Qatar World Cup: Now to shoe-horn a global event into the sports calendar
The fiasco that is moving the Qatar World Cup to the winter means that the planet's biggest sporting occasion will put many noses out of joint
Thursday 19 September 2013
Greg Dyke is not the only one to have his eye on Qatar 2022. It has held the focus of the game's blazerati ever since that fateful December day in Zurich three years ago when the small but hugely wealthy Gulf state was chosen by Fifa's executive committee to host the World Cup finals.
It is still nine years distant but no World Cup has ever exerted such a long-term grip on the game. Dyke wants England to turn up and win it, the rest of the football world just wants to know when to turn up.
The vote in Qatar's favour surprised most on the outside and many within the governing body as well – but not all. It did not surprise Michel Platini, the president of Uefa and one of the few to have since declared publicly that he voted for the Qatari bid. Within days Platini, who has steadfastly denied supporting Qatar on the say-so of the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, was raising the issue of moving the finals.
This is Platini speaking a little more than a week after the Qatari bid team had returned home victorious: "It's true that if we talk about the World Cup in the Gulf in January, that would be easier than to play in June. On that I agree, and why not? It's possible."
Three years later Platini seems set to get his wish – at least in that the tournament will not be played in its traditional summer slot. Whether it is played in January is a topic that football's various governing bodies have still to thrash out and somebody will be left unhappy.
Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, admitted recently that his organisation might have made a "mistake" in awarding the finals to Qatar. Then earlier this week he suggested that "direct political influence" had played a key role in making up the minds of his executive committee to vote in Qatar's favour. Next month, on 3 and 4 October, the world governing body's executive committee will meet in Zurich and is expected to agree in principle that the 2022 World Cup will not take place in the summer.
Then the debate will begin in earnest on just when the world's biggest sporting event can be shoe-horned into a calendar that appears as flexible as a Sam Allardyce game plan. A January start, as favoured by Platini and Uefa, would upset the International Olympic Committee as it would overshadow the Winter Olympics.
An autumn event would upset Uefa because of its impact on the Champions League. A January start would infuriate Fox, who paid a record $425m for rights to the 2018 and 2022 finals. A start in January or the autumn would upset Europe's powerful clubs. There are a lot of noses to be put out of joint.
And accompanying it all will be more of the politicking that helped Fifa make such a mess of the greatest game's greatest stage.
Blatter's assertion that outside forces played a part in helping win Qatar the vote appears an unveiled criticism of Platini – who is seen by many as the Swiss's likeliest successor as Fifa president. While the majority of the Ex-co, a body that was badly damaged by a string of corruption allegations against some members around the time of the World Cup vote and in the months that followed, have not revealed who they supported for 2022, Platini has made no secret of where his vote went. He has at least been open from the start.
Blatter is supposed to step down in 2015 when his fourth term as president comes to an end. By then he will be approaching his 80th birthday but there is a growing belief that he will run for office again, not least to block Platini. Moves to wash his hands of any fault for Qatar – Blatter is adept at the cleaning game – will no doubt continue.
The Qatar shambles, the suggestion goes, is no fault of his, rather look at those who supported it. Blatter is an arch-politician, a survivor and will not be sunk – to borrow from his favourite book of maritime metaphors – by this latest Fifa fiasco on his watch. The commission investigating the 2022 vote and its surrounds will not threaten the president.
How much Platini was involved in persuading his European members to agree with him in favouring a January switch remains to be seen but they have come round to his point of view. There is still much sand to be sifted through before the dates will be settled, and Dyke can make a note in his long-term diary. But that Fifa and Uefa will settle on a winter date now appears all but certain.
Europe's leagues and clubs remain opposed, and there remains the possibility of a recourse to the courts. Fifa insists there will be no compensation paid to anybody. But realpolitik suggests that agreement will be reached somewhere in the murky middle.
For Uefa the stress on this being a one-off is a key part to any agreement. Uefa, suggested one member, would allow this once and once only, and that is a template that may well be extended across the continent to include the clubs.
"As an exception and that is it," said Aivar Pohlak, president of the Estonian FA, summing it up neatly. "As a one-time problem it can be handled."
Qatar timeline: How the decision has unravelled
2 December 2010 Qatar wins rights to 2022 World Cup
The Middle East state is awarded the rights to host the 22nd staging of the tournament, beating off rival bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
7 January 2011 Blatter backs Winter Cup
Fifa president Sepp Blatter supports initial idea of a winter tournament, with Uefa president Michel Platini later following suit.
24 March 2012 Stadium amendments
Qatar announce plans for artificial clouds and air conditioning inside stadiums to cope with the soaring heat during any summer tournament.
16 May 2013 Blatter U-turn
Months after again advocating a summer event, Blatter changes tack, claiming playing the tournament in the summer heat is "not rational and reasonable".
July "A blatant mistake"
Blatter is now determined to move the World Cup to winter, while a Fifa committee member calls the original decision a "blatant mistake".
August FA confirm position
New Football Association chairman Greg Dyke says a summer World Cup would be "impossible". "You can't play it in the summer," he maintains.
August Fifa to meet to discuss change
Blatter announces a meeting to discuss moving to winter, while also admitting for the first time that awarding Qatar the tournament may have been "a mistake".
10 September European clubs favour winter
Europe's top clubs "open" to winter Cup. "It is probably better," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, European Club Association chair, says.
17 September Australia after compensation
Football Federation Australia chair Frank Lowy says they could try for compensation on the grounds Qatar won the bid as a summer tournament.
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