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Jun 8, 2014

Brazil, Qatar continue to cause FIFA problems

After turbulent preparations and the threat of disruptive protests in Brazil and controversies over Qatar, FIFA is hopeful the football will be the main focus during the World Cup.

SAO PAULO, Bra. -- Days before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, the equally troubled 2022 tournament in Qatar continues to cause FIFA problems.

After The Sunday Times newspaper published more allegations linking Mohamed bin Hammam to corruptly building support for Qatar's hosting bid, World Cup sponsors took the rare step of commenting on FIFA business.

FIFA's longest-standing backer, Adidas, lamented a negative tone "neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners."

The tense Saturday evening wait for the newspaper's latest claims was evident at FIFA's World Cup hotel base in Sao Paulo and could be repeated in Rio de Janeiro next week as the newspaper has promised further revelations.

Football's power brokers move to Rio after World Cup matches begin on Thursday.

The Qatar allegations have revived calls for a revote of the 2022 election, and diverted some attention from Brazil pushing its World Cup preparations to the brink.

The $400 million Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo will be barely completed before Thursday's 5 p.m. (2000 GMT) opening kickoff between Brazil and Croatia.

Many in the sold-out 61,000 crowd could struggle to reach the venue, far north-east of the city center, if a subway workers strike which began on Thursday continues.

FIFA had some good news Sunday when a Sao Paulo court ruled the strike over pay was illegal.

Still, union members decided to continue the action and a general strike threatened Wednesday could affect VIP guests arriving for the opening match.

On Sunday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and its top World Cup organizing official, secretary general Jerome Valcke, declined to discuss any off-field issues.

The mood was more relaxed on a sun-bathed Sunday at FIFA's hotel base after a scheduled two-day board meeting wrapped early on Saturday evening.

The executive committee session had finished, and members dispersed, minutes before The Sunday Times was published.

As the World Cup gets set to kick off, world football's governing body is again under scrutiny.

Last weekend, the British newspaper said its cache of Bin Hammam's emails and documents -- leaked by "a senior FIFA insider" -- revealed he paid $5 million to African football leaders for supporting Qatar's 2022 bid and his own FIFA presidential ambitions.

It revived questions about the integrity of natural-gas rich Qatar's win which swirled even before the December 2010 vote of FIFA's board. It also chose Russia as 2018 World Cup host.

The first round of allegations came on the eve of FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia meeting Qatar bid officials in Oman, as he completes a lengthy investigation of the two World Cup bid contests.

This time, The Sunday Times implicated Bin Hammam, who FIFA expelled for financial wrongdoing in 2012, in a natural gas deal with Thailand, home country of longtime FIFA board ally Worawi Makudi.

Bin Hammam allegedly set up government-level talks for Qatar to sell natural gas "potentially worth tens of millions of dollars to Thailand."

Makudi told reporters Sunday he would not discuss the allegations against him without his legal adviser being present.

Regarding the gas sale, Makudi suggested: "Let's go and see. It's money in a public company."

On Sunday, four of FIFA's top-tier sponsors - among six who will pay a collective $700 million over four years toward this World Cup - spoke out about persistent corruption allegations.

"The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners," said Adidas, the World Cup ball provider since 1970.

Visa called on FIFA to "maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency."

The payment card firm's own signing ahead of the 2008 World Cup exposed unethical behavior by FIFA negotiators. The case cost football's governing body $90 million in a damages settlement with Mastercard.

"Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us," Coca-Cola said in a statement, "but we are confident that FIFA is taking these allegations very seriously and is investigating them thoroughly."

A fourth, Sony, called for all claims to be "investigated appropriately."

FIFA's marketing director Thierry Weil said it had constant contact with commercial partners.

"Our sponsors have not requested anything that is not covered by the ongoing investigation by the ethics committee," Weil said in a FIFA statement.

Garcia has said he will close the information-gathering phase of his investigation on Monday.

The former U.S. Attorney should update FIFA's 209 member countries on his work on Wednesday at their annual congress in Sao Paulo.

Garcia is officially barred from sharing investigative detail, and should submit his report days after the World Cup final to FIFA ethics judge, Joachim Eckert.

The Qatar 2022 organizing committee said in a statement Sunday it had fully co-operated with Garcia.

"We are confident that at the end of the appropriate process, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will stand," the statement said.

The World Cup in Qatar, likely to kick off in November 2022 if allowed to proceed, is still at least eight years away -- one year more than Brazil had to get its tournament ready.

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