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‘Mistake’: Sepp Blatter confesses possible Qatar 2022 error

Sep 9, 2013, 11:53 PM EDT

Qatar 2022

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a FIFA executive call Qatar 2022 a mistake. But it is the first time the M-word has passed the lips of the most powerful man in world soccer. That Sepp Blatter’s now acknowledging FIFA may have screwed up may clear the way to finally correcting the problem, potentially providing long-term solutions for when climate forces World Cups to shift seasons.

In July, FIFA executive committee chairman Theo Zwanzinger (former German soccer head) called awarding World Cup 2022 to Qatar a “blatant mistake,” but citing reasons like the “unity of German football,” Zwanzinger’s complaints sounded more like self-centered objection than broad, level-headed concern.

Blatter, however, has no such allegiance, even if his devotion of FIFA’s power creates a whole different bias. But in this case, with so many people objecting to a summer World Cup in Qatar, it’s now in Blatter’s best interest to admit his organization made a mistake.

From The Guardian’s reporting (linked above):

Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, has admitted that it “may well be that we made a mistake” in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar but underlined his commitment to move the tournament to the winter to avoid the searing summer heat …

Blatter has swung from saying that it was for the Qatari World Cup organisers to insist on a switch from summer, when temperatures can reach 50C, to proposing a vote when the Fifa executive board meets on 3 and 4 October on a move in principle.

This issue has been vaulted back to into the news by Tuesday’s meeting of the European Clubs Association – the body expected to provide the greatest resistance to a winter World Cup. The potential to interfere with Europe’s club season was expected to spur objections, but as organization senior vice president Umberto Gandini, AC Milan’s director, put it on Monday in Geneva, the shift in season is “almost inevitable.”

Gandini’s bigger fear, at this point, is that moving the World Cup will becoming more than a one-off for 2022, a potential policy made more likely by Blatter’s recent comments to Inside World Football (as collected by The Guardian):

“If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a Fifa World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator,” he said. “We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe. I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world any more, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places.”

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know this is my exact position. Committing the World Cup to any specific time of the year precludes a number of nations from hosting the event. A number of these are highly populated nations (China, India) where a World Cup could eventually be highly influential, while other regions (North Africa, West Africa) are already soccer-loving areas where World Cups at another point of the year would make for a better event (rationale that would also apply to places like the United States and Mexico, previous hosts of World Cups).

source: Reuters

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani and his wife Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser al-Misnad hold a copy of the World Cup trophy after the awarding of the 2022 World Cup. The event marked the first time a World Cup finals was awarded to a nation in the Middle East – the second time the event will take place in the Asian confederation (Japan-South Korea 2002).

Beyond that, it’s just kind of narrow-minded. Why commit to one point of the calendar when you don’t have to? Why not take every potential World Cup and ask “how do we make this the best event possible?” Relative to that question, the status quo seems confusingly restrictive: “How do we make this the best June-July event possible?”

This, however, is not a popular view. Many believes the World Cup just belongs in the European summer. Why? Because that’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it should be. That’s what people have grown to expect.

You’ll hear arguments about television viewers, broadcast revenue, and the impossibility of shifting schedules. None of them are true. Nobody’s going to avoid watching a January-February World Cup. As such, broadcasters aren’t going to pay less. As much as European leagues will argue a schedule can’t be done, an early August until December, March through late June window will allow even the crowded English football season to be played out. The objections aren’t about impossibility. They’re about inconvenience.

As Qatar is teaching us (on multiple levels), there is no “should be”. Instead, it’s about doing what’s best for the event. And now that FIFA has committed to this Qatar mistake, it’s time to move the finals to January. Because that’s the way to put on the best World Cup 2022.

And once that precedent is set, it’s time to look at places like West Africa or China, look 20 or 40 years down the road, and ask who’s best served by committing the World Cup to summer? Is it the 700-plus million people in Europe? Or the over 6 billion people living elsewhere in the world?

  1. wfjackson3 - Sep 10, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    I respect your opinion, but I sort of disagree. I know that people will still watch a February World Cup; I certainly will. However, it will be competing with many other sporting events, especially in the US, so I suspect ratings might suffer. More importantly, how much will it impact people traveling to the event? I tried searching for a breakdown of the nations that send tourists to World Cups and couldn’t find it handy. However, if the vase majority of them are from US, Western Europe, etc, then a winter WC might be less attended. Or maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about.

  2. mkbryant3 - Sep 10, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser al-Misnad? “It’s a MAN, man!”

  3. pacificcoastharvest - Sep 10, 2013 at 1:49 AM

    They bid on a summer world cup. If they had wanted to change it they should have said so and the bidding could have been more transparent.

    • dws110 - Sep 10, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      Thank you! Why do most people seem to forget this, that the bid process was based on hosting the World Cup in June/July? The US bid for 2022 was for a June/July cup, as was the Australia bid (and what season is it in Austrialia in June/July, by the way?)

      This is why what Blatter said makes no sense at all. There was no mistake when the bids were considered; everyone in the world thought the tournament would be held in June/July, including the Qatari bid team.

      Richard seems to take the view that the world is somehow locked into the Qatar mess, and that it would be utterly impossible to move a tournament that is only 9 short years away. I think it’s time FIFA admitted fully that they made a “mistake” by taking all that Qatari bribe money and move the tournament either to Australia or the US, both of which would be fully capable of hosting the tournament, even on such ridiculously short notice.

  4. dfstell - Sep 10, 2013 at 5:51 AM

    Richard…..curious question: Do MLS fans not mind the switch to the winter? I mean, it obviously doesn’t screw up the MLS season at all.

    Personally, I don’t like the move because I mostly watch European soccer (and my local team), so I don’t want to see those seasons disrupted. But, I’ve not seen the comments on the message boards from MLS fans saying, “Doesn’t bother me! Maybe there is something to our March – November schedule.”

    • ikenelson - Sep 13, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      MLS takes its break in the winter.

    • ikenelson - Sep 13, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      Why does the author think that China couldn’t hold a summer World Cup? The most populated areas of China are on about the same parallel as Southern Europe. The average high temperature in Bejing in June is 75F, and in July 79F. And while India does have some places that get very hot in summer, there are plenty of places that don’t get all that hot in June. Though I’m not sure why we’d even be talking about India as a host, since it is near the bottom of the FIFA standings.

  5. litepad - Sep 10, 2013 at 5:52 AM

    February is definitely not possible because it clashes with the Winter Olympics…. Also why can’t India and China host the world cup in the summer?

    • basedrum777 - Sep 10, 2013 at 10:48 AM

      He is assuming (I guess) that India and China are “near the equator”? LOL

  6. twayward - Sep 10, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    Firstly, let’s disavow ourselves of the notion that Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup because of some grand ideal about spreading one of the world’s biggest events to all corners of the globe. A number of reports alledge — and with FIFA’s record of corruption it’s not hard to believe — that it was ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

    So, let’s separate the two issues. There’s Qatar and there’s spreading hosting duties around.

    Re Qatar, they should be stripped of the right to host the 2022 World Cup due to reasons of corruption and a failure to be able to live up to their agreement to deliver a summer World Cup.

    As an aside, is not unprecedented to move a World Cup. Colombia was the original host in 1986. The tournament was moved to Mexico.

    Now, let’s talk about spreading the hosting duties around the world. I’m 100% in favor, so long as it’s done for the right reasons and not simply so Sepp Blatter can reward those Federations that keep him in power.

  7. bellerophon30 - Sep 10, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    The major Euro leagues (the big four plus France and Portugal) are going to not take an interruption of their seasons lightly, especially given that they’ll be losing large amounts of players to a mid-season World Cup…….which isn’t going to be in February, as one of the posters above said, because of the Winter Olympics. Sponsors are going to want them separated at least a little bit.

    The World Cup is a summer event. Period. If you can’t hold it there due to the weather, then you don’t need to be holding it. Weather, fair or not, is an important part of the ability to host a major sporting event. But I guess the bribes were so large that the facts got a bit lost.

    Never mind that it was awarded to a country whose entire league’s attendance for a season wouldn’t fill Old Trafford.

  8. futbolhistorian - Sep 10, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    The World Cup is a Summer event? Summer where? Oh yes, in Europe. Certainly not in Brazil where the next World Cup takes place. Wasn’t in South Africa. It was also winter in South Africa in 2010. The World Cup in Argentina? Winter. Remember the long sleeves in 1978? Look at the pictures. That statement just about sums up the point Richard was trying to make.

    And you don’t think fans in Europe would welcome the opportunity to travel in February to a warmer climate to watch the WC? Why wouldn’t they want to travel in February?

    Also, not sure if the ratings in the US should really determine how the World Cup rotates around. And what is really preventing the US from getting good ratings for the WC in February anyway? Regular season NBA? The NHL? Do those pull viewers away anymore than MLB? I would think that as long as it’s not competing with football or March Madness, ratings in the US would not be affected by a move to February (November, different story).

  9. steyermark - Sep 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    The two main arguments put forward, 1) that no team in teh southern hemisphere can hold a summer world cup; and 2) that the WC should be flexible in terms of timing don’t hold water.

    First, where’s the next WC? Where was it in 2010? And ’78, and ’62? Right. So dismiss that argument.

    Second, then why not say the same for the NFL? The Packers will never host a SuperBowl, nor will the Patriots. So out of fairness, why not move the Superbowl to Lambeau in June, and play the NFL season starting in January? Because no one is asking for it, because people realize that American football is a fall/winter sport, not a spring summer one. It’s also not a simple matter of simply re-calibrating one season, because the pervious and next season are impacted by having shorter off-times, which has serious implications for off-season training and injury re-habilitation.

    Look, the world isn’t fair. Qatar got dealt the high temperature card. Boo-hoo. Nepal got dealt the high altitude and monsoon card, and they’ll never host the summer Olympics. I don’t see them whining about it.

  10. hjworton46 - Sep 10, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    If the region as a whole was hosting the WC then that would make sense, however Qatar is just ridiculously small for such a huge event. The whole idea of exploring a country as a fan during the event is laughable, Qatar can be driven around in a day, comfortably. Certainly the tournament should be a true world event, traditional countries should not have a stranglehold on hosting. FIFA completely missed the point awarding to Qatar, I’d hope not deliberately but suspect that is the case.

  11. mikeevergreen - Sep 10, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Bin Hamman swung it to Qatar. Bin Hamman is now banned for paying bribes to people for votes for FIFA President. If they can take away Lance Armstron’s championships and medals, then they can take the WC from Qatar and give it to the US or Australia (Ausi I wouldn’t mind and you won’t once you’ve had the pie with the sauce). And while he’s at it, he can tell the Russians that they can back off gays from now until AFTER the 2018 Cup. If they don’t, the more deserving England is waiting.

  12. talgrath - Sep 10, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    Here’s the dilemma for FIFA, here’s why Blatter is saying this now and here’s why I think the Qatar World Cup will get changed to a new location. European clubs, players and now FA officials are realizing this is a very bad idea, a summer Qatari tournament would be far too hot to play, a winter Qatari tournament completely buggers their schedules. European countries could threaten to break away from FIFA completely and if they did, that could completely destroy FIFA.

    You may say the world doesn’t revolve around European soccer…but it kind of does. If Europe pulls out of the world cup and separates their brands from FIFA, most of FIFA’s funding goes down the drain; FIFA has two means of making money, their events and their licensing. European leagues are the biggest in the world with some of the most fervent and widespread fans, if European teams aren’t in the World Cup then European fans won’t go and that drives down viewership worldwide and ticket prices too, there goes the majority of FIFA’s revenue. The most lucrative soccer licensing deals are in Europe because Europeans have more money to spend than “developing countries”, companies that advertise soccer in Europe are major world brands and by extension, almost all FIFA endorsements are from companies operating in Europe (even if they don’t originate there); lose European licensing and there goes the other leg of FIFA funding. Aside from the loss of funding, a European (perhaps joined by other countries like America and Canada) alternative to the World Cup could be created and run at the same time; that sort of competition would break FIFA’s monopoly, their only real power. That’s why, if Europe so much as threatens to break away, FIFA has to take it seriously and they have to react.

  13. benprie - Sep 12, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    US soccer chief weighs in, asking why FIFA awarded World Cup to Qatar even when temperature risks were a known factor

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