It looks like I might have a problem. I might not be able to make my Great Aunty Joan’s 105th birthday party. She’s going to be devastated. You see, just as we can always rely on day turning to night, my sister turning up late, and England losing on penalties, we’ve also always known that the football World Cup takes place every four years, in June and July. My family unfailingly plan their birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals around it.
But now Great Aunty Joan’s party is under serious threat. It’s in the diary for November 2022. When not only her party, but also normal world order, looks set to be turned upside down. It will be World Cup time. Yup, Qatar 2022 World Cup time. Or it will be if certain members of the football community have their way.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said last weekend he expects his executive committee to decide at the start of October that the Qatar World Cup should be moved from its usual June/July place in the calendar to avoid the searing heat in the Middle East country. He told The Associated Press: “I would be very much surprised, more than surprised, if the ExCo will not accept the principle you cannot play in summer in Qatar.”
Blatter expects a meeting in Zurich on October 3-4 to approve the change, and begin consultation on the best time for Qatar to host the tournament.
But this is where the fun and games really start. FIFA may be world football’s governing body, but the world doesn’t exactly agree on the way forward.
The United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia were the countries that lost out in the fight to host 2022. Frank Lowy, chairman of the Football Federation Australia, said from the moment his country lost the vote in 2010 that he’s not giving up hope.
Best case for them, a new host country gets picked – but if the tournament date gets moved, then there’s talk of legal action. After all, back in December 2010 the FIFA ExCo members were asked to vote on a tournament to take place in June and July, and that’s the basis on which bids were submitted.
What about Europe? UEFA president Michel Platini voted for Qatar, but as a former player he has now admitted that it would be awful having to play in temperatures that can reach 50C. The Frenchman is in the camp of moving the tournament by date, not country. Germany’s Karl Heinz Rumenigge is keeping his cards very close to his chest – but the same can’t be said for the English.
While the Football Association’s new chief executive Greg Dyke admits a change of date is more likely than a change of venue, the English Premier League is firmly in the camp of wanting a new bidding process. It is one of the few European leagues to have long opposed having a winter break – so a winter World Cup is its worst nightmare. EPL officials point to the huge upheaval it would mean administratively and for the golden goose of television – saying it will have a major impact on three seasons of scheduling.
CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, who represents the North/Central American and Caribbean associations, insists player welfare needs to come first – and says it’s about showing them the necessary respect.
And a recent study by an English university says “players' bodies could adapt to the extreme conditions if the squad arrives in Qatar early enough.” The unversity's head of sports science John Brewer, who worked with England's team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, suggested that would mean a month before the tournament.
The Qatari organizers are playing it considerably cooler than their summer temperatures. They know they won the vote to hold the tournament in July – but are very sensibly letting the rest of the football world get their knickers in a twist, saying they’ll be able to put on the tournament whenever they’re asked to. You want it in winter? We’ll make it happen. You want it in summer? We’ll spend the money to air-condition the stadia and training grounds.
No-one seems to have found a solution for air-conditioning a whole country, though, even if it is the wealthiest on the planet.
By the way, the FIFA ExCo members knew there were problems with the heat in Qatar when they voted – it was written in the technical reports. And that committee is in charge of world football’s calendar. The calendar is set until 2018, with the next round of scheduling addressing 2019-2022.
Talk of a move into January or February 2022 looks to be out of the question because it would clash with the Winter Olympics – so if the tournament is moved, then November/December that year is the most likely.
The problem FIFA has – how to compensate Qatar if it takes away the world’s greatest sporting tournament? But how to appease Great Aunty Joan if it is moved to November 2022?