Note to FIFA: As you’re clearly happy to throw domestic soccer into chaos, why not double the size of the goal and allow everyone to use their hands while you’re at it?
Soccer’s main man, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, gave his strongest indication yet Friday that he would be in favor of moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the winter, instead of playing it in the traditional summer months, which — hey — only dates back to 1930. As Qatar is known for its intensely hot summers, Blatter believes that the rescheduling is imperative to protect the health of the players. “We must play at the most adequate period to have a successful World Cup,” Blatter said. “We have to protect actors, the players, which means (playing) in winter.”
Blatter is in Doha for the start of the Asian Cup, which itself was moved to a cooler time of the year. Blatter noted that any change in the World Cup would have to be initiated by Qatar, which thus far hasn’t requested it. If such a request is duly made — and far be it from NewsFeed to suggest FIFA will put any pressure on Qatar — then FIFA’s executive committee could rule on a first-ever winter World Cup. “It is 11 years away,” Blatter continued, “but we must decide the most adequate period, which means January or the end of the year.”
While this all appears above board and, indeed, eminently sensible, let’s not undergo a Stalinist revision of recent history just yet. The Qatari bid was based on their having a (some might say outlandish) plan to combat the heat, in the form of air-conditioned stadiums. And despite FIFA’s official report pointing out the evident health risks for both the players and supporters (who seem to have been forgotten about now, to say nothing of the country’s dubious human rights record), Qatar still won the right to hold the tournament, which led to allegations that FIFA had commercial, as well as sporting interests at heart.
The major stumbling block would appear to be that it provides a huge headache to Europe’s leagues and cup competitions, which are arguably as popular as international soccer, if not more so. Domestic schedules will be thrown into chaos, with AC Milan and Barcelona already offering resistance to the idea. But resistance isn’t usually enough to get in the way of what FIFA/Blatter wants. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke is unsurprisingly in favor (“It means you open the World Cup to countries where they can never play it in June and July because it’s never the right period of time.”) as is UEFA President (and former French soccer legend) Michel Platini.
Yet a nagging question remains: would the 22 FIFA voters have still cast their decision the way of Qatar if this move had been mooted beforehand? We’ll never know but there could be one final twist in the tale. England, still smarting from missing out to Russia to host the 2018 World Cup, would now see its Premier League affected by a winter move but at least the star players won’t be suffering from the usual fatigue that kicks in at the end of the season. And were they to win the 2022 World Cup, it would prove once and for all that Platini’s oft-heard quote of “lions in the winter and lambs in the summer” could come back to haunt him and his colleagues.