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PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi faces trial for FIFA corruption

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Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and FIFA’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke went on trial in Switzerland on Monday accused of corruption in the attribution of World Cup TV rights.

Al-Khelaifi, who is also chairman of Qatar-owned broadcaster beIN Media, is charged with inciting Valcke to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The hearing, which has already been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to last until September 25 at the Federal Criminal Court of Bellinzona.

If the hearing runs its course, it will be the first judgement handed down in Switzerland, the seat of most international sports organizations, on the 20 or so proceedings opened in the last five years surrounding FIFA.

But it opens under another cloud as suspicions of collusion between the Swiss prosecution and FIFA have undermined its credibility.

Valcke, who until 2015 was the right-hand man of now-ousted FIFA president Sepp Blatter, faces the bulk of the charges. He appears in two separate cases of television rights corruption and faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

The 59-year-old Frenchman stands accused of wanting to transfer the Middle East and North Africa rights for screening the 2026 and 2030 World Cups to beIN Media, in exchange for “unwarranted benefits” from Al-Khelaifi.

According to the prosecution, the case relates to a meeting on October 24, 2013, at the French headquarters of beIN, when Al-Khelaifi allegedly promised to buy a villa in Sardinia for five million euros ($5.9 million), granting its exclusive use to Valcke.

Al-Khelaifi, who has denied the charges, was then to hand the property over to the Frenchman two years later under certain conditions.

In return, the prosecution claims, Valcke committed to “do what was in his power” to ensure beIN would become the regional broadcaster for the two World Cups, something which happened on April 29, 2014, in an agreement that FIFA has never since contested.

Legally, however, it is no longer a question of “private corruption”. The prosecution had to drop that qualification because of an “amicable agreement” reached at the end of January between FIFA and Al-Khelaifi, the contents of which have not been made public.

So Valcke must now justify having “kept for himself” advantages “which should have gone to FIFA”.

Al-Khelaifi, who as president of this year’s beaten Champions League finalists PSG is one of the most influential men in world football, faces a charge of “inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement”, for which he could also face five years in prison.

“The major part of this file does not concern our client,” Khelaifi’s lawyers have told AFP, describing the charges against him as “clearly artificial”.

Al-Khelaifi denies buying the property in question or promising it to Valcke.

Valcke also stands accused of exploiting his position at FIFA between 2013 and 2015 to influence the awarding of media rights for Italy and Greece for various World Cup and other tournaments scheduled between 2018 and 2030 “in order to favour media partners that he preferred” in exchange for payments from Greek businessman Dinos Deris, who has also been charged.

Valcke, who allegedly stood to receive 1.25 million euros in exchange, “disputes the charges”, his lawyer Patrick Hunziker says.

The case has been weakened by accusations of collusion born of three secret meetings in 2016 and 2017 between the current president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, and Switzerland’s former Attorney General Michael Lauber.

Both are under investigation for “obstructing criminal proceedings” — Lauber resigned from his post in July.

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Bale arrives at Tottenham to seal loan move

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Gareth Bale has arrived at Tottenham’s training ground after flying from Spain to complete his move back to the club from Real Madrid.

Bale completed a medical in Madrid on Thursday as he closes on a deal that will see him return to the club he left in a world-record £86m transfer seven years ago.

The Wales captain travelled to London Luton Airport accompanied on a private flight by Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Reguilon, who is set to join Spurs on a five-year deal for a fee that could rise to £32m after also completing a medical on Thursday.

Sky Sports News’ Paul Gilmour says Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham from Real Madrid is just hours away from being completed

Lawyers in Spain and England have been drawing up contracts that will make Bale a Spurs player again on a season-long loan deal. Tottenham have agreed to pay about £20m in wages and loan fees.

Both Bale and Reguilon are likely to meet conditions that will enable them to avoid quarantining upon their arrival to London.

Along with having arrived from an elite sporting environment where coronavirus protocols have been adhered to, the players will both need to have returned negative test results within five days prior to entering the United Kingdom.

Although he played for Wales twice this month, he is not fully matched fit and it is expected that it will take a month for him to get back to his best.

Real Madrid have agreed to let him leave on loan in order to get his £500,000-a-week wages off their books and Tottenham has made all the running to sign him this week.

As well as being frozen out by Zinedine Zidane, Bale has had a difficult relationship with the Spanish media and Real fans, and he is looking forward to making a fresh start back at Spurs.

Manchester United considered making a move for him as a back-up option to Jadon Sancho, but they did not make an offer, even though they have tried to sign him on numerous occasions since he was at Southampton 13 years ago.

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Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open

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Japan’s Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the upcoming French Open with a hamstring injury.

The 22-year-old had her left hamstring taped when she battled back against Victoria Azarenka in the U.S. Open final in New York on Saturday to win her third Grand Slam title.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play the French Open this year,” the world number three wrote on social media in a message she also posted in Japanese.

“My hamstring is still sore so I won’t have time to prepare for the clay – these two tournaments came too close to each other for me this time.

“I wish the organizers and players all the best.”

French Open will be held from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11 after being moved from its usual late May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The hamstring issue had prompted Osaka to withdraw from the final of the Western & Southern Open in the run-up to the U.S. Open but it did not appear to hamper her at Flushing Meadows.

Osaka made headlines in New York as much for her performances on court as for her commitment to social justice causes.

For each of her U.S. Open matches, she wore a different mask that carried the name of a Black American, aiming to highlight racial injustice in the United States to a wider audience.

The withdrawal of Osaka, who has never advanced past the third round at Roland Garros, comes as another blow to the tournament after world number one Ash Barty of Australia said she would not be defending her title due to COVID-19 concerns.

On the men’s side, Roger Federer will not compete as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

Osaka’s absence would improve Serena Williams’s chances of winning a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title if the American chooses to play.

The 38-year-old has pulled out of the Italian Open with an Achilles issue.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said on Thursday it would allow 5,000 spectators per day following a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country.

It had previously said the clay-court major would permit a maximum of 11,500 fans per day.

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Juve terminate Higuain contract, to lose €18.3m

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Serie A champions Juventus confirmed on Thursday they had terminated Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain’s contract by mutual consent.

The former Real Madrid and Napoli forward is reportedly set to join David Beckham’s Major League Soccer franchise Inter Miami.

“This operation generates a negative economic effect of approximately €18.3m on the 2019/20 financial year due to the residual value write-down of the registration rights of the player,” Juve said in a statement.

Juventus paid the €90m release clause to sign Higuain from Napoli in 2016, and he had unsuccessful loans at AC Milan and Chelsea before returning to Turin last season.

But the 32-year-old was immediately told by new Juve coach Andrea Pirlo he was no longer part of the nine-time Serie A champions’ plans.

“He was a great champion, a great player but the cycle is over,” said Pirlo on his arrival in Turin.

“We looked at each other in the eyes, we talked and we made this decision.

“I admire him a lot, but we have decided that the paths will separate.”

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