Andrew Warshaw: Qatar 2022 – Winter Rules apply

So now we finally know where we stand on the 2022 World Cup. More importantly, so does Qatar.

Six months ago, I wrote that every time FIFA was asked whether it would sanction a winter tournament, it gave the same answer: only if Qatar, as host nation, officially requested it. I also wrote that every time you posed the same question to the Qataris, you also got the same answer: only if they were formally asked to switch by FIFA.

It seemed like a deliberate ploy to keep us all guessing and allow both sides to save face for as long as possible. But something, at some point, had to give. Having made conflicting remarks about summer or winter, Sepp Blatter has now come out and said what he has presumably felt for ages.
In other words that staging matches in 50-degree heat – cooling techniques or no cooling techniques – is unthinkable and that he would now be asking his executive committee to end almost a century of tradition by formally backing his proposal to move the tournament from June and July.

There is a large body of opinion, of course, which believes Qatar should not have been selected in the first place; and that a switch to winter will be the first move in a crusade to strip the Gulf state of host status entirely. Unlikely.

FIFA’s technical inspection team, in its report, flagged up several flaws before the ballot took place – a report that was ultimately ignored. But what’s done is done. Qatar won the vote, is already making huge infrastructural strides (I have seen them for myself) and is trying its best to focus on the future.

But the timing of Blatter’s seemingly definitive pro-winter stance is bound to raise eyebrows, not least among the Qataris themselves. This, for the record, is what the FIFA President said at a press conference immediately following an executive committee meeting back in March. “The basic principles and the list of requirements established by the executive committee was very clear and has not been changed. It is still the same. The 2022 World Cup…has to be played in June and July. This principle has never been put into question either by the organiser – that means Qatar – or by FIFA’s executive committee. Therefore it still stands. If there is any move, such a move must come from Qatar. All other rumours and tendencies to play when and where are not relevant.”

Contrast that with what Blatter told a sports business conference in Austria this week: “We need to protect our partners, our advertisers, our television partners. We have to be very firm. There is still enough time: I will bring this to the executive committee for discussion. The executive committee will certainly follow my proposal. Then we will have dealt with the topic for good. If the finals should be a true festival then football cannot be played in their summer temperatures.”

Not quite the same remarks. See what I mean about conflicting signals? Blatter, from what we are told, suddenly realised the dangers of playing in the desert heat during his recent Middle East visit. And as I say, something had to give. It now seems only a matter of time (there are two executive committee meetings left this year) before FIFA puts everyone out of their misery and turns Blatter’s personal opinion into formal policy.

And what then? Well for a start, moving the World Cup by six months would have a gigantic effect in Europe whose clubs are bound to cry foul at having the temerity of being told that their players will be unavailable for large parts of the winter and that they will have to change their schedules. Not for one season, as Blatter suggests, but probably three. The Premier League, among the most forceful opponents of a winter World Cup, have no winter break (not yet anyway). Those countries which do would have to bring them forward since a winter World Cup would have to be in November and December and not January.

Then there is the old chestnut of legal challenges. Old but potentially important just the same. Will those countries who missed out on 2022 use the opportunity to claim they were bidding for a summer World Cup and that any change to those rules would require a new tender process? Again unlikely but don’t rule it out.

Where all this leaves Qatar’s organising committee chairman, Hassan Al-Thawadi, is an interesting question. The canny, multi-lingual lawyer desperately wanted to gain a seat on the FIFA’s executive committee, a position from which he could have influenced his fellow decision makers. But he lost out to new Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in a two-man race in May, and was forced to continue to take a sideways view of FIFA’s corridors of power.

Al-Thawadi will know that Blatter is understood to have voted for the United States. He will also know that most of the exco, in particular the lobby supporting UEFA president Michel Platini, will back Blatter’s preference for a winter tournament. Having constantly had to field unproven allegations of corruption in winning the 2022 vote and with Qatar already eliminated from qualifying for next year’s World Cup, he must be wondering if the world is against him.

But a final decision has to be made about 2022 at some point and the sooner, the better. Besides, all Qatar will have to do is tweak some of its detailed plans, change a few of its contracts and tell its hotels to expect an influx of fans at a different time. Not too onerous a task given the commitment and passion of those involved. What the rest of the world might think is a different matter.

Andrew Warshaw is Insideworldfootball’s chief correspondent, Contact him at moc.l1713606997labto1713606997ofdlr1713606997owedi1713606997sni@w1713606997ahsra1713606997w.wer1713606997dna1713606997