FIFA closes on dates for taboo-breaking World Cup in Qatar
The World Cup in Qatar keeps provoking outrage and breaking taboos.
Seven years before the 2022 tournament kicks off in the wealthy emirate, FIFA recommended a break with soccer tradition on Tuesday — moving its marquee tournament to November and December instead of the usual June-July time slot.
A FIFA task force meeting in Doha agreed that playing in the cooler months at the end of the year would protect players and fans from 40-degree C (104-degree F) heat in Qatar's summer. But the decision angered many in Europe because highly profitable leagues will be shut down for several weeks in the middle of their seasons.
"We expect the clubs to be compensated for the damage that a final decision would cause," European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a former Germany great, said in a statement.
The EPFL, a group representing Europe's top leagues, said the World Cup will cause "great damage" to domestic competitions when slotted into the broader Nov. 19-Dec. 23 period suggested by FIFA.
Next month's final approval for the switched dates seems to be a formality from a FIFA executive committee chaired by President Sepp Blatter, who has long insisted November-December is the only realistic option for the tournament.
Some of those same officials surprisingly chose Qatar in December 2010 despite the gas-rich country's lack of soccer tradition and vote-rigging claims implicating several voters and bid candidates.
A FIFA investigation into those allegations was closed only two months ago, concluding that wrongdoing did not influence the victories for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
FIFA voters back in 2010, several of whom have left FIFA while implicated in corruption cases, also ignored warnings from their own advisers about dangerous temperatures in Qatar. If Tuesday's meeting corrected that mistake — as Blatter often described the original dates in Qatar — it was achieved at a likely cost in future compensation payouts.
Fitting domestic seasons around a radically rescheduled World Cup would be "very chaotic," said Richard Scudamore, the CEO of the English Premier League, which holds broadcast deals worth billions of dollars annually.
The FIFA consultation process launched 17 months ago was widely seen as pre-judged by Blatter, even as Europeans detailed plans to kick off the World Cup in January, April or May 2022.
In a one-hour meeting Tuesday, only FIFA's preferred option was analyzed in detail before being sent for approval on March 19-20 in Zurich.
Blatter, who is an IOC member, has favored November-December to avoid clashing with the 2022 Winter Olympics.
FIFA said its task force chose the "most viable period."
"Given that the two bidding cities for the 2022 Winter Olympics — Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing (China) — pledged recently to host the winter games from Feb. 4-20, 2022; that the month of Ramadan begins on April 2 in 2022; and that consistently hot conditions prevail from May to September in Qatar, the only remaining effective option is the November-December window," FIFA said in a statement.
Two potential opponents to FIFA's planned change fell into line late in the process.
UEFA accepted the apparently inevitable conclusion despite preferring a January-February tournament, when the Champions League pauses, some northern European leagues are in their offseason, and others have a midwinter break.
"There is no perfect solution," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said Tuesday, "but we can work with it."
A legal obstacle was removed this month when FIFA reached an agreement with its U.S. broadcast partners Fox and Telemundo for rights to the 2026 World Cup.
In 2011, Fox bought the 2018-2022 English-language rights for $425 million believing both tournaments would be in the American summer and not clash with its NFL and college football plans.
The latest accord appeared to be designed to head off legal action. FIFA announced the deal with little fanfare and no financial details, surprising rival broadcasters unaware that talks had opened.
For now, the 2022 World Cup — the first to be played in an Islamic country — is more notorious than anticipated.
Qatar has been criticized for human rights violations against its immigrant work force, and restrictive laws on homosexuality and drinking.
"The negativity is always going to be around," Hassan al Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, said after the meeting. "The most important thing is, with these events, we have to tap into the positive spirit."
One hope is that a tournament played late in the year in Qatar should offer ideal conditions for players who dealt with humidity in some Brazilian cities last year, and near-freezing evening matches in South Africa in 2010. Both those tournaments were primarily played in the host nation's winter.
Qatar's tiny size offers another advantage over Brazil, where players excelled despite flying for hundreds of kilometers (miles) between matches in 12 host cities.
A tournament planned for as few as eight stadiums in and around Doha also has given FIFA the option of cutting the current 32-day tournament schedule by removing some rest days.
FIFA said it is looking at a shorter tournament, which could ease disruption for clubs and leagues by taking players away for fewer days.
There appear to be two options to stage a 2022 World Cup final likely to be seen by 1 billion people. If the latest, Friday, Dec. 23, is judged to be too close to Christmas, then the traditional Sunday option would be Dec. 18 — Qatar's national holiday.