Robin Scott-Elliot: Welcome to Zurich, to Fifa Haus and the latest staging post for football's omnishambles, the Qatar World Cup...
There is expected to be a declaration of a prolonged period of consultation
Friday 04 October 2013
This is a mess made by Fifa and a mess that Fifa, football's world governing body, does not seem to know how to clear up.
It has insisted the 2022 finals would be held in Qatar come what may. Qatar, meanwhile, insisted it would not be a World Cup "built on the blood of innocents" as protesters waved red cards outside Fifa's HQ demanding action over the exploitation and death of Nepalese workers in the Gulf state.
Today, Fifa's 27-strong executive committee will reassemble to discuss the 2022 finals, in particular when to hold a tournament that in its modern incarnation has always been a summer event. The road they are on, for all its meanderings, appears to lead to an inevitable destination, one that has seemed certain despite all the muddle and apparent attempts to change the direction of travel in the three years since the executive committee, to everyone's surprise – including that of Fifa's president Sepp Blatter – chose to award the finals to Qatar.
The Qatar World Cup of 2022 – if as seems certain it is to take place in Qatar – has to be played in winter. That is the decision the Ex-Co will have to come to at some point, even if they probably will not reach it today. The sense here in Zurich was that Blatter's recent prediction (and he of all people should know better than to try and predict the Ex-Co) of an "in-principle" agreement to switch to winter would not be the outcome of this morning's meeting. Instead, there is expected to be a declaration of a prolonged period of consultation with stakeholders – everyone from confederations, leagues and broadcasters – before a decision is made when the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be played.
A decision to consult first – a process that will take around eight months – and settle a date later is the correct one given the circumstances, not least as it is the only one that has a chance of keeping the disparate football family all aboard the good ship Fifa; Blatter likes to see his governing body as a vessel with him on deck captaining it through stormy waters. But it does not get away from the fact that a winter World Cup has to be the final port of call, and the ensuing disruption that is going to wreak on the game.
A summer World Cup in Qatar in temperatures that peak at 42C – and barely sink to 30C at night – would challenge players and spectators far beyond what is reasonable. It is the sweaty elephant in the room that has been there from the start, and all the while Fifa's officers have stood in front of it and ummed and ahhed, never mind what possessed the 14 members of the Ex-Co who selected Qatar over an American bid in the first place. That terrace chant of "you don't know what you're doing" springs to mind.
Here is Jérôme Valcke, Fifa's general secretary, speaking in 2010 days before the vote: "The invitation to tender was to play this World Cup in June, and that's how it was done and countries replied on this basis."
Here is Blatter, speaking later in 2010: "Personally I think it would be better that it is played in the winter." Here is the president a year later: "Everything is settled for summer. I am not in favour of one or the other."
In March this year, Fifa released a statement in response to further doubt over when the tournament would be staged. It read: "The 2022 World Cup is planned to be staged in Qatar in June-July 2022. Any potential change would have to be first requested by the competition organisers, ie Qatar, and then presented to the executive committee for analysis." Qatar have not done that. By May this year Blatter was saying that it is not "rational or reasonable to play in June-July". He is right, but then everyone has known that from day one.
Michel Platini, the Uefa president, a long-term supporter of a Qatar World Cup and now an arch-opponent of Blatter, has pushed the Ex-Co swing towards consultation first and agreeing a date later. This is becoming a political battle between football's two leading blazers – Blatter and Platini may well find themselves contesting the presidency when Blatter's latest term runs its course. Platini also has his confederation's cash cow, the Champions League, as well as the power of Europe's major leagues to consider. If agreement is not possible between all parties, he said, "we go back to summer". Perish the thought.
Through it all the Qataris continue to build their castles in the sand in readiness for the world's arrival. Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee, emerged from Fifa Haus and insisted the finals would not be taken away, and there is no corruption to be exposed by the investigation into how the bidding was won.
"I think what we're going to see is a picture of the grassy knoll in the JFK assassination and instead of it being smoke they're going to say it's the Qatari headdress and it's us," said Thawadi. He also was adamant that the appalling treatment of foreign construction workers would be ended.
"When it comes to people dying it is not a media issue – it's a humanitarian issue. Is it acceptable? Nobody accepts it. The statements from the government indicate that. This is not a World Cup being built on the blood of innocents. That is unacceptable to anybody and most definitely to ourselves."
Thawadi and the rest of football await today's outcome. But neither he nor anyone else will be holding their breath. Fifa has not led the game well in recent years – whether that be Blatter or members of the Ex-Co – and sharing their problem through proper consultation is not going to halve it. This is a mess that will litter the game for a time to come.
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