KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Sepp Blatter has chosen Going, a village with a 2,000 population near the Austro-German border, to push the world football federation closer to serious consideration of the timing of the 2022 World Cup.
The finals were awarded, amid controversy, to Qatar by the FIFA executive committee in December 2010. The tiny Gulf state had outmanoeuvred Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States – to their fury – in the bidding battle.
Within weeks Michel Platini, the French president of European federation UEFA and openly pro-Qatar, had demanded a timing switch. Now that will be on the agenda for the FIFA exco on October 3-4.
The Qataris had promised revolutionary air-cooling engineering for the stadia, training camps and fans zones.
However Platini insisted that this was not good enough to protect the health of players, officials and fans and ensure a high standard of football.
Even though many powerful leagues disagree, he demanded both then and since that the finals be switched to a winter date.
Since the Winter Olympic Games is already scheduled for early 2022 this would mean taking out the last two or three months of the year.
Blatter had said initially this was a matter for the Qatar organisers; they had responded that it was a decision only for FIFA.
Last month Blatter spoke about his concerns concerning the temperatures.
He has followed up with more direct comments to a two-day ‘Camp Beckenbauer’ sports business conference in Going organised by Franz Beckenbauer.
The German football legend was a member of the FIFA exco when it decided on Qatar. He lives in nearby Kitzbuhel, hence the conference venue.
Blatter said: “The World Cup should be a football festival. Qatar is a small country. But, if the finals should be a true festival then football cannot be played in their summer temperatures. You can aircool the stadia but you cannot aircool the entire country.
“We need to protect our partners, our advertisers, our television partners. We have to be very firm.
“Shifting the timing of the finals would impact on the fixture schedules in the top European leagues that would probably have to change their annual rhythm for at least one season. There is still enough time: I will bring this to the executive committee for discussion.”
The Qatar 2022 local organisers have always stated that they would accept whatever FIFA wished. However, for reasons connected with the European league football calendar and long-term television contracts, a decision will be needed by 2016 at the latest.
Richard Scudamore, chief executive of England’s Premier League, has made no secret of the organisation’s opposition to a timing switch.
It reacted by reiterating its opposition, assessing a winter World Cyup as “neither workable nor desirable for European domestic football.”
Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of the FIFA technical commission which assessed all the World Cup bidders, had expressed serious reservations about summer temperatures in Qatar in his report which was considered by the FIFA exco ahead of its hosting vote.
He has suggested that the tournament could be maintained in the summer but only if all matches were played until late into the night and early morning.
All options are now on the table. Blatter’s comments prompted a follow-up statement from FIFA saying: “As mentioned by the FIFA president yesterday, he will bring forward the matter of playing the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in Winter to the FIFA executive committee on the occasion of their next meeting scheduled for 3-4 October 2013.”
As for Brazil . . .
Blatter also threw down the gauntlet to the Brazilian government over next year’s World Cup finals in comments which revealed how shaken the world federation had been by the mass street protests which enshrouded last month’s Confederations Cup.
FIFA had insisted that it never considered abandoning the two-week tournament though government liaison Minister Luis Fernandes said after the final that its organisation might have been disrupted had serious violence occurred on the streets.
Blatter comments in Going raised memories of the storm over critical remarks about Brazilian preparations from his secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
The Swiss, who has headed FIFA since 1998, told the German agency DPA that “if this happens again we have to question whether we made the wrong decision awarding the hosting rights.”
FIFA had warned the Brazilian government of President Dilma Rousseff about any repeat and it was “now aware that next year the World Cup shouldn’t be disturbed.”
He added that the issue would be on the agenda during his scheduled meeting with Rousseff in September.