The controversial decision on whether to switch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to winter will be postponed until a Fifa task force has reported on whether it is possible, it emerged today.
It was thought that a decision on moving the tournament, due to the searing summer heats in the Middle East, could be made this week at Fifa's executive meeting which began in Zurich today - but a remarkable U-turn has taken place.
Members of the 'Fifa family’, broadcasters and representatives of the European leagues will be part of the task force that analyse if such a switch is possible.
One highly placed Fifa source told the Evening Standard: “It was always media hype to expect the executive to come to such a decision this week without looking at all the consequences. The World Cup is nine years away and there is no need to rush to make a decision.
“Indeed the agenda for the meeting merely says we should ‘discuss’ the Qatar World Cup not whether we should move it. Indeed it is at the moment such low priority that it is item 25 in a 27-point agenda. So it is not even likely to be discussed today.”
Fifa continue to insist that the 2022 tournament will be staged in Qatar, however, the latest developments appear to suggest moving the tournament entirely remains a possibility.
The Evening Standard understands one reason for Fifa backing away from an immediate decision is that several television companies, particularly in North America, who have paid huge sums to broadcast the World Cup, have told Blatter that a winter tournament would not suit their schedules. A World Cup in late June and early July is ideal as it is the slack sports season for these broadcasters. Their agreement with Fifa is believed to include clauses which gives them the right to be consulted about the date.
Sepp Blatter is also well aware that the European leagues, led by the Premier League, are opposed to any winter World Cup due to the enormous disruption it would cause. The Fifa president is likely to present the decision to set up a task force as Fifa taking care to consult and not rushing into a judgement.
That there should be a postponement was publicly backed by Jim Boyce, from Northern Ireland, and the British representative on the Fifa executive.
He said: “I wouldn’t object to taking a decision on moving it in principle; I think nearly everybody is agreed on that. But I don’t think we can make any decision on the exact timing — should it be in November, January or whenever — until we have got everyone in the game around the table to find a solution.”
It has also found favour with Uefa president Michel Platini. The Frenchman, the only Fifa executive member to publicly disclose he voted for Qatar, has always argued it should be held in winter.
Yesterday, he said more pressing was the issue of the findings of an investigation which uncovered appalling treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.
“I’m much more concerned about that than the discussion about summer and winter,” he said. “There will be no decision. It is impossible.”