KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY: Tomorrow, Friday, is Q-Day in Zurich. This is the day when FIFA’s executive committee will progress far enough down the two-day agenda to come within range of the fall-out from its own decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
The conviction of president Sepp Blatter, following the lead of UEFA’s Michel Platini, is that these finals should be switched out of the summer months to save fans from being incinerated in the Gulf heat.
The fact that millions of Arabs have survived in the region for thousands of years appears to have gone unacknowledged amid western European concerns for health and safety.
Also, FIFA’s care-less scheduling of previous World Cups and kickoff times to suit television rather than players and fans appears to have been forgotten (Mexico 1970 and 1986 – and it was hot in southern Spain in 1982 and so intense in Pasadena in 1994 that reporters’ laptops bent and buckled in the sun).
This also all supposes that Brazilians, Argentinians, Africans, many Asian players did not learn their football playing in hot temperatures on bone-hard pitches which helped hone their skill. When Blatter said that the gerontocracy of the world game should not seek to dictate its traditions he was advancing an argument which may be used in both directions.
The softening-up process has been under way for some time and the language is largely French.
UEFA president Michel Platini kicked it off within a few weeks of voting for Qatar by demanding a winter switch (Incidentally Platini also demanded a Gulf-wide World Cup and that one is a sure-fire non-starter).
Platini’s initial salvo over Qatar was followed up this past spring by FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke going public with a helpful suggestion that medical analysis could support a date switch.
Then Blatter jumped on board. First he said the issue would go on the agenda in October then he firmed that up to predicting that the exco would approve a switch.
This took CONCACAF, in particular, by surprise. The United States lost out to Qatar in the final round of voting for 2022. CONCACAF president Jeff Webb and USSF leader Sunil Gulati remain puzzled by Blatter’s sudden haste.
They are not alone in believing that to take a decision and then study the reasons would be putting a Qatari cart before the camel, so to speak.
European club concerns
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, in his role as chairman of the European Club Association, is similarly suspicious (though the Bayern Munich ceo has been shuffling sideways towards a date change for some time: this may yet prompt a schism within ECA).
Rummenigge has issued a polite but firm request for a football-wide consultation before FIFA reaches any decision. He says: “We would like to be involved in the decision-making process on a serious and high level because this is something which will impact on our business so we want a guarantee of involvement.”
He, too, wonders about the sudden haste, saying: “I believe there is no hurry and I don’t understand why FIFA would like an early decision at the next executive committee meeting in October because the 2022 World Cup is nine years away.
“That is more than enough to take a very sensible and prudent [decision] in the best interests of football so all stakeholders in the football family can be happy with a possible change in the season for Qatar . . . because it affects our business.”
So, the questions to concern the FIFA exco are :
1, is it necessary to switch at all?
Answer: either ‘No’ because all the key sectors will be air-cooled and most matches can be played at night or ‘Yes’ for concern over the health of fans (who can afford Qatari prices);
2, does that affect the Qataris?
Answer: Not one iota.
3, does that compromise the original bidding contest?
Answer: No, because the summer date was only assumed and never entered in contractual writing.
4, how would switching affect the world sporting calendar?
Answer: Platini’s preference for January/February 2022 would cut across the Winter Olympics date (suggesting November/December is the more likely).
5, how would switching affect the football calendar?
Answer: Most of the world’s nation run their seasons spring to autumn so western Europe is on its own on this one.
6, who is for, who is against and who may not care either way?
Answer: Michel Platini is in favour, so are lower division western European clubs who want to cash in on the TV and sponsor exposure granted by the mid-season absence of the Premier, Serie A, Liga, Bundesliga competition; CONCACAF will be opposed to any hasty decision because of American irritation; and most of the FIFA exco will not care one way or the other (many of them will not be there by 2022, after all).
The open sub-text question is how Qatar feeds into the intentions of Blatter and Platini regarding the FIFA presidential election in 2015. This may be evident sooner rather than later.