Andrew Warshaw: More questions than answers in the long ball game

As an autumnal evening sunlight settled over FIFA House in Zurich last Friday and a phalanx of cameramen packed away their equipment after a somewhat anti-climactic Sepp Blatter press conference that focussed almost entirely on Qatar, I found myself humming the lyrics to that 1970s hit, More Questions Than Answers, by Johnny Nash.

Two generations after it was released, I reasoned, one could quite easily apply the title of the reggae ditty to the position we are still in as far as the 2022 World Cup saga is concerned.

Three years after the Gulf state won the vote to stage the tournament, we still don’t know exactly when in 2022 it will take place – and may not do so until 2015.

Blatter made it clear that Qatar need not fear the possibility of being stripped of host status – as some of its critics have favoured. But the momentum that had been building on FIFA to declare the principle of a winter switch appeared nevertheless to be halted in its tracks.

Did the exco actually support Blatter’s preference for a move away from summer or was the consensus merely for setting up the Task Force that now will work towards coming up with the best solution for everyone? There is a subtle distinction between the two.

Why were the goalposts changed in the past six months, given that FIFA had pledged back in March that it would only consider changing the timing of the World Cup if Qatar itself issued such a request? Again, we don’t have a firm answer for that and it would be nice to understand the thinking.

The biggest unanswered question, of course, is when an actual decision will be made. The revelation by Blatter and other exco members that it could be another two years before we have a definitive date understandably had heads shaking not only amongst the media in Zurich but by fans across the world.

Yet some of those in high places continue to point the finger mainly at Blatter for all of FIFA’s ills. Hugh Robertson – in one of his last interviews as Britain’s Sports Minister before being switched to Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a government reshuffle – was at it again on Sunday, telling a BBC radio programme how impressed he was by UEFA boss Michel Platini, how the Frenchman should take over from Blatter and how Qatar – whilst winning the vote fairly and squarely – was not the ideal place to stage a World Cup.

Many would agree, of course, with those sentiments. I do not want to be an apologist for FIFA and as has been said many times before, discussions about changing the timing of the World Cup should have been held way back when. But there was a baffling and alarming omission by Robertson and his interviewer.

Robertson didn’t suggest for one moment that the bidding process was in any way flawed and rightly supported major sporting events being spread around the world. But what he conveniently forgot when having a dig at FIFA’s accountability whilst at the same time singing the praises of Platini was that it was the UEFA president, not the FIFA president, who voted for the tiny Gulf state. And it was Platini – not Blatter – who first insisted that the tournament had to be staged in winter. That’s why he voted for Qatar in the first place.

It made me want to scream at the radio. What would Robertson have replied if his interviewer had put to him the fact that Platini pushed for the World Cup to be staged in Qatar rather than the United States, Australia or either of the other two candidates? Don’t forget, Platini didn’t vote for England in 2018 either.

Moving on, Blatter conceded in Zurich that significant “financial and commercial consequences” would have to be assessed if and when any shift to winter does take place. We all know what that refers to: broadcasters, leagues and failed bidding nations crying foul and possibly demanding some kind of compensation. It was a telling remark because it could be interpreted as leaving the door open for the tournament to remain in summer.

Imagine if that actually happened. Imagine the Task Force reporting back to FIFA and coming to the conclusion – maybe five years after the original ballot took place – that in fact nothing was going to change after all. Surely FIFA cannot go down this road, not without ending up with considerable egg on its face.

But what is done is done and now it will be up to FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, aided in the first instance by Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman – an interesting choice given previous allegations made against him over human rights issues, if indeed construction workers rights are part of their remit – to choose the Task Force members and manage the task of speaking to all the stakeholders involved, many of them with diametrically opposed views.

A thankless task. Good luck to them.

In the meantime, Blatter has been mandated to meet the new Emir of Qatar over the reports of labour rights abuses, something FIFA is taking extremely seriously.

Behind the scenes, of course, is the small matter of the FIFA presidential election in 2015 which has suddenly become an intriguing backdrop to the proceedings. Platini has not yet made up his mind whether he will stand for the top job in world football.

Blatter, for his part, hasn’t decided whether to go for a fifth term after initially stating he would be calling it a day. Both are playing a clever waiting game to see who makes the first move. If they both stand, the timing of 2022 could end up playing a crucial part in which one of them wins. They both know that. Maybe that’s the hidden agenda behind to why we are all being put through this interminable wait.

But it really shouldn’t have got to this stage in the first place.

Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1713607123labto1713607123ofdlr1713607123owedi1713607123sni@w1713607123ahsra1713607123w.wer1713607123dna1713607123