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Fans arriving for Qatar World Cup find searing heat, heavy security and a last-minute booze ban

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A fan of Mexico walks outside the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha on Nov. 19, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-four hours ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, fans are pouring in to the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, though human-rights concerns and questions over how a conservative Muslim country will deal with the influx of foreigners continue to dog the tournament.

The topic on everyone’s lips Saturday was the Qatari authorities reversing a decision to allow beer to be sold at stadiums, a last-minute move that will limit the sale of alcohol to specially-designated fan zones. Speaking to the press early in the day, FIFA president Gianni Infantino downplayed the issue, saying “if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.”

But the rule change has renewed concerns over whether Qatar will backtrack on other commitments, such as welcoming LGBTQ people despite a ban on homosexuality in the country.

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Qatar is spending billions to ensure the World Cup is a success – and to improve its global reputation

For most fans who spoke to The Globe and Mail in Doha on Saturday, the alcohol decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Canadian Peter McCormick, who had flown in with his family from Ottawa, said he “always kind of expected it.”

“They were on, clearly, the fence from the beginning,” he said.

For some, the news came as they were mid-flight to Doha.

“My girlfriend told me this morning,” said Paul Gayet, a British fan. But given the sale of alcohol is banned at stadiums back home, as in many European countries – a legacy of laws to tackle hooliganism – Mr. Gayet said he never really expected anything different from Qatar.

“I’m a Tottenham fan and I went a bit too hard at Marseille recently and can’t even remember the game, so maybe this will help me.”

He was impressed by Qatar, particularly the provision of free transport for all fans and the atmosphere that was gradually building Saturday as people flew in from all over the world.

“It’s been mega so far,” Mr. Gayet said. “We ran into all these Senegal fans coming off the metro, and then a load of Argentinians, it’s been absolutely brilliant.”

Such proximity with other fans was one of the qualities Mr. Infantino touted in Qatar’s favour Saturday. The emirate – not much bigger than Prince Edward Island – is the smallest country ever to host the World Cup. This means visitors are all essentially sharing one city, not dotted around various locations as at previous tournaments.

Other unique aspects of Qatar are less welcome, not the least the heat. The climate remains punishing even in mid-November, particularly on the concrete flats of the Fan Festival area in downtown Doha – where tens of thousands are expected to gather every evening to watch musical and other performances, with hefty prices for refreshments and scant shade.

Fans can, however, seek out shade – or even air conditioning. Around World Cup areas, hundreds of security and liaison staff were left standing out in the heat all day, pointing fans the way to various venues.

What does the FIFA World Cup 2022 bracket look like? Download and print it out here

Worker rights were one of the main concerns heading into the World Cup, and one of the areas where Qatar has made the most progress – at least on paper. In his press conference Saturday, Mr. Infantino pointed to the abolition of the kafala system, whereby migrant workers were essentially indentured to their employers, and limits on how much people could be expected to work outside in summer.

“How many of these European or Western companies who earn millions and millions from Qatar or other countries in the region, billions a year, how many of them have addressed migrant-worker rights with the authorities?” he said of FIFA’s efforts. “I have the answer for you: none of them. Because any change to the legislation means less profit.”

The FIFA president rejected concerns that people might not watch the tournament out of disapproval of Qatar’s treatment of workers or criminalization of homosexuality.

“If you want to stay home and say how bad they are, these Arabs or Muslims or whatever, because it’s not allowed to be publicly gay? Of course I believe it should be allowed, as FIFA president, but I went through a process,” Mr. Infantino said. “If I asked the same question to my father … he would probably have a different answer.”

Mr. McCormick said his decision to come wasn’t influenced by the various criticisms of Qatar. His brother lives in the emirate and the family was always keen to visit – and the World Cup made it the obvious moment to do so.

The Canadian fan was nevertheless slightly taken aback at how controlled everything was.

“We went to the Brazil World Cup in 2014, it was more free,” he said. “Here there’s security everywhere, it’s a lot more organized but it’s also a lot more limited.”

How those security deal with the hordes of fans who will be moving around the country in coming days remains to be seen. The authorities have promised a “soft” approach, and liaison officers from Britain and a number of other countries are working with them to mediate any incidents that arise.

The potential for irate fans remains high, particularly with some stadiums being in remote locations that are only accessible by bus – often with a long walk in the sun to reach the transport.

Concerns also remain around fan villages, the hastily constructed temporary housing that thousands of people are staying in for the duration of the tournament. Many are arriving this weekend to find their villages still under construction and often lacking in facilities, refreshments and security.

The Qataris can, at least, depend on public positivity from a certain group of fans: those the authorities paid to fly in and put up in hotels.

“We’re not sure what we can say publicly, whether we’re allowed to criticize things,” said Darius, a paid fan from Ireland who asked to be identified by one name for that very reason. “We haven’t been given any guidelines – only not to do anything that will cause controversy.”

He said he was painfully aware of the criticisms made of the Qatar World Cup: “This was the most conflicted I’ve ever felt about coming on holiday.”

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Recap: Brazil vs South Korea – World Cup 2022 – Al Jazeera English

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Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.

Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.

And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.

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It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.

The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.

Brazil celebrating their third goal, with goalscorer Richarlison in the centre [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.

South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.

But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.

A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.

Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.

With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.

Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.

Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.

Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.

South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.

Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.

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Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson reveal pro Canadian women's soccer league set for kickoff in 2025 – CBC Sports

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Professional women’s soccer is coming to Canada.

Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced on Monday plans to kick off a domestic professional women’s league in 2025, featuring eight teams throughout Canada.

The two players sat down with The National‘s Adrienne Arsenault to reveal the news.

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After the duo helped Canada capture bronze at the 2012 Olympics — Matheson scored the medal-clinching goal — Sinclair expected progress. After all, the team had just snapped Canada’s 108-year podium drought in the sport.

“I really thought that 2012 was going to be a turning point for this country in bringing professional soccer home,” Sinclair told Arsenault. “But it never happened. And there’s still no pathways within this country.”

And so, a decade later, Sinclair and Matheson took matters into their own hands.

The still unnamed league would begin in April 2025 with an inaugural champion crowned sometime in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian international, and the goal is to bring home about half of the over-100 Canadians currently playing abroad.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler examines absence of top domestic women’s league:

Canada’s greatest athletes still without a domestic league of their own

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Host Signa Butler explains the landscape of women’s sports leagues in Canada, as some of the country’s best athletes are without a league in their own backyard.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are confirmed as the first two teams to join the upstart league.

“Whitecaps FC are thrilled to be one of the first teams to sign on to a professional women’s soccer league in Canada,” said Stephanie Labbe, Whitecaps FC general manager of women’s soccer. “The creation of this league is something we have been advocating for over many years, and to be part of seeing it come to fruition is truly exciting.”

The league is being built by Matheson and her business partners at Project 8 Sports Inc. Sinclair, soccer’s all-time international scoring leader, is on board as an official advisor.

“The whole idea behind this is to aim high. And like, if you’re not, what’s the point?” Sinclair said.

“So let’s go out from the get-go and compete with the best leagues in the world and bring in the top talent. And yeah, have 10 year olds watching a game that 10 years later is on the Whitecaps, for instance. That would be my dream.”

Matheson, who retired from playing in July 2021, has visions of the league pushing the entire Canadian women’s sports infrastructure forward.

“It’s health and wellness. It’s confidence. It’s tied with better academics. There’s a huge tie between women in sport and women in business,” Matheson said. “And this is about soccer, but it’s about the coaches, it’s about the referees, it’s about women in executive roles in sport.”

Part of that women’s sports fabric comes down to marketing like jersey sales. Sinclair said she can’t even get her hands on her own jersey to gift to her niece.

“I don’t know if they exist,” Sinclair said.

Pursuing diversity

Matheson, 38, said she’s been working on obtaining her Master of Business Administration, as well as partaking in UEFA programming. She’s hoping the league becomes a Canada Soccer member by 2023, with full sanctioning by 2024

Sinclair, left, and Matheson, right, at the 2012 Olympics. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

She said Air Canada and CIBC are already on board as sponsors, and that it’s especially important to have the right team owners involved in the league.

“One of the things is having more diversity to begin with — more women, diverse voices to begin with, more players voices to begin with. And that’s top to bottom. I want women owners, women in the executive, women’s player voices as part of this,” Matheson said.

The Oakville, Ont., native made the case that the buy-in, which is expected to be between $8-10 million, is a worthwhile investment, noting that National Women’s Soccer League clubs, which were bought for $150,000 US 10 years ago, are now valued at a minimum of $35 million US. The Orlando NWSL franchise was purchased in 2021 for about $400 million US.

Matheson said her league can compete with average player salaries across the world right now.

“We just have way more opportunities to monetize our own brand. Players can do appearances, they can work with companies, they can run camps in a way that they just can’t when they’re playing in Italy and England,” she said.

Another point of importance for Matheson and Sinclair is ensuring players in their league are protected. Reports of abuse in the NWSL last season resulted in the resignation of half of the league’s coaches.

Sinclair is captain of the Portland Thorns, whose CEO Merrit Paulson stepped down in October following reports of systemic emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual misconduct.

“[It’s] unfortunate just how women are treated and taken advantage of. That’s why we need women owners. We need female executives,” Sinclair said.

Added Matheson: “It’s training, it’s vetting, it’s independent reporting systems. And for us, that’s going to mean working with those groups that are really good at doing those things.”

Sinclair autographs a fan’s ball during a men’s World Cup watch party in Toronto in November. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press)

Establishing pathways

At its crux, though, the league intends to establish pathways for young Canadian women to stay in soccer and work their way onto the national team — to foster future generations so that one day they could get their golden moment like Sinclair had in 2021 in Tokyo.

“It’s time to change the narrative and inspire the next group,” Matheson said. “I believe kids need to see it to believe that it’s possible to happen. And with the launch of this league, kids will be able to go into their own backyard and watch their heroes play and dream of one day representing their hometown professional club and maybe representing Canada.”

Sinclair said she was once one of those kids, watching the 1999 World Cup with a dream to be on that pitch herself one day.

23 years later, the Burnaby, B.C., native has accomplished nearly everything she could in her sport.

“We’ve inspired Canadians on the podium,” Sinclair said. “Now it’s time to actually make an impactful difference here in Canada.”

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