KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —– The man whose advice FIFA ignored in picking Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup believes that May and June may offer the best compromise date for the finals.
Harold Mayne-Nicholls, former president of the Chilean federation, examined the options for the game after world federation FIFA’s decision last week to consult far and wide about to make the best of a controversial job.
The voting of the FIFA exco in December 2010 for Russia to host the 2018 finals and Qatar the 2022 event was influenced significantly by political and personal considerations.
Yet Mayne-Nicholls’s report – which all the 22 voting members should have read before voting – raised two specific concerns over Qatar and none of equal significance over rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and United States.
He told a conference session at Leaders in Football: “The one risk was operational, with just one city [Doha] for the 64 games and teams training sites.
“Then they wanted to air-cool down all the pitches and of course we thought that if it went wrong and they could not cool down the pitch in time that would be a big problem. This is not what we expect for the World Cup.”
Mayne-Nicholls considered that the summer temperatures in the Gulf would be a risk for the players even with the promised cooling systems.
He welcomed FIFA’s decision to launch a worldwide consultation but questioned why it had taken the world body three years to perceive that heat in Qatar would be an issue.
He had examined three different slots to which the finals might move. October/November would affect significantly the structure of many leagues around the world as well as other tournaments and January/February was too close to the winter Olympics and would mean a major television rights issue in North America.
This left May/June with all matches kicking off in the evening which was, marginally, Mayne-Nicholls’s preference though he added: “There’s no easy solution, no perfect solution.”
He warned, however, that FIFA should remember that the health and international image of the game meant demonstrating a high concern for the fans who would affect the finals.
Priority for fans
He said: “The World Cup will not be the World Cup if the fans are staying in the hotel lobby. We have to work with the fans in mind. It’s not a TV show, it’s a fans’ show. We have to take care of the fans.”
Mayne-Nicholls also noted that the implementation of widespread and so-far untested air-cooling technology, powered by huge fields of solar panels, demanded a significant test several years ahead of the finals.
He said: “I’m sure Qatar can cool the stadium but it must be a green solution or the image of the World Cup will be damaged all over the world. We cannot cool the air down with oil or gas. They promised it and we must insist on that. It matters.
“Also, one year ahead for the ‘warm-up’ is not enough. If the air-cooling doesn’t work in 2021 it will be too late to change anything. So we have to rethink the warm-up period for the Confederations Cup.
“Brazil this year was not so easy and I cannot imagine going to Qatar in 2021 and it’s [the air cooling] not working. They have 10 years to develop it but if they cannot have it ready in that time then they cannot get it right in one more year.”
Mayne-Nicholls said that FIFA had told him specifically not to rank the bidders in order of any preference.
Asked what might have been his opinion of Qatar’s hosting potential, he said: “If that had been our decision I would have said that this country today was not prepared.”