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International Football

Player revolts plunge Women’s World Cup buildup into turmoil

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Player protests and high-level resignations are dominating headlines amid a growing sense of reckoning in women’s soccer less than five months before the World Cup kicks off.

Noel Le Graet, president of France’s soccer federation (FFF), resigned on Tuesday, while Canada Soccer boss Nick Bontis stepped down a day earlier with those countries’ players embroiled in bitter disputes with their federations.

Canada’s women’s team have vowed to boycott a pre-World Cup camp next month over equal pay and support, while Le Graet faced allegations of harassment. A government ministry audit concluded the 81-year-old Le Graet did not have the “necessary legitimacy” for the position.

French women’s coach Corinne Diacre is also under fire and her future may be decided on March 9 by an FFF select committee.

Spain has also been rocked by a revolt by 15 players, who withdrew from selection consideration in protest at coach Jorge Vilda.

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While the clashes could cast a cloud over the women’s global showcase, which begins on July 20th in New Zealand and Australia, players have vowed their fights are far from over, and some say the recent resignations should be just the tip of widespread changes.

“Bontis’ departure MUST trigger sweeping change,” Amy Walsh, who played for Canada at the 2008 Olympics and earned 102 caps, posted on Twitter. “It’s not enough.

“Our athletes — as well as future generations of Canadian footballers — deserve so much better.”

Neither Bontis nor Le Graet, however, are leaving the game. Bontis was named CONCACAF Council vice-president (North America) on Saturday, while Le Graet, who has denied all accusations, has reportedly been pegged to lead FIFA’s Paris office.

SUCCESS ON THE PITCH

The turmoil in the two women’s programmes is in stark contrast to their success on the pitch. Canada are the reigning Olympic women’s champions, while France topped their group in World Cup qualifying.

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And while the governance battles rage on, female footballers have forged strong bonds — regardless of what country’s colours they wear. When the Canadian women played the recent SheBelieves Cup under protest, they found they had allies in players from around the world.

Both the Americans, who settled an equal pay lawsuit with their federation for $24 million a year ago, and Japanese wore purple tape on their wrists at the SheBelieves Cup, while the U.S. women said in a statement: “Although we are now on the other side of this fight… our counterparts in Canada and elsewhere are experiencing the same pervasive misogyny and unequal treatment that we faced.”

Across the pond, England’s Lionesses wore purple wristbands at the Arnold Clark Cup, to “display their support (for) the Canadian WNT players and for gender equality,” the team said in a tweet.

Canada’s call for equality goes beyond equal pay. Forward Janine Beckie, who was in Qatar for last year’s men’s World Cup as part of Canada’s broadcast crew, saw the “disgusting” discrepancy between the two programmes.

She cited as an example that the Canadian men’s team staff was twice the size of the women’s.

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“I think we’ve been fighting blindly not knowing what our federation was capable of in terms of support, and then we were all witnesses to what our men’s team received,” said longtime captain Christine Sinclair.

Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt told media through tears in Orlando that she nearly quit over shoddy treatment from their federation, but Sinclair and coach Bev Priestman convinced her to reconsider.

France’s team captain Wendie Renard said last week she would not play at the World Cup as long as Diacre is in charge.

Fellow French internationals Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani have also said they were taking a step back from the national team.

Spain’s 15 players declared themselves unavailable, saying in a statement that playing “significantly” affected their “emotional state.”

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The federation replied saying that it wouldn’t tolerate any pressure from players.

-Reuters

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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International Football

Two Moroccan football players lost at sea, says club official

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Abdellatif Akhrif, IRT player reported missing off the coast of M'diq this Saturday, July 6, 2024. © COPYRIGHT: IRT

Two Moroccan players from top-flight soccer side Ittihad Tanger have been missing at sea since Saturday after strong currents drifted their small yacht, a club official said on Sunday.

They were in a group of five players from the club who went cruising off the northern city of Tangier when strong currents and heavy winds drifted their yacht away as they were swimming in deep waters, club deputy president Anass Mrabet told Reuters.

“Three players have already been rescued on Saturday, while research is still ongoing for the missing Salman Harraq and Abdellatif Akhrif,” he said.

The players did not have buoys on them when they jumped from the small yacht to swim, he said citing recounts by rescued players.

While Akhrif, 24, is already a full member of the squad, Harraq, 18, was about to move up to the senior team this year, Mrabet added.

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Ittihad Tanger have been in the Moroccan top flight since 2015 and won the league title for the first and only time in their history in the 2017-18 season. However, they have struggled in the lower half of the standings in recent years.

-Reuters

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International Football

FIFA launches ‘Football Manager’ World Cup with $100,000 in prize money

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FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development and former soccer manager Arsene Wenger speaks during the 74th FIFA Congress at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, in Bangkok, Thailand, May 17, 2024. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

FIFA will host its first ever FIFAe World Cup of Football Manager this year to crown the best virtual manager on the highly-popular video game, world soccer’s governing body said on Thursday.

FIFA is partnering with Sports Interactive, the developers of the game that has sold millions of copies and has also been used by several football clubs to scout players and opponents thanks to its extensive database.

Players will compete for $100,000 in prize money in the final event from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1.

“This competition requires participants to demonstrate a profound understanding of football strategy and tactics,” said former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is the ambassador for the esports event.

“Success demands not only mastery of game mechanics but also in-depth football knowledge, making this format a fascinating blend.”

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FIFA said in the inaugural year of the event, selected member associations will be invited to be represented at the final event.

Member associations from all six confederations are expected to be invited while players can sign up on FIFA’s website.

-Reuters

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Former Italy international Roberto Baggio robbed at gunpoint

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Former Italy international Roberto Baggio was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint at his home in northern Italy while watching his country’s match against Spain in the Euro 2024 tournament on Thursday, local police said.

Burglars broke into Baggio’s house near Vicenza, hit him on the head with a gun butt and locked him and his family in a room while they stole jewellery, watches and cash, daily Il Corriere della Sera reported. It said he suffered a deep wound.

“Luckily, the violence I suffered only resulted in a few stitches, bruises and a lot of fear. Now it is to overcome the fear,” Baggio was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.

Baggio, 57, played for clubs including Juventus (JUVE.MI), opens new tab, AC Milan and Inter Milan. He also played 56 times for Italy, scoring 27 goals, and is widely seen as one of his country’s all-time greats.

After the robbery, Baggio, widely known as the “divine ponytail”, was treated at a local hospital where he received stitches for the head wound, Italian media reported.

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Italy lost to Spain 1-0 on Thursday and now must avoid defeat by Croatia to guarantee progression in the tournament.

-Reuters

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