implementation and enforcement remain very weak, meaning that many migrant workers continue to be victim of labour abuses and exploitation."

The Qatari government has rejected claims of a spike in migrant worker deaths, stating that the mortality rate sits "within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population".

Qatar's World Cup Supreme Committee, through its Workers' Welfare legacy programme, says it is "achieving long-term tangible changes that now serve as benchmarks across the country and the region".

There have been new and improved laws introduced, directed at improving worker welfare, and Amnesty is optimistic these will make a telling difference.

"I think the political will is still there," says Romanos. "There is, I think, the need to get into action quickly and urgently because the window of opportunity is closing.

"We are 12 months away from this World Cup and I think it's very crucial that they take urgent action now to address the shortcomings and ensure the next few months will be very vital to deliver a World Cup that is not going to be tainted by labour abuses and exploitation or human rights concerns in general."


What can football do to help?

A UEFA working group visited Qatar in August, to take a first-hand look at work on the ground, amid concerns for the workers.

Gijs de Jong, general secretary of the Royal Netherlands Football Association, was among the delegation and spoke afterwards to praise Qatar's "significant positive progress with human rights legislation in the last three years", stressing he had "no doubt" this was hastened by the award of the World Cup. De Jong underlined, however, that the legislation was "not yet universally adopted".

According to Amnesty, there is a need for pressure to be applied to the Qatari authorities by all parties concerned with the World Cup.

Stats Perform pointed to the UEFA working group, and to David Beckham's reported big-money deal to be a tournament ambassador, questioning what role such figures can play in pressing for a better human rights situation.

"We want them, and we urge them, to take our concerns seriously," Romanos said. "Because they do have responsibility towards taking part in this tournament; they have responsibility to ensure their participation is not going to lead to further human rights violations.

"They have to use their leverage they have over FIFA and therefore over Qatar to push for further changes, and I think while we all agree there has been some legal progress, some of it remains ink on paper. The time is to recognise this but also to push further, to use the leverage they have to push Qatar and push FIFA to implement these reforms, so at least teams can go there confident in the knowledge their operation there is not going to lead to further human rights abuses."
 

What about the players? Won't they have enough to focus on without searching their consciences?

There is a tournament to win, and doubtless Qatar will put on a tremendous show in their space-age stadiums.

But politics will never be far from the surface, and players might be wise to at least be aware of the fundamentals of the human rights issues, which include oppression of LGBTQ+ people and discriminatory laws affecting women.

Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One superstar, used his platform ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix to highlight inequality and abuses.

"When we see a statement like this, we welcome it," said Romanos, "and we welcome players who decide to speak out about the human rights situation. We urge everyone to educate themselves and be ready to use their leverage or their voice to push for further changes.

"Obviously, the obligation of players is different to the obligation of the football association who actually have legal obligation and responsibility to ensure they use their leverage, push for change but also do their due diligence to ensure the teams they send are not going to be linked to any human rights violations.

"For the players, we would welcome and we would love to see this happening more often, using this platform, using the leverage you have to shed the light on a very important issue and ensure this World Cup will actually leave a positive legacy, or any sporting event will leave actually a positive legacy."

FIFPro, the global players' union, has already gathered together a number of footballers for discussions with the Building and Wood Workers International organisation, which has campaigned for better and more rights for those who have literally shed blood, sweat and tears for the sake of building a futuristic World Cup landscape. Players have spoken directly to such workers and this dialogue is expected to continue over the months ahead.

Although FIFPro would not take sides on such matters, it is providing the pathways for such important discourse to take place. Then it falls to the players to choose their next course of action.

FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer Hoffmann said earlier this year: "Let's not forget that, while footballers have no say in the decision to pick tournament host countries, they inevitably become the face of those events when they run onto the pitch to compete. They feel a responsibility to foster human rights in those countries."

FIFA and UEFA are among the football authorities that have allowed players to take the knee before games, in support of the Black Lives Matter anti-discrimination movement. Whether FIFA will be quite so lenient if players are actively speaking out against the Qatari authorities while at Qatar 2022 remains to be seen.

The world governing body has rules for that sort of thing, to keep politics out of football. It has financial interests to protect – sponsors, TV, supreme committees – but it is understood there are significant voices within the game that would urge FIFA to allow players to speak and express themselves freely on rights abuses next year. FIFA would also be risking global contempt by blocking such discussion. The clock is ticking for Qatar.

"This World Cup has brought the spotlight and has pushed the authorities to commit maybe at a faster pace to reform these processes. Probably they had this in mind, but the World Cup accelerated this," said Romanos.

There are countries "with equally if not even worse troubling human rights records [that] are also eyeing to host mega sporting events", Romanos added, without naming names, promising "more scrutiny" for those that get to stage such international jamborees.

"We are still hopeful," she added. "We really think that if anyone can pull this together and deliver their commitments and deliver a World Cup that will have a positive legacy, Qatar can do it."


What can fans, including LGBTQ+ fans, expect from Qatar, and should they even travel?

The comedian and football presenter Elis James spoke on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast of the quandary of wanting to follow Wales to a World Cup, but being wary of being part of a showcase event in a country where deep injustices have been called out.

He said he had "reservations about Qatar, but we haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1958, so the head and the heart are saying two very different things".

"And I actually don't like myself for being in that position," James added, "because I wish I could have more moral certainty about this."

He is far from alone, and Amnesty is not calling for anybody to boycott the tournament, although there have been others who have gone down that route. There was a strong movement in Norway calling for the national team of that country to give the tournament a miss. Ultimately, missing out on qualification meant Norway sealed their own fate in that regard, while the nation's football federation had already voted against the prospect of a boycott.

"Obviously it's a personal choice," said Romanos. "At Amnesty, our role as a human rights watchdog is to inform about the human rights situation and invite people to educate themselves before going and know what will happen there and expect what will happen."

 

Qatar is considered unlikely by many observers to impose its strictest rules on visitors during World Cup time, which may mean LGBTQ+ fans of the game will not face any persecution. Rainbow flags are expected to fly in fan zones and inside stadiums, but whether this has any influence on Qatari daily life beyond the tournament remains to be seen.

Fan power for four weeks in November and December is one thing, but changing the way of life in Qatar is likely to involve gradual shifts rather than overnight change.

"I think it’s up to the individual to decide how they want to use the platform they have to push for greater changes," Romanos said.

"As a person coming from the Middle East myself, the moment I learned that Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup I was genuinely very happy because I felt like our region deserves to be mentioned with some mega sporting event.

"We love football, but we don't have great football teams; but football is huge in the Middle East, and I felt for once it’s good for us not to be connected with terrorism, wars.

"But when you look at the human rights situation of migrant workers and the abuses that happen, you would say, okay, let's do a World Cup that we are proud of as the first World Cup in the Middle East. That's why we believe there is still this window of opportunity."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez warned UEFA must remember who his side are amid continued European Super League and Financial Fair Play disputes.

Madrid were one of the 12 founding clubs of the doomed Super League last April, with nine of the sides involved quickly withdrawing their intention to feature amid a furious and widespread backlash.

The nine clubs who pulled out, including six Premier League teams, were welcomed back to the European Club Association (ECA) but UEFA opened proceedings against Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus before later declaring them "null and void".

While Perez and Juventus' Andrea Agnelli argued the breakaway format would be the saviour of football, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin claimed the trio attempted to "kill football".

But Madrid's chief Perez is still refusing to give up hope on the Super League as he insisted the LaLiga outfit would not back down from threats, nor intentionally harm domestic leagues with the new competition.

"It is not just a new competition, it is much more, it is trying to change the dynamics of football," Perez said at Madrid's Ordinary General Assembly on Saturday.

"It is also freedom, so that the clubs are masters of their destiny [with Financial Fair Play] and it is the project that will finally make it happen."

"The Super League is the project that will avoid situations in which clubs get indiscriminate support. It would only develop if it's compatible with the domestic leagues.

"It's time to remind UEFA who Real Madrid is. Real Madrid created FIFA along with seven federations, then created the Champions League in 1955 along with L'Equipe."

Madrid do not just have problems with European football's governing body either, Los Blancos – along with Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao – are also challenging LaLiga's private equity investment deal with CVC Capital Partners.

LaLiga and CVC signed a deal, originally ratified by 38 of the 42 sides in Spain's top two divisions, meaning the latter would receive 11 per cent of the revenue from television rights over the next 50 years in exchange for an investment into the league.

The Spanish trio - after Oviedo changed their stance - announced in September they would contest the agreement, while Madrid confirmed they would launch civil and criminal lawsuits against LaLiga president Javier Tebas and CVC chief Javier de Jaime Guijarro over the proposed deal.

"It does not make sense and is very profitable for the rest of the clubs," Perez added.

"I never imagined that I would be told by the press that they were going to take away our rights, the league being a mere marketer according to the law.

"It is an operation full of very serious irregularities and would have damaged our heritage.

"The fund is the same one that has tried to do the same in Germany and Italy where they failed. They approached several clubs in distress - it's absurd to even consider accepting that CVC deal."

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli is refusing to give up hope on the European Super League while insisting no player, not even Cristiano Ronaldo, is bigger than Juventus.

Juve were one of 12 prospective founding members to announce their intention to form the breakaway, closed-shop competition involving Europe's elite.

The news of the potential breakaway caused anger across the continent, with all six English clubs involved subsequently pulling out alongside Atletico Madrid, Milan and Inter.

However, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juve stood firm on their commitment towards the radical changes in European football.

Agnelli once again addressed the matter on Friday prior to the Juve shareholders' meeting, held at the Allianz Stadium.

"The Super League, the consequences on ECA and UEFA, for the roles held for Real Madrid, Barcelona and today we are waiting for a ruling by the European Court of Justice," Agnelli told reporters.

"The Super League was the admission from 12 clubs that football is refusing change to maintain a political class that does not risk, does not compete but wants to cash in only.

"I do not want to give up, and I did not do it yesterday, I will not do it tomorrow.

"The system needs a change and Juve wants to be part of it. But only through constructive dialogue, for everyone."

Ronaldo, who joined the Bianconeri in 2018 before returning to Manchester United in September, was then praised by Agnelli despite the Juve president insisting no player is bigger than his club.

"Having had the best player in the world, Cristiano, was an honour and a pleasure," he added.

"The only regret is having had him for a year and a half without an audience at the Stadium. But it's the Juventus shirt that requires responsibility, not team-mates or work-mates.

"Juventus are bigger than anyone who has had the honour of crossing their path from 1897 to today; we must remember the values of Juventus and Turin: work, sacrifice, and discipline, which is what inspires all those who work here.

"As Oriana Fallaci said, you have to love, fight, suffer and win. And this must inspire us: we must love Juventus, fight for it, be ready to suffer, and always have the objective to win.

"We have to work as a single body, knowing that the team and the group come first. We are all useful, no one is indispensable."

Feyenoord have condemned a "totally reprehensible" attack on top officials from Europa Conference League rivals Union Berlin at a Rotterdam restaurant.

According to reports in the Netherlands, Union president Dirk Zingler and director Oskar Kosche were among those sitting outside when a group of men began hurling missiles, including glasses and chairs.

Feyenoord said "minor injuries" were sustained by those under assault, declaring those responsible had no right to consider themselves supporters of the Eredivisie club.

In a statement, Feyenoord confirmed the attack on Wednesday evening occurred in the city centre.

"It was a totally reprehensible event that should not happen to anyone who is a guest in the city for what should be a beautiful European football night," Feyenoord said.

"Feyenoord thinks it is terrible that this has happened to representatives of Union Berlin. The club therefore distances itself in every possible way from the people who have reduced themselves to this cowardly act and believes that no one who portrays Feyenoord and the city in such an insane way in a negative light can and should call themselves a supporter. The club cannot get over the fact that people think it is in any way acceptable to display such behaviour."

Feyenoord and Union go head to head on Thursday evening in Group E of the third-tier competition. The teams meet again in Berlin on October.

The Dutch club added: "Feyenoord is of the opinion that the [sporting] battle between two football clubs, in this case Feyenoord and Union Berlin, takes place on the field at all times for 90 minutes and never in any other way, especially not by threatening or injuring. For people who think otherwise, there is zero place at the club.

"Feyenoord also hopes that the perpetrators are found and punished for this shocking case of public violence and although outside its sphere of influence, Feyenoord apologise to Union Berlin for what has happened."

Union responded by quote-tweeting the statement, adding: "Thanks for the clear words Feyenoord."

Local police confirmed they were investigating the disturbance.

Rotterdam-based newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported a woman needed hospital treatment for a head injury sustained in the attack.

The co-owner of De Huismeester restaurant, Pascal Dijkkamp, described the incident to the newspaper, saying: "They started throwing everything to hand: chairs, glasses, ashtrays. We've already collected a large garbage bag full of shards. A chair is completely written off."

Gianni Infantino hinted FIFA is prepared to dial back on plans for a biennial World Cup and says hosting its premier international tournament in a single nation is a "thing of the past".

FIFA, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, had been promoting the idea to change the World Cup format and proposed the tournament takes place every two years.

Wenger's proposal would see a major tournament held every year, however, UEFA and CONMEBOL quickly retaliated, vocally opposing the plans and expressing scheduling concerns.

Speaking after a FIFA council meeting, president Infantino announced he would convene with football's governing bodies on December 20 to debate any potential football calendar reforms once again.

However, Infantino refused to commit to holding a vote on any of the proposals as he suggested the divisive plan would have to benefit all stakeholders.

"We have to see how we can approach the different opinions of different parties," Infantino told reporters on Wednesday. 

"We need to look at sporting and economic merits, then we can have a reasoned discussion about World Cups and perhaps other competitions. 

"I do not know what the outcome will be. We will continue with the objective of reaching a consensus with solutions that work for everyone's benefit. 

"By hosting a global summit later this year, we will now have the opportunity to present one plan and to provide feedback to all our FIFA member associations."

The 2026 World Cup is set to be hosted by Mexico, Canada and the United States, and Infantino also revealed his preference for multi-nation bids hosted by a continent, as opposed to a single country.

When asked about the possibility of South Americans co-hosting the 2030 edition, Infantino responded: "The World Cup is the biggest competition, the biggest event on earth, and several countries would like to organise a World Cup. 

"I myself as FIFA President am very interested to hear the continent is interested in hosting the World Cup, there is so much passion in South America for football. Everybody would like to see a new World Cup in South America.

"You mentioned Brazil, and I think that World Cups held in one single country are probably a thing of the past.

"I think probably we'll see more World Cups held by two or three different countries. If we do so, every region in the world can not only dream, but really plan to organise a World Cup."

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised UEFA and FIFA for their attitude towards player welfare due to the number of fixtures being crammed into the calendar.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the back of his national side's 2-1 loss to Italy in the Nations League third-place play-off on Sunday.

Both teams rested a number of players for the match at the Allianz Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard absent for Belgium due to muscular problems.

Courtois also played a full part in the semi-final defeat to France three days earlier and has questioned why his side had to face Italy in what he felt was a meaningless match.

"This game is just a money game and we have to be honest about it," he said in his post-match interview. "We just play it because for UEFA it's extra money.

"Look at how much both teams changed [line-ups]. If both teams would have been in the final, there would have been other players in the final playing.

"This just shows that we play too many games."

The international calendar is potentially facing further changes, with a biennial World Cup being proposed by FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger.

UEFA has already made clear it is against the plans and Courtois has added his name to a growing list of dissenters.

"They [UEFA] made an extra trophy [the Europa Conference League]… it is always the same," he said.

"They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League, but they don't care about the players, they just care about their pockets.

"It's a bad thing that players are not spoken about. And now you hear about a European Championship and a World Cup every year, when will we get a rest? Never."

Courtois added: "In the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It's something that should be much better and much more taken care of.

"We are not robots! It's just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us.

"Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play until the latter stages of June again. We will get injured! Nobody cares about the players anymore.

"Three weeks of holiday is not enough for players to be able to continue for 12 months at the highest level. If we never say anything it [will be] always the same."

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