K E I R R A D N E D G E C O M M E N T A R Y
—– Bad news for Europe’s Big Five leagues in the preparations for war over the timing of the 2022 World Cup: if it were put to a vote in FIFA Congress then England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain would be massively outvoted.
Attitudes within the FIFA family are important, not least for the future of the world federation itself never mind the Qatari hosts.
The Big Five (England and Germany on the record, France, Italy and Spain informally) want the 2022 finals played out – even if in the middle of the Gulf night – in the usual June/July slot.
Main reason is commercial, though tradition plays a role. The entire months of November and December would be taken out (eight weeks are needed for the finals and spring is already allocated in the international sports schedule for the Winter Olympics).
This would drive a coach and horses through all those lucrative domestic television deals (and Sky, please note, has just been barred by the European Court from getting in on the World Cup coverage act).
Also, the seasons either side would be affected because of the adjustment and readjustment needs.
Statistics from the 2010 finals in South Africa demonstrate the key role of the main European leagues. The 32 squads comprised 736 players of which 106 came from the English Premier League, 75 from Italy’s Serie A and 57 from Spain’s Liga. Even after deducting those countries’ own 69 players that still left a contribution of one quarter of all the players at the finals.
That was not counting Germany and France or the factor that all the Big Five supplied clubs not only from the elite clubs but from the lower divisions. For example, 17 World Cup players came from the English Championship [second division] and France almost double that number.
Statistics do not even tell the whole tale. Those foreign players included a significant number of the most important superstars at the finals headed by Argentina’s Leo Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But . . . most of the world does not adhere to the western European autumn-to-spring seasonal schedule. That emerged in the 19th century because the English summer was reserved, by the public schools and colleges, for examinations, holidays and cricket.
So England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain would be disrupted by playing the World Cup in the winter: but such a disruption is suffered almost every four years by football in the Americas, in Africa and across most of Asia.
That, in FIFA Congress, would be a very heavy defeat.
Of course it cannot come before Congress. The winter/summer decision will be taken by the executive committee. Certainly it will not be taken by the Qataris. They have always insisted that they can host the finals in summer (with air-cooled facilities – stadia, training grounds, fan fests) or in winter.
Also, they have no wish to provoke the possibility of antagonistic, legal reaction from beaten bid rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Voices in favour of a winter hosting include UEFA president Michel Platini (most noisily), FIFA health chairman Michel D’Hooghe and Qatar bid ambassador Ronald de Boer. Chile’s Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who led the bid assessment effort, warned the exco about the temperatures issue before it voted (For what it is worth, he thinks the finals might possibly be staged in the summer in Qatar but only with night-time kickoffs).
Platini has done the cause of a winter switch a disservice by suggesting that for Europe’s leagues the disruption would be minimal. He is wrong. Taking out November and December is not a minor hitch.
Twenty or 30 years ago, when Platini was a player, he might have been correct. Not in this commercially-sensitive day and age.
A further problem concerns lower leagues. Usually, during a World Cup, no other mainstream football takes place or is even sanctioned. Most of Europe is in the summer close-season, anyway. But if the elite leagues of the Big Five are halted then the lower divisions in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain will want to clean up in TV and sponsor terms in November and December 2022.
Indeed, they could accuse the international football authorities of denying them the right to financial fair play if FIFA tried to prevent them playing on. Stopping the lower leagues in November and December 2022 could risk tipping a lot of clubs into bankruptcy.
Not that the vast majority of the rest of the world game might be too concerned: envious federations, leagues and clubs in South America, Africa and Asia think western European football too rich as it is.
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Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
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