In a move that will cause a predictable amount of ire, FIFA’s executive committee is expected to approve a schedule shift for the 2022 World Cup, one that will allow the tournament to be played in the winter and avoid the Qatari summer. According to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the decision is expected to come when the ExCo meets in early October (3rd and 4th), and while there have been no official dates set for an event that’s still nine years away, the governing body’s board are expected to pave the way for an unprecedented move.
There are no FIFA statures that state when, exactly, the quadrennial event must take place, but World Cups typically take place in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months – when the European soccer season is not in session. But with the 2022 final awarded to Qatar, where the average July temperature in Doha is 106 degrees Fahrenheit, many have called for a shift to the Middle East winter.
Though Qatar’s initial bid for the 2022 event included plans for air-conditioned stadia, hosting a World Cup in July may be deemed impossible in the Middle East, according to Blatter. From the AP’s Sunday report:
“Those that have taken the decision at the time, they knew there is problems with the heat. They knew it, because it was in the (technical) report,” Blatter said. “It was wrong to say, `Now we have to play in summer,’ because in summer you cannot play there.”
“Therefore the ExCo now shall take the decision – and they will take it – that in summer you can’t play in Qatar.”
That’s why Blatter’s confident the committee will approve the “move”:
“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 said in an interview on the sidelines of the annual charity football tournament in his home village. “What will be following, this would be then decided later.”
Is it really impossible to play a World Cup in a Qatar summer, given the ability to air condition a venue? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The language we’re seeing from Blatter reflects the momentum of the debate – a quality that makes a shift inevitable.
Clearly, UEFA is not going to like this. I don’t mean UEFA as in the actual governing body (Michel Platini has favored this move). I mean UEFA as the collection of clubs that make up that confederation’s leagues. Clearly, leagues like England’s, Spain’s, Germany’s and Italy’s are big businesses – powerful entities that won’t take kindly to having to change their habits. For the most part, these leagues play soccer in winter, and no matter where on the calendar you plop the tournament, people will complain. Expect some clubs (perhaps even whole leagues) to plot ways to with get around or outright fight this.
But again, it’s a little ludicrous that a World Cup has to take place at a set point in the year, particularly one that would preclude a lot of the world’s potentially soccer-loving population from hosting the event. If the World Cup wants to go to China or India in 20 (or 40) years from now, should it be beholden to Euro-centric tradition that unintentionally precludes growing the sport? How about North Africa, some day? Or do we just say “you’re not allowed this tournament, ever.” For some people, that’s the answer.
Whether Qatar is the location for which we want to create exceptions is another debate, but that boat’s also sailed. Qatar is hosting the World Cup. At this point, everybody’s chief concern should be putting on the best event possible.
With nine years to prepare, surely leagues as resourceful and powerful as Europe’s can find some way to negotiate this challenge. And if they can’t, they’re not nearly as resourceful and powerful as we think they are.
FIFA seems set to adjust their international calendar for 2022. Europe may be told to deal with it.