Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial
PSG owner Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi waves to his team’s fans after their Champions League round 16 match against Manchester United at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester in February 2019. (AP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial
  • Al-Khelaïfi was cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement
  • The Swiss federal criminal court found Valcke guilty of repeated forgery and passive corruption

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi was acquitted in Switzerland on Friday for a second time in a retrial of alleged wrongdoing linked to former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke.
Al-Khelaïfi was cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement for allowing Valcke to use a vacation home in Sardinia rent free. Prosecutors tried to link the home, bought by a Qatari company in 2013, to Al-Khelaïfi-led broadcaster beIN Media Group getting a renewed World Cup rights deal from FIFA.
Valcke, who was FIFA’s top administrator for eight years until being removed in 2015, was acquitted again of criminal mismanagement and convicted on separate charges not involving Al-Khelaïfi. They relate to taking kickbacks in negotiations for World Cup broadcast rights in Italy and Greece.
The Swiss federal criminal court found Valcke guilty of repeated forgery and passive corruption. He was given a longer suspended sentence — 11 months instead of three — than he received after the original trial in September 2020.
Lawyers for Valcke said in a statement he would appeal and “the guilty verdict is therefore in no way final.”
A third defendant, Greek marketing executive Dinos Deris, was convicted of active corruption and given a 10-month suspended sentence after first being acquitted in 2020. He was again cleared of inciting Valcke to mismanagement against FIFA’s interests.
The sentences for Valcke and Deris were both suspended for probationary periods of two years.
The retrial was held in March at the Swiss federal criminal court after prosecutors appealed against the original verdicts.
Al-Khelaïfi’s second acquittal was hailed by his legal team as “total vindication.”
“The years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated — twice,” lawyer Marc Bonnant said in a statement.
During a five-year investigation, Al-Khelaïfi, who is also a member of the World Cup host nation’s government, rose in power and status in European soccer.
Despite being a suspect in Swiss criminal proceedings, Al-Khelaïfi was elected in 2019 to join the UEFA executive committee and now leads the influential European Club Association after PSG refused to join the failed Super League project last year.
The prosecution case against Al-Khelaïfi focused on beIN’s renewal of World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa with FIFA around the time the Italian villa was bought.
Lawyers for Al-Khelaïfi argued beIN’s deal for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, said in court to be worth $480 million in total, was good for FIFA.
While often using the vacation home from 2013 to 2015, Valcke also oversaw FIFA-led talks to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from June and July to the cooler months of November and December. FIFA was also awaiting, then dealing with the fallout from, its ethics committee’s investigation into the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
The charges proven against Valcke related to filing three payments totaling 1.25 million euros ($1.32 million) to his personal company’s accounts as loans.
However, the three appeal court judges withdrew an order made in 2020 for Valcke to pay FIFA 1.75 million euros ($1.84 million) in restitution.
“Mr. Valcke did not harm FIFA and his full acquittal on the counts of mismanagement has therefore logically been confirmed,” his legal firm, Geneva-based RVMH Attorneys, said in a statement. “Just as logically, the criminal justice system has now rejected FIFA’s civil claims.”
FIFA declined comment until studying the judges’ written verdict which the court has said will likely not be published before September.
Valcke’s convictions were announced in the same week that former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on trial in the same Bellinzona courthouse in a separate case. Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini faced fraud, forgery and financial misconduct charges.
Verdicts are due on July 8 in that case, which relates to a Blatter-approved FIFA payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) to Platini in 2011.
Blatter and Valcke are still suspects in a separate Swiss criminal proceeding that also involves former FIFA finance director Markus Kattner. That case is about a $1 million FIFA payment to the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation in 2010.
Al-Khelaïfi has also been under investigation by financial prosecutors in Paris for payments linked to Qatari bids to host the track and field world championships, which were staged in Doha in 2019.


Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees
Updated 18 sec ago

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees

Ancelotti ‘surprised’ by Kroos absence from Ballon d’Or nominees
MADRID: Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday said he was surprised that German midfielder Toni Kroos did not feature on the list of 30 finalists for the Ballon d’Or.
Five members of the Champions League winning side were nominated on Friday in the shape of Thibault Cortois, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and favorite Karim Benzema.
New signing Antonio Rudiger is also on the list but there was no room for the German midfielder Kroos.
“It surprises me a bit, because Kroos had a fantastic season... But it’s true that it could be a problem if we named all the Real Madrid players, I can understand that,” quipped Ancelotti in a press conference ahead of Madrid’s Liga opener at Almeria on Sunday.
“But (Federico) Valverde, (Eder) Militao, (David) Alaba... all deserve to be there.
“All of them had a fantastic season. I’m not talking about winning the Ballon d’Or, but they deserve to be on the list.”
Ancelotti was particularly pleased with the inclusion of Brazilian forward Vinicius on the 30-strong list of nominees.
“He scored the winning goal in our 14th Champions League, he had an incredible season,” said the Italian.
“He doesn’t care if he finishes fourth or second. For the players, only victory matters. He will do better in the future. But unfortunately for Vini, this season, we already have the winner with us.”
Ancelotti was in little doubt, it seems, that French striker Benzema, who is hotly tipped to succeed would walk away with the award.
The Ballon d’Or will be awarded on October 17.
Real Madrid will kick off the defense of their La Liga title at newly-promoted Almería.
“We are feeling good, we have all the hope in the world as we start this season,” said Ancelotti, adding that “each game will be very difficult, starting tomorrow.”

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games
Updated 13 August 2022

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem wins 3 silvers at Islamic Solidarity Games
  • Kingdom’s handball team reaches semifinals after topping group

KONYA: Weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem on Friday claimed three more medals for Saudi Arabia at the fifth edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey.

Al-Saleem’s three silver medals came in the 61 kilogram division after he managed a lift of 123 kilograms in the Snatch category, 154 kilograms in the Clean and Jerk, and a points total of 277 to finish second overall.

Saudi’s medal tally on Friday night stood at 15, with one gold, 10 silvers and four bronzes.

Al-Saleem’s teammate Nawaf Al-Mazeedi finished seventh overall in the under-67 kilogram competition with a points total of 296 (136 in Snatch, 160 in Clean and Jerk).

In the women’s weightlifting competition, Saudi’s Al-Anoud Al-Shehri took sixth place in the 59 kilogram division with a total of 141 points, a new personal record.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia reached the semifinals of the handball competition after playing out a 27-27 draw with Qatar in their final group match.

With that result, the Kingdom qualified to the last four as group winners on goal difference, and will now face hosts Turkey on Saturday evening.

Qatar will meet Iran in the other semifinal.


Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend
Updated 13 August 2022

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend

Omar Al-Somah departs Al-Ahli as Saudi Pro League legend
  • The highest-scoring foreign striker in the league’s history has joined Al-Arabi of Qatar on loan after the Jeddah club’s relegation

Meeting Omar Al-Somah at the 2019 Asian Cup, I asked him what ambitions he had remaining in his career with his 30th birthday fast approaching.

“I just want to score as many goals as possible and help my club and country win as many games as possible,” he replied. He may feel some regret about not appearing at the World Cup with Syria, but when it comes to his club career his achievements will one day be seen as legendary.

There are always headlines and attention given to the big-name foreign strikers who come to the Saudi Professional League, and understandably so. The likes of Odion Ighalo and Bafetimbi Gomis arrived in the country with resumes full of international appearances and spells with big clubs in big leagues. Yet, there are forwards from other Arab nations that come and score more and do so for longer. Abderrazak Hamdallah is one. The Moroccan marksman has played just 82 league games in Saudi Arabia for Al-Nassr and now Al-Ittihad and has found the target an incredible 87 times.

And then there is Al-Somah, the most consistent of all. No foreign striker has scored as many in the history of the SPL and, after joining Al-Ahli in 2014, he has finally departed and joined Al-Arabi on loan for one season, a deal that will cost the Qatari club what will surely be a bargain amount of $3.2 million.

It was only following Al-Ahli’s shock relegation last season that he left.

The second tier is no place for a player of such talents and there were plenty of offers from across the region but Al-Ahli preferred a loan move.

That is because his statistics are something special. Al-Somah played 240 games in all competitions for the Jeddah giants and scored an amazing 192 goals and contributed 30 assists. His 144 league goals are a record for a foreign player. The only other non-Saudi star in the top 10 all-time goalscorers is Hamdallah. 

From 2014 to 2017, the striker from the east of Syria won the Golden Boot in three consecutive seasons. His goals played a big part in Al-Ahli winning their fourth title in 2016 as well as bringing other trophies such as the Saudi Super Cup, the King’s Cup and the Saudi Crown Prince Cup to the Red Sea Port.

It is with a heavy heart that he leaves his home of almost a decade.

“I played eight years with Al-Ahli,” he said. “During that time I helped win the league championship and was the league’s top scorer three times, but the most important thing is the collective achievement. I leave Al-Ahly after such a long time and it comes as a shock but I will try my best to adapt to my new team.”

“I know Al-Arabi Club and I am honored to play in the Qatari league and I hope to leave an imprint with the team,” Al-Somah said. 

He should do just that. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, he scored plenty of goals for his hometown club of Al-Fotuwa before moving to Kuwaiti giants Al-Qadsia in 2011, where he continued to score almost a goal a game over three seasons.

It is testament to the quality of Al-Somah’s marksmanship that a total of 22 goals over the past two seasons seems relatively small.

By that time, Al-Ahli were fading as a force and the warnings that came with the mid-table finish in the 2020-21 season were not heeded, or at least, not dealt with adequately. With Al-Ahli struggling, there was not as much possession and control in games and fewer chances were created. The striker has slowed a little as he passed his 33rd birthday and the power is not quite as explosive. 

He will still score for a while yet but whatever happens, the Syrian leaves Saudi Arabia as a legend. Had Al-Ahli maintained their standards, he could have become the record goalscorer in the Asian Champions League though as it stands, his 25 means that he is number seven on the all-time list. 

Al-Somah also leaves a reminder that it is not all about buying players from South American, English Premier League or Ligue 1 clubs.

He arrived from Kuwait back in 2014 when few would have predicted that he would last so many seasons and score so many goals for Al-Ahli. As deals go, it wasn’t seen as the biggest or the most exciting but it has been one of the most successful.

In fact, it has been legendary and whether he returns to terrorize Saudi Arabian defenses again or not, Omar Al-Somah will never be forgotten.


Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons
Updated 13 August 2022

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons

Gamers8 unveils dedicated space for Saudi’s Team Falcons
  • Falcon Arena and Falcon District will feature activities for gaming enthusiasts

RIYADH: Gamers8 has announced that Team Falcons, Saudi Arabia’s biggest esports outfit, will have its own dedicated space at the Riyadh event until the end of the season.

Fresh from a second-place finish in “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege,” Team Falcons are now set for more acknowledgment by having two dedicated areas at the event, which runs daily at Boulevard Riyadh City until Sept. 8.

The first area is the Falcon Arena, which features gaming tournaments, meet-and-greet activities with influencers and content creators, as well as a live cooking show. The second area, the Falcon District, features merchandise, a gaming PC center, a museum that showcases the team’s accomplishments, an academy titled “Learn to be a PRO,” as well as a streaming area.

Mosaad Al-Dossary, FIFA eWorld Cup winner and CEO of Team Falcons, said: “Team Falcons are delighted to play such a distinguished role in the unprecedented success of Gamers8. It has been an incredible season at Boulevard Riyadh City so far, packed with outstanding esports play — and not least from Team Falcons.

“The addition of the Falcon Arena and Falcon District to the plethora of entertainment activities at Gamers8 is certain to encourage those who have yet to attend the event, as well as usher back those who want more. The Saudi Esports Federation is responsible for nurturing elite gaming athletes and developing the gaming community and industry in Saudi Arabia, and Team Falcons is both honored and thrilled to be part of this latest initiative in doing so. We look forward to seeing everyone.”

Both the Falcon Arena and Falcon District are open daily from 6 p.m. until midnight.


Eddie Howe will not rush Newcastle’s star summer signing Botman

Eddie Howe will not rush Newcastle’s star summer signing Botman
Updated 13 August 2022

Eddie Howe will not rush Newcastle’s star summer signing Botman

Eddie Howe will not rush Newcastle’s star summer signing Botman
  • Dutch center-half likely to start on the bench again with Dan Burn facing former club Brighton at the Amex Stadium

NEWCASTLE: Star summer signing Sven Botman’s Newcastle United development will not be rushed, insists head coach Eddie Howe.

The Netherlands youth international has so far been the Magpies’ stand-out signing of the summer, having arrived on a $36-million deal from Lille on July 1.

Howe, though, opted not to hand the 22-year-old his full debut on the opening day against Nottingham Forest, instead retaining his central defensive partnership from last season, Dan Burn and Fabian Schar.

Ajax academy graduate Botman did get his first taste of Premier League action off the bench, however, as a 90th-minute sub.

“The more training time we can get into Sven, the better,” Howe said.

“But every situation is very unique. You can never blueprint because that changes within seconds sometimes.

“The more training, the more he gets to understand how we want him to play and his teammates around him will serve him very well.

“I’ve been very pleased with him in pre-season. Him not playing (against Forest) wasn’t a reflection on his performances, he’s been excellent.

“As I said after the game, it was about keeping continuity in our backline that performed very well during the back end of last season.

“Sven’s got a huge part to play.”

The Magpies head to Brighton and Hove Albion today, looking to make it two top-flight wins out of two.

They face a side, though, who recorded their first win at Old Trafford against Manchester United, and who have one of the most respected managers in the English game, Graham Potter.

“Brighton are a very unique team. When you play them, you have a huge challenge on your hands,” Howe said.

“Tactically, I think they’re excellent — Graham (Potter) has done an amazing job there and it’s well documented how innovative and forward-thinking he is.

“Watching the game against Manchester United was a really interesting one from a tactical viewpoint so we’re going to be challenged.

“Every game is different in the Premier League but this one is a big challenge and we’re going to need to respond to it. It’s very different to Nottingham Forest — we’re away but we have prepared for Brighton and hope we can impose our style on them.”

One of Newcastle’s stand-out players from last term started 2021/22 as a Seagulls’ player.

Center-half Burn was a revelation for Howe after making the January switch north — and the head coach is expecting more of the same at the Amex Stadium this afternoon.

He said: “Dan’s an incredible professional. He’s been outstanding for us since he signed for the football club.

“I know it will be a big day for him and probably an emotional day in some ways, going back to a club that he’s performed very well at and consistently performing at a high level.

“I’m sure he’ll get a good reception and welcome for everything he gave Brighton.

“He has been a real presence in the training ground and a very calming influence. He’s got good experiences in the game and has never had it easy.

“He’s had to graft to get into the position he’s in now and he’s not prepared to let that go easily. He’s very popular in the dressing room and the lads look up to him.”