x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Winter or summer, Fifa and Qatar must settle 2022 World Cup debate

As more and more questions are raised over the 2022 World Cup, Fifa and Qatar are now engaged in a staring contest. Who will blink first?

European teams have made use of the world-class facilities in Doha for training in winter, but playing in summer is an issue. Nadine Rupp / Getty Images
European teams have made use of the world-class facilities in Doha for training in winter, but playing in summer is an issue. Nadine Rupp / Getty Images

Will it be played in the summer?

Will it be played in the winter?

Or will the host nation, almost inconceivably, be stripped of the right to hold it?

As the 2022 World Cup saga drags on, Qatar and Fifa are now engaged in a staring contest. Who will blink first?

When, in December 2010, football's governing body awarded the event to Qatar, eyebrows, to put it mildly, where raised.

Questions too, not the least of which was the issue of high temperatures of the summer months in which World Cups are held.

But with the event more than 12 years away, a sense of kicking the can down the road prevailed. It was time to celebrate taking the World Cup to new frontiers. But more than two years on, few of those questions have been answered. In fact, more are being asked.

In the last few days Qatar has insisted it would be willing to hold the World Cup either in the summer or winter.

"Concerning the timing of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, we have always reiterated that we bid on the parameters that we would host in the summer of 2022," said a statement from the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee on Friday.

But the questions of the summer heat have refused to go away. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, in particular, has voiced a preference for moving the tournament to the winter months.

His, unlike that of millions of fans, is an opinion the organisers cannot afford to ignore.

"We are ready to host the World Cup in summer or winter. Our planning isn't affected either way, as we are committed to the cooling technologies for legacy reasons," the committee's statement added, showing flexibility, and an eagerness to please.

But if Qatar was expecting some guidance from Fifa one way or the other, it will have been disappointed.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, may make all the right noises about the award of the tournament to the Arabian Gulf state, but he has firmly left the ball in the host nation's court by insisting that any change of timing must come from the organising committee itself.

Such a request, however, leaves Qatar in a bind, allowing countries that lost the initial bid to challenge its right to hold it now that the parameters have been changed.

The Qataris will see it as a shifting of the goalposts by Fifa. For sceptics, a chance for Fifa to extract itself from a mess they regret getting into in the first place.

And few organisations do politics as well as Fifa.

"If there is a move it must come from Qatar, it is not relevant to the Fifa executive committee which stands by the decision taken in December 2010," Blatter said last week. In short, it is all on you now, Qatar.

For its part, Qatar has in recent days ensured it is perceived to be covering all possible scenarios; the two main ones being moving the tournament to the European winter or using air-conditioned stadiums and fan zones which will be dismantled and given to developing nations at the end of the event.

The first would be an unprecedented departure for Fifa. Here, again, two options present themselves: staggering several European club football league seasons to open up a slot for the World Cup, say, in October. Or hold the event in the middle of European domestic season, as in the case of the African Cup of Nations.

Neither option would be welcomed, especially by Europe's most powerful clubs.

As for the air-conditioned stadiums, the technology is certainly available. But that is only a part of much bigger task.

Building an efficient infrastructure that can support the influx of visitors that the World Cup attracts will be a challenge even for one of the richest countries in the world. It remains to be seen if that can be achieved in time.

Qatar, which increasingly prides itself on being a political and economical power in the region will, however, be eager not to be seen to be jumping through hoops to please football's powers.

And quite rightly, regardless of the wisdom of the initial award.

If, in fact, Fifa has belatedly realised that it has made a mistake in awarding Qatar the event, it should take decisive action to address the issue rather than let it drag on in such a manner.

Playing politics, as it has so far in this saga, could cause irreparable damage between the world body and its Asian Football Confederation members, especially if the World Cup is dramatically snatched away from Qatar.

For now, the pressure is firmly on Qatar, and almost all the questions remain. But the time for answers is nearing, for a final timetable must be approved by Fifa by 2016.

The clock is ticking. Can Qatar pull it off?

akhaled@thenational.ae

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