Exclusive with Sepp Blatter: Everyone complains about winter 2022, but what about discrimination

JSB interviewedSeptember 9 - The recent heated debate about potentially playing the FIFA World Cup 2022 in what would be the European winter (note European) has generated some agreement and considerable dissent among football pundits, administrators and politicians alike. Insideworldfootball's Paul Nicholson spoke exclusively to FIFA's President, Joseph S. Blatter, and asked him what repercussions he is expecting – if any - to his proposal to shift dates.

President Blatter, when you took the initiative and unilaterally announced that the FIFA World Cup cannot be played in Qatar's summer months, many people agreed. But when you offered to take the matter to your Executive Committee (FIFA's Board) and urge it to postpone the World Cup to winter, initially all hell broke loose. Did you expect such a violent reaction?

JSB: Well, to be honest, I was not completely surprised because Qatar, like all other bidding nations, had bid for staging the World Cup in summer. After many discussions, deliberations and critical review of the entire matter, I came to the conclusion that playing the World Cup in the heat of Qatar's summer was simply not a responsible thing to do - despite the fact that I know full well that Qatar has the means to develop the best cooling technology. That is why I went public and suggested that the FIFA ExCo should review the period when the event shall be staged and see what consequences it would have to play in winter.

There was instant opposition to your proposal, not only from European Leagues, some of which have been very vociferous, but possibly also from other quarters...?

JSB: Of course. Some people immediately jumped to conclusions, demanded that the entire awarding process be reviewed if not re-voted upon, others were harshly critical and demanded to know why it had taken me two and a half years to notice that a summer tournament was not possible in Qatar. The same people forget a few facts though...

...and which facts are those?

JSB: Well, to start with, the loudest critics, the ones who should know better because they signed the exact same bidding documents as Qatar did (the Bid Registration Agreement) must know that point 1.2.1. stipulates that the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup is "scheduled to take place" in June and/or July of 2022 "in principle". It does not say that it 'must' take place in those months, nor is it a "conditio sine qua non" to host the World Cup in June and July. What the document does, is express FIFA's wish to host the World Cup in June or July....

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... but is that not semantics? After all the World Cup has always been held in summer...

JSB: You see, that is the crucial point. It was always held in the EUROPEAN (his emphasis) summer. It always succumbed to the European audience and it satisfied the European prerogatives. But the world has become a much smaller place. Distances have become much shorter as well. And above all, the world has become more inclusive and in many ways more just – although the conflicts that are being fought often let us forget that. My point is this: as a staunch proponent of football being a global unifying force for the good, a force that offers to be inclusive in every which way and a force that has written anti-discrimination on its banner under my presidency, if all of that shall be true, then we simply must learn and walk the walk, not only talk the talk.

What do you mean by that?

JSB: If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a FIFA World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator. We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe, and we make it impossible for all those who would love to host the World's Biggest Game in a global tournament to ever get the chance to do so.

I believe that the World Cup should be awarded to a nation that really, really wants to host it, a nation that has the financial means to do it without neglecting other societal obligations, and a nation where the national football federation can determine when it is the best time to play the game. Frankly, if we automatically exclude potential hosts because of the weather, then the next step can easily be exclusion for other arbitrary and discriminatory reasons. I am not going to be party to any such thing....

... but Mr Blatter, your ExCo knew full well, already on December 10, 2010, that a summer World Cup would be impossible to be hosted in Qatar's scorching summer...

JSB:... that may well be so, and it may well be that we made a mistake at the time. On the other hand, you must also consider political and geo-political realities. The World Cup is FIFA's biggest if not only global event. Who are we, the Europeans, to demand that this event has to cater to the needs of 800 million Europeans above all, when there are over 7 billion people who populate this planet and of who 6.2 billion are not European, but who must at all times succumb to our diktat?

I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places, and we must accept that football has moved away from being a European and South American sport: it has become the World Sport that billions of fans are excitedly following every week, everywhere in the world.

... nonetheless, and your points of anti-discrimination well taken, are there not legal considerations to be taken into account....

JSB: ...wait! What legal considerations? In the Hosting Agreement that we signed on December 20, 2010, we say that the FIFA World Cup is, in principle, "expected to be held in June and July of the year of such Competition".

Furthermore, clauses 7.2.3. and 7.3.3. of the same Hosting Agreement state that the final decision on the dates of the Competition and the match schedule is vested with the FIFA Organising Committee "which may hear the recommendations from the LOC". Last but not least, it is also stated in all clarity that the final authority over any matters relating to the staging and hosting of the World Cup lie with FIFA. Need I point out that the LOC (Local Organising Committee) is obliged to "comply with any instructions given and decisions made by FIFA"? Don't you agree with me that this is pretty clear?

Yes, it is but surely FIFA will have to seek to engage in a democratic process that is accepted by all stakeholders when it makes such a fundamental change?

JSB: Absolutely right. But first, we need to see whether the owner of the FIFA World Cup – FIFA – actually agrees with my recommendation, one that I shall table at the October 3/4 ExCo meeting, and whether it follows my advice to change the dates from summer to winter. Once the Executive Committee of FIFA has agreed to that, we can take the next step...

... which is what?

JSB: The next steps will include a close look at the international calendar and establish what consequences the change would have. And we would naturally need to speak to and consult with all interested parties and stakeholders.

This sounds all very harmonious, if not easy. Do you really think that FIFA can actually make such a dramatic change without major conflict resulting from it?

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JSB: Of course I am. And of course it must be harmonious. Where there is a will there is always a way. I know that we can get it done. And the initial exploratory meetings we have already had with some of the most affected leagues show us the way. The Qatar World Cup promises to help unite an unstable region of the world by bringing hope and joy to millions who have suffered for decades. It will show, once again, that football is a force for good – as we have most recently demonstrated by encouraging the Palestinians and Israelis to come to Zurich and start meaningful dialogue towards reaching an historic agreement.

We have no political ambitions, which is why we are not suspect of having a political agenda. All we want is to bring the World Cup to regions where it has never been before, and where football can help make a difference – even for a few weeks. I am a firm believer in the good of the game and what it can generate.

I don't want to burst the beautiful bubble but don't you run the risk that others who lost the bid will see an opportunity to question the Host, question the process and demand a re-vote?

JSB: It is FIFA who can and has the legal right to determine where it wants the World Cup to be played. It is our right and we exercise that right with caution and with a view to be inclusive. FIFA is a great international institution, vested in fair play and respect, not only on the field of play but also beyond. Morally, I am very comfortable because we are also taking the 2018 World Cup to a fantastic country, Russia, that has long deserved to stage a World Cup, and in 2022, we are determined to bring it to the Middle East and help create joy and happiness among the peoples there. I firmly believe that not only can Qatar stage a memorable World Cup, but that the entire region will be totally supportive and happy in its celebration.

Thank you Mr Blatter, we wish you the best of success at your October 3 Board Meeting.