LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar, already controversial enough, now threatens to force the ultimate schism in English football after new FA chairman Greg Dyke set himself against the Premier League over the timing issue.
Pressure has been building for world federation FIFA to switch the finals in the Gulf from summer to winter. The Premier League is opposed. But Dyke has declared himself in favour.
In a first major media briefing since succeeding David Bernstein last month, Dyke said that – like UEFA president Michel Platini – he believes it is impossible to stage the finals in the searing summer temperatures.
He said: “I don’t know how many people here have ever been to Qatar in June. I have, and the one thing I can tell you is that you couldn’t play a football tournament in Qatar in June.
“Even if all the stadia are air-conditioned, which seems in terms of green policy a bit strange, I just don’t think it’s possible. For the fans, it would be impossible.
“I think it will either have to be moved out of the summer or it will have to be moved to another location. And I suspect the former is more likely than the latter.
“So, I think my position, and I suspect the FA’s position, will be you can’t play it in the summer in Qatar. FIFA therefore has a choice: You either move it time wise or you move it to another location. I suspect either ends up in some sort of litigation.
“I think it’s now genuinely becoming accepted that you can’t play it in Qatar in the summer and I think that will be our position. I understand the reaction of the Premier League to not want to move it, and I have some sympathy with them.
“We didn’t have to choose to give it to Qatar in the summer, but that’s what it is. I think it will either have to be moved out of the summer or it will have to be moved to another location. And I suspect the former is more likely than the latter.”
The FA board is expected to discuss its own apparent volte-face next week. Dyke’s categorical statement, in line with his reputation and business and media career, is at odds with the stance of his predecessor. Bernstein had said in June that any plans to move the World Cup to the winter were “fundamentally flawed”.
Bernstein had continued: “The domestic league season should remain more or less the way it is now, running from August to May. I think football is a winter game, that the public greatly enjoy their football through the winter and that we should think very carefully before we take football away from the public in the winter.”
Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, said only weeks ago that switching the Qatar World Cup to winter would cause chaos for football leagues around the world.
The league believed, unlike Platini who has claimed that disruption would be minimal, that a switch would impact on all the three domestic seasons around the tournament, upsetting TV and sponsorship deals as well as players’ contracts.
For years the Premier League and the FA have been uneasy bedfellows; one of the reasons the FA has struggled at times to progress issues has been its internal imbalance of power between the professional and grassroots game.
The Premier League has always expected that the other members of Europe’s Big Five – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – would line up with it because they supply a significant majority of the finest players at the finals.
However German football leaders have been shifting their position. Only this week Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chief executive of Bayern Munich and chairman of the influential European Club Association, suggested that a winter World Cup was perfectly feasible.
Indeed, Rummenigge went even further and indicated he was not averse to turning the European season around permanently to run from spring to autumn, in line with most of the rest of the world.
The Qataris have never varied from a position that any decision about timing remained with FIFA and that they were perfectly amenable to staging the finals in summer or winter. The one hope they have always expressed informally, is that a decision should be made sooner rather than later.
Qatar, the smallest nation ever chosen as a World Cup host, was awarded the finals in December 2010 after FIFA’s disastrous decision to run simultaneous bidding for both the 2018 and 2022 finals. This has proved commercially successful but was a political nightmare. Russia was awarded 2018 and Qatar saw off 2022 opposition from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Within weeks of the award Platini – who had voted for Qatar – began to agitate within weeks of the award.
Observers expected that FIFA would delay a decision until after the next presidential election in May 2015.
However president Sepp Blatter’s recent admission that it was “not rational” to accept a high-temperature staging has raised the likelihood of a decision much sooner.
Both Blatter and Platini may be pleasurably to find that the head of the FA is on their side, particularly against the financial might of the Premier League.
Blatter has said the issue will be on the agenda for the FIFA executive committee at its next meeting in October. The exco could order a task force to consider the pros and cons for a decision possibly to be taken in the spring of next year.
The one decision it will not take is to order a rerun of the voting although altering the timing could risk legal action from any of the defeated bidders.
Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the Chilean head of the technical commission with assessed all the 2018 and 2022 bids, had cautioned about the temperatures issue in his report which was set before the exco members ahead of the vote. However the exco plainly paid more attention to political concerns and to the Qataris’ promise to air-condition stadia, training camps and fan zones.
Switching to winter would almost certainly mean taking out all elite club football in November and December of 2022. TV companies and sponsors would oppose the World Cup being run in January and February at the same time as the winter Olympic Games.
Other constraints affecting a timing switch would include a likely refusal of lower division clubs across Europe to halt their seasons. Indeed, they would envision a cessation of premier activity as an opportunity to profit in terms of domestic broadcasting and sponsorship opportunities.
Switching to winter is not, however, the only option.
Mayne-Nicholls has suggested that matches in Qatar could be played in the usual June-July slot but from mid-evening, when temperatures drop sharply, with the third match of the day kicking off just before midnight.
Representatives of several federations in southern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America have pointed out that their players are used to playing in very high temperatures. They believe that Platini and his supporters have approached the issue from a purely Francophone perspective.
Hence one recent to play the World Cup in 2022 in May and June. This would mean no mid-season disruption and only minimal timing adjustment (and Europe’s Big Five leagues already adjust before a World Cup).