Al Jazeera Sport presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys have publicly backed Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022 amid controversy over proposals to switch the tournament to winter.
FIFA’s executive committee will vote to move the 2022 World Cup from Qatar’s summer heat, head of soccer’s world governing body Sepp Blatter confirmed this week, but did not guarantee moving the tournament to a winter date.
The comments were the strongest indication yet that Qatar could lose the World Cup, with Blatter also conceding that it was a mistake to award a summer tournament to the desert state and that hosting it in winter may not be feasible.
Gray and Keys, the ex Sky Sports due who now head up Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the English Premier League, came out in support of the 2010 decision to award the Gulf state the right to host the event.
“They can do anything they want here, and they do it with class. They don’t make a song and dance about it. They will make sure they put on a fan-friendly, top class World Cup whenever they put it on,” Keys told Arabian Business in an interview in Doha. “They will put on a World Cup here that I’d like to think will be respected by the rest of the world. People will come here and enjoy the facilities for three or four weeks and not abuse them.”
Gray, who enjoyed a glittering career as a striker for Scotland and clubs including Aston Villa and Everton, agreed that Qatar should remain the host of the tournament. “If there is a summer World Cup here, the Qataris will make sure that it’s played in an environment that is safe and comfortable for the footballers, in both football grounds and training facilities, I believe that without a doubt,” he said. “This is nine years from now, it’s a long time. It may be the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is the first World Cup played in the winter, that’s a possibility.”
European championships and nations that lost the bid to host the Cup are likely to challenge any move to winter, potentially opening up expensive legal disputes.
The new chairman of the Football Association in England said earlier this month hosting a summer World Cup in Qatar would be "impossible".
Days later, Europe's five biggest football leagues backed a letter from the European Professional Football Leagues chairman to FIFA that protests against moving the tournament to winter.
Qatar has said it is developing air-conditioned stadiums but would also be open to moving the tournament to winter.
Blatter has previously said the stadiums would not be sufficient to protect fans attending parallel events and entertainment.