This past week, I got to experience a new and interesting feeling. Agreeing with Richard Scudamore. Having previously found the award of the 2022 World Cup finals to Qatar utterly baffling, my bafflement continued with the current push to have the tournament played in the winter of that year.
To briefly recap, in early 2011, FIFA took the interesting step of awarding the next two World Cups at the same time. The 2018 competition was given to Russia, at the expense of, among others, England. Despite the various innuendo and allegations surrounding that choice, Russia is on the face of it a fairly sound decision. It is a country, in its various guises, with a long-lasting football pedigree, an infrastructure that can cope and, importantly, decent weather is likely in the summer there in 5 years’ time; average temps in Moscow this week are around 23 degrees.
Then there was the 2022 decision. Against strong bids from Australia and the United States, completely from left field, the triumphant bid was that of Qatar.
Qatar. As I’ve said on this page before, a country with no footballing pedigree, ethos or history, and a tiny population (1.9m). Couple that with 50 degree temperatures in summer and one city – the capital, Doha – potentially providing six of the venues when FIFA and UEFA have previously been very clear that the maximum is two, and one wonders who has taken leave of their senses most on the FIFA Exec Committee. Of course the fact Qatar is an oil-rich, low-tax haven has nothing to do with the decision.
Coming back to that 50-degree heat, the original plan was for air-conditioned stadia. “Ah, but what of the times when fans and players are outside and not in a stadium?” some sage at FIFA House no doubt asked. The apparent answer? Playing the World Cup, you know, the World Cup in winter. Not summer. Winter.
The push for this mind-boggling plan had inevitably met with the support of Michel Platini, UEFA’s president. This is not altogether surprising – he is after all a man who has perpetually shown his support for a Qatari World Cup despite the obvious logistical issues.
The latest football suit to throw his weight behind a winter World Cup is Northern Irishman Jim Boyce, the Home Nations’ representative on the FIFA board. Boyce’s take on the issue is that Europe’s big leagues should forget about the logistical problems and play a World Cup in winter.
To my mind the man’s ignorance, and thus FIFA’s, knows no bounds. In order for FIFA to validate its hideous decision on 2022, that means Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga and the Premier League, not to mention 90% of the other European nations, should delete a couple of months of their season to allow 64 international matches to be played? Er, no. And this is where I find myself agreeing with Mr Scudamore. A winter World Cup would be football finally completing the self-parody, gorging itself while FIFA takes home its tax-free billions from the Gulf.
Not only will the big leagues have to delete two months from their season. They will have to add in those two months elsewhere, which will have knock-on impacts on future seasons as attempts are made to put the international calendar (which FIFA themselves have sought to instigate) back in its rightful August-May place.
There are some who also see a winter World Cup as a first step towards a complete shift of football to a summer sport. While this is probably verging on the paranoid, any move of the biggest tournament in international football is likely to rile, in this country at least, the cricket and rugby league authorities, and no doubt other sporting codes in other countries worldwide. Ultimately, the sensible decision is to transfer the World Cup elsewhere; knowing FIFA, this is likely to be the very farthest from their minds at the moment. Attempts to shoehorn in Qatar 2022 somewhere in the season where the fans and players won’t keel over in the heat seems to be the governing bodies’ top priority at the moment. For the good of the game, indeed.