Soccer officials openly discussed changing the dates of the 2022 World Cup to avoid the summer heat in Qatar in the weeks before voting, a FIFA executive committee member said.
Qatar beat the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea to win rights to the event, which is usually held in June and July, summer in Europe and North America.
While none of the bidders proposed changing the dates, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he expects a switch to winter. The temperature in Qatar rarely falls below 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in June and July, raising questions about players’ health.
“There were comments like that some weeks before the decision,” said Chuck Blazer, a US official on the executive body, referring to talks about bringing the event forward. “Otherwise I really couldn’t understand how they voted for football in that level of temperatures, because I knew them well enough, and their support for their own teams, so it seemed illogical.”
Qatar, holder of the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves, spent millions of dollars on a campaign to woo the FIFA voting panel. It insists it won’t deviate from proposals to air-cool stadiums and stage a summer tournament.
FIFA didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment. Officials in Qatar were not immediately available to comment.
A switch to winter would disrupt the European soccer season, which traditionally runs from August to May, and has been opposed by coaches including Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. A winter World Cup, the first in the competition’s 80-year history to be played outside June and July, would require a mid-season break of about 60 days and necessitate changes to the 2020-21 and 2022-23 club schedules.
UEFA President Michel Platini, who has backed the choice of Qatar, was one of the first to call for the tournament to be moved to winter. Last week he told reporters it should also be shared with Qatar’s Gulf neighbors.
Platini “was one who was already talking about the idea of potentially moving the event before the decision was taken,” said Blazer, who opposes a switch to winter. “So that’s why I don’t think this is much of a surprise in that sense. Maybe the rationale of a guy like him - who wouldn’t necessarily like to see players playing in inclement weather -- justified his vote by saying, ‘Well, we’ll actually move it.”
UEFA, which oversees European soccer, had no immediate comment.
Blazer speaking in a phone interview, said he backed Russia’s successful campaign for the 2018 World Cup and for 2022 supported his own country, which was beaten by 14 votes to 8 in a final runoff with Qatar. He said changing the World Cup’s schedule risked deepening the schism between FIFA and soccer’s top teams, who are already lobbying for a reduction in national team matches and insurance contributions from the governing body.
“It could get pretty bad,” he said. “We can’t just say, ‘We’re going to change it all over again just because we’ve taken the decision that we’re gonna play in a climate that’s not hospitable.’ We took that decision knowing how it was. I obviously didn’t vote for it, and others did, and if that’s the majority rule then so be it.”
A FIFA inspection team described Qatar as the only “high risk” offer. A separate report added the US was the most economically viable candidate for 2022, and England the best option for 2018. England was ousted in the first round of voting, and Russia won even though it was considered the riskiest choice of the four contenders. FIFA President Blatter said voters paid little interest to the reports.
“In eight years we should figure out something that should be better, at least give greater credence to the inspection,” Blazer said. “Maybe it has to be associated with a certain automatic vote, who knows.”
Qatar’s bid was chaired by a son of the country’s emir, and backed by state investment, including a proposed communications budget of 27 million pounds ($43m), according to the Daily Telegraph on January 14.
The emirate spent millions more on hiring the likes of former World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane and Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta to provide endorsements in a marketing campaign that Blazer described as “brilliant.” A state-backed sports academy also proposed expanding its operations to include home countries of some of the FIFA voters.
That type of campaigning fell within FIFA’s guidelines. Yet, Blazer said the involvement of the country’s ruling family gave it an advantage over its rivals: the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
FIFA’s rules didn’t “contemplate” government-financed bids of this type, he said. Such offers would be “in a far better position than those who played it the old fashioned way.”
“You have to look at the rules and recognise that it’s a completely different ball game, what we experienced, from what we had contemplated,” Blazer added.For all the latest sports news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.