Richard Whittall:

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”


Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach

"James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport

“Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”

Play the Game

"Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal

"Dorsey statement (on Egypt) proved prophetic."
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated

"Essential Reading"
Change FIFA

"A fantastic new blog'
Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life

"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"
Christopher Ahl, Play the Game

"An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Putting the pieces back together again in Libya

Preparations for a Libya without Colonel Qaddafi come as the United Nations quietly seeks to negotiate an end to the crisis. (File Photo)

Preparations for a Libya without Colonel Qaddafi come as the United Nations quietly seeks to negotiate an end to the crisis. (File Photo)
No doubt, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will eventually be forced out of power. But forces loyal to the embattled colonel are likely to be as much part of post-Qaddafi reconstruction as they are part of the problem today.

That is the conclusion of government experts on nation building and development from the United Nations, the United States, Europe, Canada and Turkey who are consulting with the NATO-backed Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC). The experts are using the transition in post-invasion Iraq as their model.

Preparations for a Libya without Mr. Qaddafi, who has ruled the country with an iron hand for 41 years, come as the United Nations quietly seeks to negotiate an end to the crisis. UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council earlier this week that a “nascent negotiation process” was underway.

Three of Mr. Qaddafi’s ministers were in Tunisia this week for talks with unidentified foreign parties. A senior TNC official, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, said last week that the rebel leadership had been in indirect contact with Mr. Qaddafi's government about a possible peace deal.

The immediate problems Libyans and the international community will have to address once Mr. Qaddafi departs are huge and so are the potential pitfalls. The problems include restoring and maintaining law and order; securing basic services such as food, water and energy; achieving international recognition of a post-Qaddafi government; resuming oil exports to ensure funding for the new government; and kick starting Libya’s stagnating economy.

All of this has to happen in a country that lacks institutions as a result of Mr. Qaddafi’s reliance on traditional tribal structures.

The pitfalls are equally challenging. A major conclusion of the experts is to incorporate existing structures and forces. The experts are drawing on the fact that a decision by the than US administration of Iraq to disband former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s military and police forces fuelled the bloody insurgency that savaged Iraq for years.

The need to rely on remnants of Mr. Qaddafi’s regime is reinforced by the fact that the untrained and inexperienced rebel forces are likely to be unable to maintain security on their own. Privately, Libyans in rebel-held territory concede that their most competent force consists of Islamists steeled by years of fighting in the 1990s against Mr. Qaddafi’s regime.

Ensuring the integration of remnants of the old regime into a new Libya may also pay political dividends. It would serve as a reassurance for those in Mr. Qaddafi’s camp who might still be willing to jump ship or even stage an effective coup against Mr. Qaddafi to remove him from power and pave the way for regime change. That reassurance takes on added importance following this week’s arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Mr. Qaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and Abdullah Senoussi, the head of Libyan intelligence.
Anticipating the need to maintain security, avoid violent revenge and retribution and ensure that a post-Qaddafi government gets off to a good start, some US commanders, including Admiral Samuel Locklear, NATO’s joint operations chief in Naples, and General Carter Ham, who runs the US military’s Africa Command, have suggested that United Nations or African Union peacekeepers would have to be inserted into Libya once Mr. Qaddafi has been removed from power.

Libya is expected to dominate the agenda of an African Union summit scheduled to open in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday. The leaders are likely to call for a democratic transition that excludes Mr. Qaddafi.

Like elsewhere in the Arab world, the Libyan police and parts of the military are likely to encounter popular distrust once the Libyan leader is gone because they are widely viewed as Mr. Qaddafi’s henchmen.

In post-revolution Egypt and Tunisia that meant that security forces were reluctant to engage in clashes with protesters and other groups because that would have undermined their efforts to improve their tarnished image and demonstrate that they are needed to maintain law and order.

This week’s clashes on Cairo’s Tahrir Square between protesters and police are their first major encounter since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak four months ago.

The need for integration of and cooperation with remnants of the Qaddafi regime is evident to the rebels’ international backers. Among the rebels themselves and within the TNC, the issue is far more controversial and for many a bitter pill to swallow. Convincing the rebels to endorse such cooperation is going to take deft persuasion by the international community as well as by leaders of the TNC.

The alternative is a wave of bloody violence that is unlikely to bring Libyans any closer to their goal of greater political freedom and economic opportunity that they are fighting so hard for.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Audience figures for Asian Cup hold out promise for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup

The Asian Cup finals last January set new domestic television audience records. (File photo)

The Asian Cup finals last January set new domestic television audience records. (File photo)
If television audience records for this year’s Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup finals in Qatar are anything to go buy, Qatar can look forward to achieving new viewer records when it hosts the World Cup in 2022.

The Asian Cup finals last January set new domestic television audience records driven by viewers in Asian football giants Korea and Japan, the AFC said releasing data compiled by CSM Media Research. The data provide the first television ratings for the Middle East of Asian Cup finals.

Audiences in Japan, this year’s Asian Cup winner, grew from 131 million viewers of the 2007 tournament to 209.2 million of the Qatar event. The audience in Korea increased from 29.5 million in 2009 to 41 million this year.

Japan accounted for 43.2 percent of the total AFC Asian Cup 2011 audience followed by Korea and China with 32 percent or 156.6 million viewers. China’s ranking is despite the fact that its team was knocked out of the tournament early on.

Saudi Arabia with 5.8 percent of total viewership and the United Arab Emirates with 1.1 percent ranked fourth and fifth in Asia. In the Middle East itself, Saudi Arabia followed by the UAE topped the list while Kuwait came in third and host Qatar fourth.

Japan and Korea alone claimed more than half of the viewers who watched the semifinal between the two Asian rivals, which was won in a penalty shootout by Japan. The match ranked the highest rated of the tournament in both countries despite the fact that it was broadcast very late at night.

The second most watched AFC Asian Cup 2011 match was the Japan-Australia final with 54.4 million viewers. The quarterfinal between Japan and Qatar drew an audience of 45.63 million, making it the third highest rated match in terms of TV viewership.

CSM Media said the Qatar tournament produced some 3,600 hours of live coverage that was delivered to 484 million viewers in 80 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Europe, North America and North Africa.

“The AFC Asian Cup 2011 delivered top class football and the significant television viewership achieved reaffirms its position as the top sporting event in Asia,” World Football Insider quoted World Sport Group’s chief executive for West Asia, Pierre Kakhia, as saying. The group is the AFC’s marketing and media partner.

Sports and broadcast executives in the Middle East hope that the figures for the Asian Cup will boost efforts to professionalize and commercialize Middle Eastern soccer and create value. The government-owned Abu Dhabi Media Company last year bought the exclusive rights to air the UAE Premier League in a three-year deal believed to be worth $300 million.

“Something is moving,” said Santino Saguto, an Italian soccer management consultant based in Dubai. “Qatar 2022 has prompted the region to discuss ways to create value. The leagues, the football associations and the media are starting to buy into the concept. That’s how it started in Europe.”

The UAE’s marketing of soccer broadcast rights constituted a rare instance in which a Middle Eastern league sold such rights -- a key step in generating revenue and creating value. The UAE example is reportedly being closely looked at by Saudi Arabia, the region’s most important league beyond Egypt. Similar moves were afoot in Egypt prior to this year’s toppling of President Hosni Mubarak.

However, it may take a strong-willed broadcaster to shape a market that is still dominated by free-to-air channels, slow in the uptake of pay-TV and suffering from large-scale intellectual copy piracy.

“It was the same in Europe until BSkyB forced issues with the introduction of its decoders,” Mr Saguto said, cautioning it took BSkyB several years to break even on its investment.

Rupert Murdoch, the media baron on the verge of acquiring BSkyB and backed by his alliance with Saudi Arabia’s Rotana, owned by the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, could drive the change needed in the Middle East to create value in football.

Obama sets himself up for failure in Afghanistan

US President Barak Obama has decided to start drawing down the additional 33,000 troops he dispatched to Afghanistan as part of a surge. (File photo)

US President Barak Obama has decided to start drawing down the additional 33,000 troops he dispatched to Afghanistan as part of a surge. (File photo)
US President Barak Obama seems determined to chalk up Afghanistan as a failure on his scorecard.

Together with his decision to start drawing down the additional 33,000 troops he dispatched to the war-shattered Central Asian nation as part of his surge, Mr. Obama has also lowered his sights on what he hopes Afghanistan will look like once the vast majority of US forces have returned home 3.5 years from now.

Gone are the hopes that Afghanistan would emerge from the war as a beacon of democracy, peace and stability in a nook of the world populated by troubled, often autocratically ruled nations. Instead, Mr. Obama is gunning to leave behind a nation that no longer is a playing ground where regional powers fight some of their battles.

To achieve that, Mr. Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is reaching far back into history to the 1815 Congress of Vienna. That congress, attended by Europe’s major powers, effectively turned the Benelux into a neutral zone, created Belgium as a European buffer and marked the beginning of a century of relative stability in the region. An Afghanistan that no longer is at the center of the Great Game, the battle for influence in Central Asia between the major powers of the day, would be “a very worthy outcome,” Mrs. Clinton says.

Indeed it would, were it not that the way Mrs. Clinton intends to go about it amounts to willingly and knowingly giving birth to a stillborn baby. It is an approach that at best applies a temporary Band-Aid to a festering wound, deliberately evades tackling the puss that infects the wound and simply defies common sense.

To ensure that Afghanistan is exempted from regional rivalries, Mrs. Clinton is setting out to persuade India and Pakistan to fight their battles elsewhere and leave Afghanistan alone.

Those battles have nothing to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with Kashmir, a festering wound that not only is at the root of a destabilizing rivalry in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan, but also at the core of Pakistani-Indian tensions that effect the region, including nuclear competition between the two countries and the emergence of a fragile Pakistani state dominated by the military that sees terrorism and Islamic militancy as legitimate tools.

The Kashmir conflict is also a key spoiler in troubled US-Pakistan relations. It is too explosive a brew and too ingrained with deep-seated distrust for any exemption to have a realistic lease on life.

Afghan officials, who are as much part of the problem as they are part of the solution, have welcomed the US goal. It would take Pakistan out of their hair, the very reason they have been discreetly cuddling up to India, which in turn has made Pakistan even more determined to meddle in Afghan affairs.

Relations between the government of President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan have long been strained because of Pakistan’s role as a midwife and long-term supporter of the Taliban. Tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan flared last weekend with the Karzai government accusing the Pakistani military of firing rockets into Afghan territory. The military admitted the incident saying that rockets it fired during clashes with Pakistani Islamist militants fighting from the safety of the Afghan side of the border could have unintentionally landed inside Afghanistan.

The US plan for a neutral Afghanistan is stillborn because Pakistan will have to play a key role in any dialogue with the Taliban over ending the Afghan war. The Taliban are certain to play an important role in Afghanistan by hook or by crook once US forces have withdrawn from the country and a Pakistan embroiled in a festering dispute with India over Kashmir has every interest in ensuring that they do. For its part, India has every interest in preventing that from happening.

As a result, it is hardly rocket science that anything short of attempting to engineer an understanding between India and Pakistan over Kashmir will hardly be worth the paper it is written on and almost certainly circumvented by all parties. If anything reduced US involvement in Afghanistan could lead to an intensification of regional rivalries.

Granted, tackling Kashmir is easier said than done. Healing a long-festering wound that has distorted regional and domestic relations is no mean fete and may even prove impossible. But with the United States seeking to remove Afghanistan as a headache and secure its place in a world in which power is being redistributed to the advantage of China and India, it is an undertaking that makes a lot more sense than attempting to arrange an understanding that stands no chance of being adhered to.

Kashmir may be as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The problem is that it is as important as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to preserving US interests in an emerging new world. If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict proves anything, it is that Band-Aids don’t work and understandings hold only if they are embedded in addressing core issues.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Qaddafi warrant: Rare unity could backfire on Russia, China

A house in Tripoli destroyed by NATO bombing. (File photo)

A house in Tripoli destroyed by NATO bombing. (File photo)
The International Criminal Court’s issuance of arrest warrants for Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi constitutes a rare recent instance in which Western nations have found common ground with China and Russia in efforts to stop brutal crackdowns on anti-government protesters in the Middle East and North Africa.

The warrants for Mr. Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and the head of Libyan military intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, are based on a case involving charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution, that was referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council with the consent of the United States and Europe as well as Russia and China.

The referral stands in stark contrast to Russian and Chinese denunciations of US and European interpretations of a Security Council resolution endorsing the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya that both countries allowed to be adopted by not employing their power of veto.

Russia and China feel betrayed by US and Western interpretations of the resolution as a license to kill Mr. Qaddafi rather than only to protect civilians from assaults by Qaddafi loyalists. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on a visit to London on Monday insisted on finding a diplomatic solution to the Libyan crisis.

“We hope that the issue of Libya will be resolved through political, peaceful means, to reduce the humanitarian harm and in particular the harm of innocent civilians,” Mr. Wen said.

The agreement to refer Mr. Qaddafi to the court and the court’s rapid issuance of the warrants is unlikely to signal a narrowing of differences over how to solve the Libyan conundrum or find a way to end the bloodshed in Syria where President Bashar Al Assad is brutally cracking down on his detractors. Russia and China continue to oppose a resolution in the Security Council drafted by Western nations that would call for a halt to the violence in Syria.

Given that enforcing the arrest warrants is likely to prove as difficult, if not even more difficult than killing Mr. Qaddafi, both the Western nations and Russia and China hope that this added nail in the Libyan leader’s coffin may persuade him to more vigorously pursue a negotiated solution to the crisis in Libya that would remove him from power.

Tunisian media reported that Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati al-Obeidi has been in Tunisia in recent days together with Health Minister Mohammed Hijazi and Social Affairs Minister Ibrahim Sherif for talks with unidentified foreign parties.

Western nations could interpret the Security Council resolution to include the arrest of the three wanted men, but that would involve having to expand air and sea operations to include the putting of troops on Libyan soil.

Ground troops would not only be opposed by Russia and China but also aggravate already existing differences within NATO and spark a public outcry in the United States and Europe where support for the imposition of the no-fly zone has waned.

The Libyan government this weekend renewed its offer to hold a vote on whether Mr. Qaddafi should stay in power.

The issuance of the arrests warrants is however likely to reinforce rebel rejection of the offer and spark more intense fighting between rebels and Qaddafi loyalists.

The court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, hopes the Security Council will help him ensure that the arrest warrant isn’t just another piece of paper with at best moral value. That may be wishful thinking even if Council members were scheduled to discuss the situation in Libya, including the arrest warrants, on Monday.

Council members are more likely to feel that an unenforced arrest warrant is more valuable because its serves as an incentive for more Qaddafi loyalists to defect and as leverage to nudge Mr. Qaddafi toward negotiations.

That is, however. a tall order with rebels demanding nothing short of Mr. Qaddafi’s removal from office while the Libyan leader has dismissed any possibility of going into exile. Mr. Qaddafi’s refusal could be reinforced by the fear that there is no country where he can feel safe with an arrest warrant dangling like a sword of Damocles over his head.

As a result, by endorsing referral of Mr. Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court, Russia and China may have effectively left NATO little choice but to intensify efforts to take the Libyan leader out even if that was not their intention.

Witnesses in the Libyan capital Tripoli said they had heard two loud explosions and could see smoke rising from the area near Mr. Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound hours after the warrants were issued.

No doubt, Mr. Qaddafi feels the heat. But as the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden shows, successfully targeting a wanted leader can take a very long time. That may well be what Mr. Qaddafi is counting on.

Campaign to topple board of Egyptian soccer body mushrooms

Egypt Football Association chairman Samir Zaher. (File photo)
Egypt Football Association chairman Samir Zaher. (File photo)
A campaign by soccer clubs and militant fans to unseat the board of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), the country’s governing soccer body, has mushroomed into open revolt.

In a statement after a meeting on Sunday, 52 soccer clubs, including crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC, said they no longer trusted the board and were calling an extraordinary general assembly to table a motion of no-confidence.

“With 53 clubs in attendance, 52 of which called for an extraordinary general assembly, the clubs agreed to withdraw their confidence” in the board,” the statement published on Zamalek’s Website said.

Sunday’s meeting was called to ensure that the clubs had a legal quorum after a meeting on Saturday attracted 49 clubs, just short of the number needed.

The EFA in a statement of its own on its Website after Saturday’s gathering charged that the meeting of the clubs was legally not binding because it lacked a quorum.

“There are some clubs are determined to break the law,” the EFA statement said. “We contacted most of the clubs that were named in the meeting and they confirmed that they did not send a representative.”

Sunday’s meeting came on the heels of a letter sent by a number of clubs to world soccer body FIFA asking for assistance in ensuring that they would be able to call for an extraordinary session at which they would could table their motion.

The clubs wrote the letter after the EFA cancelled a scheduled extraordinary general assembly.

The effort to force the resignation of the EFA board follows charges by the clubs and fans that the soccer body’s management and referees are corrupt and demands that officials appointed under the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak be replaced.

The allegations of corruption have prompted fans to repeatedly storm pitches and throw stones during matches in which they disagreed with a referee’s decision.

The Zamalek fans, Ultras White Knights, organized demonstrations in front of the EFA headquarters to demand the board’s resignation.

Zamalek last month accused the EFA of “oppression” and said board decisions constituted “a failure to satisfyingly manage” Egyptian soccer.

Zamalek has demanded a re-play of its match against Premier League club Maqassa after it was defeated earlier this month 1:0 as a result of a decision by a referee the club accuses of corruption. Ismaili also attributed its recent 1:0 loss to Al Jaish to “bad refereeing.”

EFA president Samir Zaher announced last month that he would resign before his contract ends in 18 months’ time, but failed to give a precise date for his departure.

The call for FIFA intervention comes as militant fan groups prepare to meet with groups that organized the mass anti-government protests early this year that forced Mr. Mubarak to step down after 30 years in office. The groups support their demand for the resignation of Mubarak-era soccer officials. The Egyptian Revolutionary Alliance said the meeting would discuss the “revolutionary demands within the sport.”

The militants played a key role in the protests and manned the demonstrators’ front lines in clashes with the police and Mubarak loyalists.

The fans charge that Mubarak-era soccer officials allowed the former president to use the beautiful game in a bid to shore up his tarnished image. Mr. Mubarak employed soccer as a tool to distract attention from unpopular measures and to grab the headlines.

In an angry response to the letter, EFA charged that the letter had damaged Egypt’s reputation.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Iranian soccer body fires top officials

The Iranian Football Federation (IFF) has fired three of its top officials after Iran failed to advance to the next round of qualifiers for 2012 London Olympics, according to Payvand.com, an Iranian exile news website.

The officials were blamed for the awarding to Iraq of a match that Iran had 1:0 because the Islamic republican team fielded a player who had been suspended.

National team administrator Fereydoon Moeini, Olympic team supervisor Asghar Hajiloo and Davoud Parhizgar, a staff member, were sacked for dereliction.
Their dismissal was ordered by IFF chief Ali Kaffashian despite the fact that Iran would have needed to beat Iraq 4:0 to advance in the tournament.

Earlier this month the hopes of Iran’s women’s team were dashed when a crucial match against Jordan was cancelled because the squad appeared on the pitch wearing the hijab, an IUslamic headdress that cover the hair, neck and ears. World soccer body FIFA bans all political and religious symbols during matches.


Obama nudges Israelis, Palestinians to talk. Failure again?

Mr. Obama desperately tries to forge a deal under which Israeli and Palestinians would return to the negotiating table. (File photo)

Mr. Obama desperately tries to forge a deal under which Israeli and Palestinians would return to the negotiating table. (File photo)
Israel’s rerouting Sunday of a section of its contentious West Bank separation barrier constitutes not only a major victory for the village of Bilin that has come to symbolize Palestinian opposition to the enclosure, but also takes on added significance as US President Barak Obama’s efforts to kick start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks gain momentum.

The rerouting of the section four years after Israel's Supreme Court ordered it torn down falls short of villagers’ demands to remove the structure from the village altogether. Villagers have vowed to continue with their weekly protests that have frequently ended in clashes between activists and Israeli troops and turned their village into a symbol of resistance.



The rerouting nevertheless constitutes an ever so miniscule gesture as Mr. Obama desperately tries to forge a deal under which Israeli and Palestinians would return to the negotiating table on the basis of the president’s statement last month that the boundaries of a future Palestinian state should be based on Israel’s borders prior to the 1967 Middle East war. That was the war in which Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In a major speech on the eve of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to Washington last month, Mr. Obama for the first time articulated explicitly a long-standing US belief that peace between Israelis and Palestinians would have to be based on the withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 boundaries adjusted by mutually agreed land swaps that would allow some Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land to be located within the Jewish state.

Mr. Netanyahu responded repeatedly to the speech with tough language that warned that the 1967 boundaries were “indefensible,” and that Israel would not return to them. Nonetheless, Mr. Netanyahu never explicitly rejected Mr. Obama’s principle.

Israel has since then quietly expressed interest in publicly adopting Mr. Obama’s principle if the Palestinians drop their campaign to get the United Nations General Assembly to recognize Palestinian statehood with the 1967 boundaries as its borders. Israel fears that a UN vote in favor of the Palestinian state would further isolate it internationally and make it more vulnerable to sanctions, boycotts and legal challenges.

The Palestine Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated to US officials that it would consider returning to the negotiating table and dropping its bid for UN recognition if Israel were to refer publicly to the 1967 borders as the basis for renewed talks and halt the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land for at least a brief period of time.

The Palestinian eagerness to revive the peace talks despite the fact that they have little confidence in Mr. Netanyahu’s sincerity or Mr. Obama’s willingness or ability to twist Israel’s arm to force it to make the concessions needed to achieve peace stems from concern that the bid for UN recognition could backfire on them.

Mr. Obama has already vowed to veto the expected recognition by the General Assembly of Palestinian statehood once it is tabled for confirmation in the UN Security Council. In addition, Canada and various European nations have turned the Palestinian UN campaign into a stick with which they are seeking to nudge the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The Canadians, Americans and Europeans are also using that argument to persuade others not to vote in favor of the UN resolution expected to be discussed in the General Assembly in September.

Mr. Abbas fears further that adoption of the resolution by the General Assembly would create exaggerated expectations among Palestinians who would turn their frustration at a veto in the Security Council on his administration, blaming it for its failure to achieve a solution to the Palestinian problem that would rid them of 44 years of Israeli occupation and grant them independence.

As always in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the devil is in the details and nothing is a deal even if it is signed and sealed. Nonetheless, the campaign for UN recognition of statehood has given last month’s enunciation by Mr. Obama of the pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace talks a new lease on life after it initially seemed to constitute little more than a still born baby.

Mr. Netanyahu may agree in principle with Mr. Obama’s norm even if he has so far refused to adopt the president’s language. Nonetheless, he is concerned enough about the impact of UN recognition of Palestinian statehood to consider uttering the words if Mr. Abbas is willing to take the same risk of choking on his own words. Mr. Netanyahu has demanded that in return for his explicit acceptance of the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, Mr. Abbas should explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state rather than just an Israeli state.

That would amount to Palestinian recognition of Jewish rather than Israeli sovereignty of Israel’s within its pre-1967 borders. For Mr. Abbas that would effectively mean that he surrenders the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes within Israel proper and could jeopardize potential claims for compensation. That is a demand that Mr. Abbas is unlikely to accept. Mr. Abbas also rejects Israeli demands backed by Mr. Obama that Israeli troops remain based on Palestinian territory once the Palestinian state is established and that the state is demilitarized.

US officials doubt that they will be able to bridge the gap any time soon and are considering drafting a set of principles that would be part of the invitation to attend renewed peace talks but would not have to be endorsed by either party as a pre-condition. The formula inspires little confidence that the talks would fare any better than failed negotiations in the past but would help both the Israelis and Palestinians get off a path that threatens to backfire on both of them.

While the contours of peace are clear to both parties neither is willing to accommodate the other to the degree needed to ensure successful negotiations. Israel’s rerouting of the section of the West Bank barrier near Bilin may be a tiny gesture but it is too little too late and has already failed to persuade even the villagers that Israel is sincere.

As a result, a return to the negotiating table could amount to little more than a stay of execution and even deeper felt frustration.

Investigator doubts veracity of British paper’s allegations of FIFA corruption

FIFA has suspended two members of its executive committee for one to three years, after its probe into alleged misdealings in the bidding for football’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups. (GETTY photo)

FIFA has suspended two members of its executive committee for one to three years, after its probe into alleged misdealings in the bidding for football’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups. (GETTY photo)
Allegations by British newspaper The Sunday Times that executive committee members of world soccer body FIFA are corrupt were designed to further Britain’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, according to a report compiled by a private investigator on behalf of a world soccer body FIFA executive committee member who was suspended on charges of corruption.

The 24-page report entitled Project Airtime summarizing the investigation by French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard asserts that evidence of the alleged corruption submitted by The Sunday Times to a British parliamentary enquiry into soccer governance as well as FIFA was in part fabricated.

Irrespective of whether Mr. Brisard’s allegations are correct, the report constitutes part of an emerging battle between private detectives working on behalf of parties to the biggest corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

It also raises questions about the reporting standards and ethics of media owned by Australian press mogul Robert Murdoch.

The investigation conducted on behalf of Reynald Temarii, the Tahitian FIFA executive committee member who is serving a year-long ban from the federation for breaches of its ethics code, offers a detailed deconstruction of The Sunday Times’ allegations as well as a purported rebuttal of the charges against Mr. Temarii. Mr. Temarii was suspended after the paper reported last year that he was willing to trade his FIFA vote for cash.
Ten FIFA executive committee members have been named as suspects, four of whom have been suspended on charges of corruption and unethical behaviour. FIFA’s ethics committee last month cleared the organization’s president, Sepp Blatter.

The various allegations are based on a variety of sources, including the reporting by The Sunday Times; a private eye investigation of alleged corruption by Jack Warner, a FIFA vice president and former head of North American, Central American and Caribbean soccer, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Mohamed Bin Hammam; and the British parliamentary enquiry.

The allegations prompted Mr. Warner to resign earlier this month and have effectively terminated the career of Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was last month suspended from his position on FIFA’s executive committee and as head of the powerful AFC. FIFA halted its punitive investigation of Mr. Warner, but has said that it had not granted him immunity. The organization said that Mr. Warner had agreed to cooperate as a witness in its inquiry, which is expected to announce its conclusions in July.

The inquiry is looking into allegations that Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner had colluded in May to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to ensure that they supported Mr. Bin Hammam’s bid to unseat Mr. Blatter in FIFA presidential elections.

The allegations forced Mr. Bin Hammam, despite his repeated denials of any wrong doing, to last month drop his challenge to succeed Mr. Blatter. Mr. Blatter was re-elected unchallenged at the beginning of June.

Mr. Bin Hammam’s fall has refocused attention on assertions by The Sunday Times that Qatar bribed two FIFA executive committee members in its controversial but successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar in December of last year and at the same time voted in favour of Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.

Mr. Brisard’s report on behalf of Mr. Temarii is but one salvo in the battle of the private investigators.

The allegations against Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner are based on evidence collected by a private investigator hired by US FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer.

For its part, FIFA said earlier this month that it had hired Freeh Group International Europe, a private investigations firm founded by Louis Freeh, a former director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations to look into allegations that officials from CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body in north and central America as well as the Caribbean, were offered or given bribes in exchange for votes on World Cup 2022 bids.

The Qatar 2022 Bid Committee, which has denied allegations of illicit practices, reportedly engaged prominent international investigations group Kroll to conduct “in-depth source inquiries into the backgrounds, activities and reputations” of former FIFA secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen and of a former FIFA executive committee member from Mali.

The investigation was supposedly intended to help Qatar understand the “competitive environment” the oil-rich Gulf state was facing in its bid for the World Cup. Qatar wanted to ascertain among other things why Mr. Zen-Ruffinen had charged that Qatar had colluded with Spain and Portugal who had tabled a joint bid to host the 2018 World Cup to swap votes.

Mr. Blatter confirmed the illegal swap agreement in February despite the soccer body having announced earlier that it had investigated the allegation but had failed to find sufficient evidence. Mr. Blatter’s stunning acknowledgement raises questions about the integrity of FIFA’s policing of adherence to good governance constituted a bid to undermine Mr. Bin Hammam’s challenge to his presidency.

In an indication of the permissive environment Mr. Blatter has allowed to develop in FIFA under his 12-year tenure, he asserted that the swap agreement was not a concern because it had not affected the executive committee votes in favor of Russia and Qatar.

In his report, Mr. Brisard charges that The Sunday Times allegations constituted “a plot against M. Temarii. Mr. Brisard admits that “there was no clear indication of any external support” but concludes that the paper’s reporting “could have helped bidders in the World Cup bid for 2018 and 2022.”

Geraldine Lesieur, a Paris lawyer who represents Mr. Temarii, told Reuters news agency that our “investigation above all made it possible to demonstrate precisely how they (The Sunday Times) created a veritable ... fabrication making it look like my client had said things he didn’t say during the interview.”

Ms Lesieur pointed out that Mr. Temarii had been cleared by FIFA of the most serious corruption allegations against him, though he had been suspended “for minor violations of ethics rules.”

Mr. Brisard’s report raised eyebrows among journalists because it included personal details about The Sunday Times journalists who had posed as lobbying consultants during their reporting of alleged FIFA corruption, including their home addresses, family information, foreign travel records, and details of previous investigative work, including other fake identities they had adopted for undercover reporting.

Sunday Times editor John Witherow, defended his paper’s reporting on the FIFA scandal in an interview with Reuters and expressed surprise at the fact that private investigators had been looking into the affairs of “journalists who are investigating matters of public interest.”

The paper’s managing editor, Richard Caseby, said “the claims that The Sunday Times fabricated its evidence against Reynald Temarii are utterly untrue. There is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claims. ... The Sunday Times investigation was clear, fair and accurate and we fully complied with FIFA’s request for assistance in its investigation. We note that Mr Temarii is still under suspension by FIFA.”

Mr. Murdoch’s endorsement of deception as a legitimate journalistic reporting tool is not a universally accepted practice in the media. Many news organizations insist that there reporters clearly identify themselves as such in recognition of the fact that it is a source’s right to know who he or she is talking to and to choose whether or not to be a source.

The questions raised about The Sunday Times reporting of the FIFA scandal come on the heels of the News of the World, another Murdoch publication that is under investigation by Scotland Yard for allegedly hiring private detectives to hack into voice and e-mail, of British politicians, celebrities, soccer stars, and members of the royal family.

The scandal forced former News of the World Editor Amy Coulson to resign earlier this year as British Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director.

There is no suggestion that Mr. Brisard engaged in illicit practices to compile his report.