ZURICH/PARIS: FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke appears to have delivered a pre-emptive strike in the squabble over the 2022 World Cup by defining its timing as between November 15 and January 15 writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Valcke was quoted on French radio with comments which will irritate both some FIFA exco members as well as various leagues around the world.

That prompted FIFA to rush out a statement which, if anything, added a further layer of confusion since it was self-contradictory – stating both Valcke’s opinion and then trying to claim that the consultation was in no hurry since the Qatar World Cup was a long way off.

FIFA’s British vice-president Jim Boyce said he was “totally surprised” by Valcke’s comments, considering that the executive committee had launched an 18-month worldwide consultation exercise only last autumn and, in any case, any decision was up to the exco itself.

War of words

Valcke’s comments may also be viewed in some quarters as an attempt to create a diversion of media attention after the long-distance war of words between president Sepp Blatter and Brazil’ state head Dilma Rousseff over much-delayed preparations for this year’s finals.

With a power battle looking within FIFA over the presidency – up for grabs again in 2015 – some of Valcke’s critics may wonder if he has not over-reached himself.

Pursuit of a timing change from summer to winter had been set in train within weeks of the exco’s 2022 award by UEFA’s French president Michel Platini (who had voted for Qatar in the first place).

Only last March FIFA issued a formal statement insisting:

“. . . the final decision on the format and dates for both competitions (FIFA Confederations Cup 2021 and FIFA World Cup 2022) is vested with the FIFA Organising Committee which may hear recommendations from the LOC . . . The event periods stipulated for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups are based on the traditional international match calendar.

“As it stands today, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is planned to be staged in Qatar in June/July 2022. As communicated earlier, any potential change would have to be first requested by the competition organizers, i.e. Qatar, and then presented to the FIFA Executive Committee for analysis.”

However the Qataris, confident in their air-cooling technology, have stated time after time that they will never request a timing switch.

Hence FIFA decided to launch its consultation process, headed up by Asian president and exco member Sheikh Salman, to take the heat out of the debate. Valcke was charged, as secretary-general, with administering the process. His comments may raise concerns about how he views his role.

Valcke is also FIFA’s chief progress-chaser over preparations for Brazil.

Last weekend Blatter said that no host nation, in all his 38 years at FIFA, had been as far behind with preparations at this stage as Brazil. Rousseff then exploded on Twitter with a series of statements insisting that Brazil would be ready to welcome the world to “the Cup of Cups.”