World Cup: Qatar 2022 – Summer or Winter?

Fifa faces winter of discontent over World Cup 2022 as chance of summer tournament in Qatar recedes

 

(Getty)

(Getty)

This time last year the Premier League chairman travelled to the International Centre for Sports Security conference in Doha. All five feet seven inches the statesman, he used his keynote address to warn his Qatari hosts they should not “bury their heads in the sand” over selling alcohol at the 2022 World Cup, accused Fifa of arrogance and repaired to a cocktail reception where he fell in a water feature.

Twelve months on from that masterpiece of football diplomacy, Doha Dave has struck again. Unabashed by his dip last year he is back at the ICSS, and has again trained his sights on the 2022 World Cup. Only this time, rather than offending his hosts, he has articulated the growing consensus that a winter World Cup is a formality, rather than an outrage.

(Getty)

(Getty)

Qatar and its rivals were asked to bid for a summer World Cup. Doha, despite a clear warning from Fifa’s own technical inspectors, managed to persuade a majority of the executive committee that daytime temperatures approaching 50C would not be a problem thanks to untested air-conditioning technology. Officially that remains the case. Doha insists that it will deliver its tournament in summer unless asked to do otherwise. Fifa responds that it is up to Qatar to ask for a change if it cannot deliver the summer tournament as contracted.

But ever since the fateful vote in December 2010 a slow-dance between the two sides has been underway, with every step taking us closer to a change that will tear up three seasons of domestic fixtures around the world, and impact on other events including the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It was begun by Michel Platini, the Uefa president, who first called for the tournament to be moved. He is proud of being the only man to openly admit voting for Qatar, but his frankness is undermined by the fact he did so knowing the bid was unworkable.

Since the turn of the year the dance has gathered pace. This month Fifa made its first serious concession in the debate, with general secretary Jerome Valcke saying that were Fifa’s medical committee to express doubts about safety, the tournament might be moved. On Tuesday there was a further incremental step, with Valcke announcing that its 2014 World Cup organising committee would also take charge of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments with immediate effect. It might seem a bureaucratic point but it brings the tournament into the orbit of the general secretary two years earlier than would normally be the case.

Do nothing and the health of players rests on technology never previously used on this scale. (This week the man who conducted Fifa’s inspection, Chilean Harold Mayne-Nichols, emphasised his doubts about air conditioning, and suggested games should kick off at 8pm, 10pm and midnight.)

Shift to winter and a very ugly scrap with the professional club game will ensue, one that could fatally undermine the status of international football. The Premier League will not be alone in objecting. The IOC and every summer sport that finds its oxygen swallowed by shifting football seasons will be at the Emir’s door demanding compensation.

Take the tournament away and a plague of lawyers will descend on Zurich.

The World Cup has always been about much more than football for Doha, and it will not let it go quietly.

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