Soccer

FIFA 'playing God' with SWC

2011-01-10 19:05

Paris - FIFA's suggestion of switching the 2022 summer World Cup to winter has created a furore amongst the football community.

The World Cup takes a full month (excluding the pre-tournament training camps and warm-up matches) and players need at least one week of post-tournament recuperation meaning the actual time commitment is six to seven weeks.

The question has thus been raised as to what would happen to other football tournament schedules should the proposed shift to a winter tournament take place.

If the World Cup is moved to January, when Qatar is cooler, then the tournament and its build-up would fall in the thick of the football season in Europe.

England's Premier League, depending on the timing, might have to drop its traditional feast of matches over Christmas and New Year.

Even for Germany's Bundesliga, which takes winter weeks off, accommodating the whim of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter could require severe kneading of its schedule, which is more easily said than done.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said such a shift "would demand a complete reorganization of the whole world's fixtures."

The expectation amongst critics is thus that the proposal will not be allowed to pass into action, with any further persistance on FIFA's part likely to trigger an ugly tug-of-war among the competing interests in football, pitting clubs and leagues against national teams.

Just the suggestion from Blatter of a switch has provoked genuine scorn.

Ian Holloway, manager of Premier League side Blackpool, before Christmas said, "You wait until I get home. I'm going to tell my turkeys: 'Don't worry, it ain't Christmas, we're moving it. It's alright, you've got some respite," he seethed. "'I've had a word with FIFA and we're going to move Christmas! It's no problem! Fantastic!"'

Further concerns have been raised as to the potential clash with the Winter Olympics in 2022 unless Blatter gets the International Olympic Committee to shift that, too.

An overlap of the two events would be disastrous for television revenues, and viewership figures, and IOC vice president Thomas Bach suggests FIFA may have to baulk first.

"You have raised very interesting questions indeed," Bach said in an email to The Associated Press. "I guess that FIFA would consider 'Winter-World-Cup' rather in the end of 2022 than at the beginning. In this case there would be no reason at all to be concerned."

Reading between the lines, a World Cup around the time of a Winter Olympics at the start of 2022 would be a worry.

Nor is the international head of skiing, Gian Franco Kasper, thrilled about sharing his sport's limelight with football. A winter World Cup "would cause quite a disruption" to skiing's race schedule and "the same applies to other winter sports," Kasper says.

There is also the issue of trampling on the principles of honesty and transparency which would result from shifting the World Cup.

Having pulled Qatar's name from the envelope with fanfare in December, Blatter is now letting on that the fine print of FIFA regulations entitles its executive committee, which picked the 2022 host, to alter a World Cup bid as it sees fit.

But the 22 FIFA executive committee voters, who included Blatter, knew the risks when they chose Qatar over competing bids from Australia, Japan, the United States and South Korea.

A detailed report handed to the selection committee prior to the announcement of Qatar as the 2022 host reveals clearly that "The fact that the competition is planned in June/July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators."

If Blatter now truly believes that summer heat should be avoided, then FIFA should hold its vote again - with all the facts on the table this time.

To allay concerns, Qatar had promised to air-condition stadiums to a pleasant 27 degrees and share its solar-powered and "100-percent carbon neutral" cooling technology with the world, "ensuring football becomes a game to be played 365 days a year, no matter what the climate."

"This means that heat is not and will not be an issue," the chief executive of Qatar's bid, Hassan al-Thawadi, told FIFA's executives before they voted. "We want this to be a lasting global legacy."

Blatter says any request for a winter switch must first come from Qatar for FIFA's executive committee to consider.

Qatar should stick to its plans. With a successful summer World Cup, it will reap positive press as the little nation that could, which beat Mother Nature to prove that the Middle East and other hot regions can host sports year-round.


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