x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Asian Cup story reheats debate on 2022 World Cup in Qatar

The heat is on for the World Cup hosts as the calls to move the tournament to the winter months in early 2022 get louder.

The sun sets over the Khalifa Stadium and neighbouring tower at Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence in Doha, Qatar.
The sun sets over the Khalifa Stadium and neighbouring tower at Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence in Doha, Qatar.

On the eve of the 2011 Asian Cup, Bruno Metsu, the coach of the Qatar national team and a former coach of the UAE, was not thinking of a great debate when asked about meteorological conditions here.

"It's very fantastic weather," the Frenchman said. "Nobody is complaining about the temperature. It is fantastic for playing football."

To no one's surprise, the Asian Cup has enjoyed delightful weather.

It is January in the Gulf, a time of year when tourists from frozen northern climes flock to the region to see the sun for the first time in months, and when natives leave the air-conditioners turned off.

Highs during the tournament have been in the 20-24°C range, with lows from 13 to 15°C, conditions ideal, as Metsu noted, for football, a game which asks players to run about 10km in two hours, much of it at a sprint.

The forecast for the final on Saturday is 23°C at kick off, partly cloudy, with a 10 per cent chance of light rain.

Fans have dressed casually, needing a light coat or sweater only for the handful of games played in windy conditions, and umbrellas only for the two days of warm rain.

The near-ideal weather during this event has served only to heat up discussions about scheduling the 2022 World Cup in the winter, moving it away from its traditional June-July slot, when the average high in Doha is a torrid 41°C.

While in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup last month, Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, first made clear his preference for the 2022 World Cup to be played in winter.

"I support definitely, definitely to play in winter here, to play when the climate is appropriate, and I am thinking about the footballers, not only the fans, but the footballers, the athletes giving the spectacle, and protecting them," he said.

He reiterated that sentiment before the Asian Cup kicked off, and this week he broadened the potential schedule for the 2022 World Cup to include December of 2021.

"It is premature to make any decisions on what may happen but all I am saying is that winter is not only January and February, winter is also the end of the year," he said.

The first prominent football official to call for a winter World Cup in 2022 was Franz Beckenbauer, a member of Fifa's executive committee, and he was soon followed by Michel Platini, the president of Uefa, and FifPro, the organisation representing footballers worldwide.

Platini spoke again yesterday, telling the French sports daily L'Equipe: "It [a winter World Cup] is not such a stupid idea is it?

"The best way to promote this competition is not to play it in 55°C heat. When it's 55°C no one goes out, while when it's 30°C, like in January, it's different

"I'm in favour of playing it in winter and sharing out the matches among several Gulf countries. This would be good for the development of football in the region."

Not everyone agrees it would be a good idea. Officials at many European club sides have reacted with horror, citing interruptions to their league schedules.

And Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari who is president of the Asian Football Confederation, two weeks ago said Qatar would "face all the challenges and we are going to meet all the requirement. Our focus is June, July".

Last week, however, bin Hammam softened his stand when he said: "I'm not opposed, but I'm not proposing."

Under Fifa rules, any changes in Qatar's successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, which called for the event to be scheduled in June and July, would have to originate with the organising committee and then go to Fifa for approval by the executive committee.

As Blatter has noted, 2022 is 11 years away, giving everyone plenty of time to react to a potential change in schedule. Bin Hammam has suggested that the discussion not be tabled until after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the furore should die down once the Asian Cup concludes and fans and journalists leave Qatar and its idyllic January weather.


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