FIFA admit it was a mistake to award two World Cups – 2018 and 2022 – at the same time but anyone expecting them to admit giving 2022 to Qatar was a mistake has a long wait.
As the issue is clouded with controversy and debate we get further away from a simple, important truth. That there hasn’t been a World Cup in the Middle East and that there should be a World Cup in Middle East.
It is perfectly reasonable for the summer/winter dialogue to be taking place and all those affected need to contribute and argue their case.
But those suggesting the tournament should be taken away from Qatar are effectively suggesting there are regions of the world that cannot host the World Cup ever.
No matter how much noise comes out of England, Germany and the European Leagues what critics are failing to understand is that this isn’t the European Championship. It is the World Cup, the biggest event in football. If this sounds like an over-simplification then perhaps it is time for such clear thinking.
Mention 2022 in some areas and you’ll conspiratorially hear the word corruption. The detractors of the Qatar World Cup attack on two fronts. Is it heat or corruption they are worried about? Or both? If it’s just the latter, perhaps they’d like to provide the proof. We’ve seen enough cases of proven corruption around FIFA in recent years to know that allegations need to be backed up properly.
So that leaves heat. A genuine issue. So sensible debate please.
I’ve spoken to people from Qatar, FIFA, and critics in England and the political landscape around winter/summer is becoming clear to me while we await FIFA’s discussion of the subject in Zurich in early October.
Qatar’s World Cup organisers have never wavered from their clear view. When the organisers say they are developing cooling technology and will fit in with summer or winter I don’t see how that can be criticised. They are actually being remarkably dignified in the face of FIFA u-turns and uncertainty.
From the FIFA point of view it’s good the debate is finally happening and I hope a decision is actually made in October. I won’t hold my breath. I feel they could have been stronger in reminding critics that awarding World Cups to Russia and Qatar may raise political questions – but why wouldn’t the tournament go to world superpower Russia in 2018 then on to the Middle East? Some people might not be happy until the tournament is played in European countries on a rotation.
Which brings me to the anti-Qatar 2022 noise that is getting louder. Former German FA President Theo Zwanziger has been the arch-critic of Qatar’s hosting. Then new English FA Chairman Greg Dyke took the baton, creating a fuss by suggesting the tournament simply can’t be played in Qatar’s summer.
This is not unreasonable of him or the English FA. But my point, made very clearly on Twitter, is that the English FA is just one of 209 member FA Associations and it’s about time we heard from more of the others. The English FA do not run FIFA, nor do the German critics of 2022.
Dyke’s comments about Qatar were partly about the English FA’s need to regain some power from the mighty English Premier League – understandably opposed to a winter switch. The two organisations have plenty of talking to do.
For the UK media to jump on his comments is one thing. The world media needs to get some perspective going. I’d now rather hear what the Asian Confederation President Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa has to say about the suggestion the tournament should be moved from his region. European football should not constantly be setting the tone and having the loudest voice.
But they have made their stance clear before FIFA formally discuss the matter. The European Leagues (Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England) have written to FIFA protesting about a potential move to a winter date. This is not surprising and you can sympathise with them trying to protect their own interests and schedules. But it’s equally important to note the world doesn’t revolve around them.
The dilemma of how to play a World Cup in a hot country without disrupting the right world football calendar should not isolate Qatar. 20 years ago i remember the craziness of Mexico v Ireland in oppressive midday heat in Orland. That’s Orlando, USA – I don’t remember anyone challenging their right to host for heat issues, and 110 degrees pitch side was not a freak occurrence! Ireland striker John Aldridge will remember it more than most – he kicked over a water bottle when he overheated and lost his temper. That’s the last thing I’d have picked on in that heat!
But Qatari football has had to contend with heat for years. They are not novices. How fans outside stadia will cope should be a large part of the focus but there’s no danger the players will not be looked after with the stadium cooling.
There has been plenty of sniping at Qatar’s lack of football history, and its relatively small population of under two million, but it’s wrong to say there is no fan base in the country. Often fans prefer to watch in restaurants and cafes but for a World Cup fans would travel from all parts of the Middle East and beyond. The love of football in the region is widespread, making it no different from the rest of the planet.
You’ll often hear Brazil, Mexico or Italy put forward as nations that love football most, but it would be difficult to find nations where it’s not loved. We should know by now that football in the Middle East is a big deal. A World Cup in a region of around 400 million people in a well-connected and accessible city will actually provide some advantages that other World Cups – including 2018 – don’t have. 2022 is still a long way off and there is a quiet assurance about the planning while the handwaving and hysteria takes place for those whose schedules may be disrupted.
Andrew Warshaw made an excellent point on Inside World Football about a potential third option for the 2022 World Cup instead of summer or winter. May/June has a lot going for it in terms of temperature and may not be entirely unworkable for European Leagues with a specially designed season. One month earlier than usual could make that crucial few degrees of difference.
‘You can’t play a World Cup there’ is just not working as an objection to Qatar 2022.
It IS going to be played there. Now it’s time for some intelligent debate and reasoning about exactly how it will work.
By Lee Wellings