FIFA meets in Qatar ahead of likely switch to Nov-Dec WCup
Feb. 22, 2015
LONDON (AP) — Global football executives will fly into Qatar this week to conclude discussions on when the 2022 World Cup should be played. The outcome already seems clear: football's biggest event will be played in November and December for the first time unless FIFA unexpectedly gives into European opposition.
In Doha on Tuesday, powerbrokers from Europe's clubs and leagues on FIFA's Qatar task force will once again spell out the disruption that would be created by splitting their August-May seasons. But with the final scheduling decision resting with FIFA's executive committee, it seems unlikely President Sepp Blatter's desire for November-December will be overruled.
IOC President Thomas Bach has already been assured by FIFA that the World Cup will not encroach on the Winter Olympics by taking place in January and February. Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa indicated last month that the November-December switch had already been "resolved."
"We are working on a final decision by the FIFA executive committee in March after a final meeting with the final stakeholders of the football community," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said recently, referring to the task force gathering in Qatar.
The European Club Association and European Professional Football Leagues, that proposed a compromise May and June solution recently, will struggle to win over FIFA at this late stage.
Within the 214-member ECA there is frustration that their negotiating position was weakened by European football's governing body accepting the winter switch, although UEFA President Michel Platini advocates the January kickoff ruled out by FIFA. The ECA is going to Doha to ensure its opposition is at least registered at what is likely to be the final meeting of a task force created to make FIFA's strategy to move the World Cup to winter seem more consensual.
Once FIFA ratifies the competition dates in March, the compensation process is set to begin. European clubs and leagues want FIFA to pay the price for unsettling the domestic leagues that are the lifeblood of football and provide most of the top World Cup participants.
"If we change from summer to November or January it will affect our business," ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has already warned. "That cost cannot be paid by the clubs. We are not ready to pay it."
The end-game in a process that began five years ago when FIFA's bid inspectors toured Qatar and concluded that the fierce summer heat posed a high risk for players is approaching. Ignoring health warnings, FIFA's executive committee voted in December 2010 to send the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.
"The invitation to tender was to play this World Cup in June," Valcke confirmed within days of the FIFA vote. "That's how it was done and countries replied on this basis."
Only later did Blatter concede that the World Cup would have to be shunted to the Gulf winter because, although air conditioned stadiums were promised, the whole country could not be cooled for visiting players, officials and fans.
Since then FIFA has been smoothing the path for a change in dates.
American broadcaster Fox initially reacted by highlighting in 2013 how it bought the 2022 rights on the understanding that the World Cup would be played in June and July as usual. A legal fight could have followed since a winter World Cup clashes with the NFL season. But earlier this month, FIFA announced the sale of rights to the 2026 tournament to Fox.
FIFA declined to respond to a direct question about whether the rights extension was part of an agreement ahead of the 2022 switch. FIFA has not provided financial details of the contract, which could be worth more once the 2026 host is decided — especially if it goes to the U.S.
While a potential broadcasting barrier has been overcome, FIFA is still grappling with scrutiny over working conditions in Qatar.
Although World Cup organizers introduced mandatory welfare obligations for contractors in the last year, changes to the labor law were only proposed by the Qatari government in May. Qatari sports minister Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali told The Associated Press in November that those reforms would gain final approval in the "next few months" but an announcement is yet to come from Doha.
But if there was to be any doubt that the World Cup will be held in Qatar — various investigations have found no corruption smoking gun — it will come when FIFA's task force tours two of the stadium building projects on Tuesday afternoon. Then the local tournament organizing committee — separate from the Supreme Committee which is building the venues — is due to hold its first formal meeting on Wednesday.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris