WORLD Cup draw conspiracy theories, bids for the 2026 World Cup, the $5.66 billion ticket target to be met, and rainbow flags will be tolerated in Russia.

Ahead of the Russia World Cup draw, it’s another edition of our new column: 2018 World Cup Scout.

PHANTOM DRAW: FIFA flip to break 2018 World Cup draw wide open


Conspiracy theories around the World Cup draw were scotched before any talk arises of warm or cold plastic balls in Moscow.

Friday’s draw at the State Kremlin Palace will be a purely random affair, a FIFA competition official insisted, when asked about the possibilities of tournament draws being fixed.

Past draws have attracted their fair share of speculation about the use of warmer or colder plastic balls placed in the various pots used for seeded teams and groups.

After the draw in Brazil four years ago, reports emerged in Argentina that said reporters were told in advance which group the team would be in. But FIFA director of competitions Chris Unger says he can assure everyone the balls are exactly the same.

“There is no truth in that … it is entirely random,” said Unger, who has been involved in two previous competition draws.

“I can invite you up to the stage and you can convince yourself that there are balls with different colours (hosts Russia will have a red ball) but there is no difference otherwise. They are the same size and temperature.”

Ex-FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup.
Camera IconEx-FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup.Picture: AP

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, now serving a football ban, claimed last year that European draws had been fixed with hot and cold balls.

Asked by Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper about the easy-looking group Argentina were drawn in during the last World Cup, Blatter said all the draws he had been involved in were “clean to the last detail” but he knew of other draws that had been fixed.

“Of course, you can put a signal in the balls, warming them or cooling them,” he said.

“It didn’t exist at FIFA but I was a witness at draws, at a European level, where that happened. But never at FIFA. It certainly can be done but in my time it never happened. Never.”

UEFA said Blatter’s claims were “absurd”. will have a live blog of the draw tonight (2am AEDT), and all the reaction and analysis, while Fox Sports News will have a full reaction show at 9.30am on Saturday with Daniel Garb, Mark Bosnich, Craig Moore and John Kosmina.

ULTIMATE GUIDE: Russia World Cup draw

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ROOS DRAWS: Best and worst possible scenarios

Former England international Gary Lineker is conducting the draw, but said he wouldn’t have been able to if Blatter was still president of FIFA.

“They are making lots of changes there, a massive amount,” he said, according to The Times.

“There is hardly anyone left from the old guard. If Blatter had still been in charge, I would not have done it.

“Most of the old guard, the ones responsible for the corruption, are now thankfully either suspended or locked up or about to be locked up.”


Morocco and the three-nation ticket of the United States, Mexico, and Canada formally confirmed their bids to host the 2026 World Cup on Thursday’s deadline.

That World Cup will be the first to include 48 teams, rather than the 32 who will compete in Russia next year and in Qatar in 2022.

The next stage will be the submission of complete candidacy dossiers by the candidates on March 16.

The host will be chosen on June 13 next year, but the way the choice is made marks a change by FIFA, the governing body of world football.

The decision used to be made by FIFA’s executive committee, but following the suspicions that hovered over its selection of Russia and Qatar in December 2010, and the subsequent scandal that dethroned president Sepp Blatter, the committee was stripped of some power and renamed the FIFA Council.

The new-look council must rubberstamp the bids, but the final decision will be taken in a vote of the 211 national federations at a congress in Moscow.

Christian Pulisic of the U.S. National Team.
Camera IconChristian Pulisic of the U.S. National Team.Picture: AFP


Even taking a financial hit from Italy and the United States failing to qualify, FIFA’s top salesman insists the 2018 World Cup will make its income target.

Italy’s loss in the playoffs wiped tens of millions of dollars off the value of an unsold broadcasting deal. One of FIFA’s most valuable markets is typically worth $200 million per World Cup.

The surprise U.S. elimination – as Panama qualified – affects finding four North American sponsors in a new, and stalled, regional sales program. Just one of 20 slots has sold worldwide, to an oligarch-owned bank in host nation Russia. “Everybody is annoyed with the non-qualification of the U.S. which was not expected, to be honest,” said FIFA commercial director Philippe Le Floc’h, who has targeted deals with American tech firms.

Still, the French-Swiss official insists FIFA will reach a $5.66 billion income target for the 2015-18 sales period even with gaps in the line-up of 34 potential sponsors.

“Obviously the more positions we fill the better. On the other hand, we are not going to go cheap,” Le Floc’h told The Associated Press on Thursday in his first media interview since joining FIFA 14 months ago.

“The job we have to do is make sure that our financial projections, our budget numbers, are delivered. And they will be delivered,” he said.

Fabio Cannavaro of Italy greets a Super Fan on the stage as Diego Forlan of Uruguay looks on.
Camera IconFabio Cannavaro of Italy greets a Super Fan on the stage as Diego Forlan of Uruguay looks on.Picture: Getty Images


Russia’s top anti-discrimination official for football has indicated spectators will be allowed to fly rainbow flags at the World Cup.

Alexei Smertin, a World Cup ambassador and the Russian Football Union’s anti- racism and anti-discrimination inspector, says spectators won’t be affected by a Russian law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors.

Smertin says, “There will definitely be no ban on wearing rainbow symbols in Russia. It’s clear you can come here and not be fined for expressing feelings.”

The former Russia and Chelsea midfielder adds its unlikely gay fans could fall foul of Russian law, saying “The law is about propaganda to minors … I can’t imagine that anyone is going to go into a school and speak.”

Famous Everton supporter 'Speedo Mick' holds up a rainbow flag in the crowd, in support of Stonewall's rainbow laces campaign during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Everton.
Camera IconFamous Everton supporter ‘Speedo Mick’ holds up a rainbow flag in the crowd, in support of Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Everton.Picture: AFP


Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief vowed to AFP on Thursday that next year’s addition of the showpiece football competition will leave behind no abandoned “white elephant” stadiums or hotels.

Speaking on the eve of Friday’s group stage draw for the June 14-July 15 tournament, Alexei Sorokin said in an interview inside the State Kremlin Palace that Western sanctions on Russia did not impact its preparations in any way.

And he admitted that the national squad faced strong pressure to do well at home, but stressed that Russia liked to play up to the level of its competition and did not fear giants such as defending champions Germany or other big teams.

Nations have begun to shy away from staging major sport tournaments such as the Olympic Games because of the costs involved and the risk of much of the infrastructure falling into disuse, angering the public about wasted resources.

Alexei Sorokin (R), 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organizing Committee CEO.
Camera IconAlexei Sorokin (R), 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organizing Committee CEO.Picture: AFP

Sorokin said this was not the case with Russia because many of the 11 host cities required overdue upgrades such as new airports and hotels — not to mention football-specific stadiums that could improve fan interest and attendance.

“Needless to say, it is infrastructure that would have been built anyway — nothing was built specifically for the World Cup,” said Sorokin.

“No white elephants, nothing unneeded, nothing superfluous, everything will be put to use for Russian citizens in the coming years,” he said in English.

The entire project will officially cost $11.5 billion (9.7 billion euros), with roughly a third of that coming from private funding.

Sorokin said Russia was already “80 per cent” ready and that each of the seven brand new stadiums would host three matches ahead of the World Cup to make sure they were fully prepared.

When James Pickens Jr. got the call from his manager 12 years ago to read for a pilot called “Grey’s Anatomy,” little did he know it would lead to him holding a record for the longest running African-American male role in television history.

“I never thought it would last this long,” said the Ohio native who portrays Dr. Richard Webber on the ABC medical drama. “As actors, we’re guns for hire. We go in and do a job and then before that one ends we’re looking for the next one. Eriq La Salle was on “E.R.” for quite a long time, but I don’t know if he was there for 14 seasons.”

That kind of longevity is rare especially on a Shonda Rhimes series.

“I’ve had such great storylines and she’s written me some incredible stuff as an African-American mature actor,” Pickens said. “This is Hollywood. I never assume anything, but at this point I feel pretty secure.”

While on hiatus, he is co-hosting with Aimee Garcia (“Lucifer”) the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors’ 35th annual Caucus Awards Dec. 3 at L.A.’s Skirball Cultural Center.

Among the nominees for this year’s ceremony are producers Kenya Barris (“Black-ish”) and Ilene Chaiken (“Empire”); writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson”); and directors Ken Olin (“This Is Us”) and Ava Duvernay (“Queen Sugar,” “13th”).

A portion of the proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Caucus Foundation, which has provided grants and awards of $1.6 million to 164 worthy students to complete their film, television or new media projects.

Pickens believes it’s important that groups like the Caucus bring awareness to those that are giving a creative conscience to the industry.

“Hollywood is finally realizing they have to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk,” he said. “[Recent events have] brought to light that they have to ramp back up the moral barometer of Hollywood. This is nothing new. It’s just now that women are not going to take being objectified and rightfully so.”

“I think it’s more incumbent on the men in Hollywood to understand they have a responsibility,” Pickens added. “These awards shows now can bring that to light and hopefully we can move on. Not forget it, but highlight and find ways to adjust in a way that’s going to be positive.”

“The big thing was that no one was held accountable,” he added. “I think, especially with the things with Harvey Weinstein, folks are finally saying no. You’re not going to get a pass on this one. We got to look at this for what it is and address it for what it is. And not sugar coat it.”

Pickens, who is an experienced horseman and roping champion, has just entered a producing partnership with Morgan Freeman on a longtime dream project for both to bring the story of Bass Reeves to television.

Of the black man who was the first deputy U.S. Marshall and basis of the Lone Ranger, he said, “We had a great meeting with CBS and have two great young writers that have a clear and exciting way to tell it, so we’re moving forward.”

“[Morgan] always wanted to play this role,” said Pickens, who will now have a hand in searching for the right actor. “He’d been tracking this thing for 25 years as I have. It’s such an incredible story. I think we have something that will be pretty special.”

CLIPPETTES: The 60th Grammy Awards nominations were announced with Jay-Z receiving the most with eight, including Album of the Year for “4:44.” Kendrick Lamar garnered seven including one in the same coveted category for “DAMN,” giving a hip hop artist a rare chance to receive the honor at the ceremony to be held Jan. 28 in New York

A variety of genres are represented on Dec. 1 with country singer Valerie June at the Globe, soul diva Teedra Moses at the Troubadour and Lizz Wright at the Catalina Jazz Club. Also that night, En Vogue, Blackstreet, Ginuwine and Midnight Star jam at Anaheim’s House of Blues

Will Downing’s Soulful Sounds of Christmas will fill the City National Grove of Anaheim on Dec. 3 with special guest Avery Sunshine …

Alan Govenar’s feature-length documentary “Extraordinary Ordinary People,” described as “a music-fueled journal through folk and traditional arts in America,” has its L.A premiere Dec. 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall to be followed by a question-and-answer session with the director

Classical soul duo Black Violin is in concert Dec. 5 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, with jazz crooner Gregory Porter set for the next evening

Debbie Allen’s “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” returns Dec. 7 for a three-night engagement at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, where she will be joined by Tisha Campbell-Martin, Tichina Arnold, Carlo Imperato, Matthew Johnson, Kristopher Nobles and Dada …

Andra Day, Dave Matthews, Pharrell Williams, Savion Glover and Tony Bennett have been revealed as the special guests for Stevie Wonder’s 21st annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert on Dec. 10 at Staples Center.

TASTY QUIP: “They’re trying to change the name of Harlem to So Ha and No Ha. That’s BS. When I was growing up we called D.C., Chocolate City. Now, Vanilla Swirl. Gentrification is all over the world. And no one talks about how the black and brown people are missing. Where do they go after being misplaced?” – SPIKE LEE to News One Now

TC ON TV: Dec. 1 – “All Def Comedy” (HBO): Tony Rock hosts this all-new six-show revival of Russell Simmons’ landmark stand-up series with turns from well-known comedians such as DeRay Davis and Gary Owen, along with emerging talent. DJ Mustard is the new music supervisor for the episodes taped in October at L.A.’s Avalon Theatre. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC): The cast of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” “The Tonight Show” (NBC): Queen Latifah, Sam Smith.

Dec. 3 – “Miss Me This Christmas” (TV1): Erica Ash, Redaric Williams and Eva Marcille star in this holiday tale of a marriage on the rocks.

Dec. 7 – “Psych: The Movie” (USA): The fan favorite series starring James Roday and Dule Hill returns as an original movie with Zachary Levi and John Cena. “The Great American Baking Show” (ABC): The British hit gets a domestic makeover with Ayesha Curry and former NFLer Anthony “Spice” Anderson as co-hosts. “Top Chef” (Bravo): Kicks off season 15 in Colorado with its most diverse group of chefs ever including Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen guru Tonya Holland; Brooklyn’s Butterfunk Kitchen owner Christopher Scott; Adrienne Cheatham, former head chef at Harlem’s Red Rooster; and Fatima Ali, the first Pakistani woman to ever win on “Chopped.”

TASTY QUIP: “America will survive once it recognizes the position it’s in, and the trials that it’s facing. Once people stop being nonchalant to it and recognize it, that’s when. When it’s not something that’s just swept under the rug because we’re the quote-unquote ‘greatest country in the world.’” – KENDRICK LAMAR to Variety

As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment newspaper columns on the West Coast, serving nearly one million weekly readers. To reach Bill Vaughan, send email to or via Twitter @tastyclips.