by Richard Brook
UEFA president Michel Platini has restated his calls for the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar, to take place in the winter, instead of during the summer close season, “for the good of the World Cup, the most important competition in the world.” Platini claims that the Emir of Qatar, H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had originally promised to stage the tournament during the cooler months. Platini states that his vote for Qatar to host the competition was placed in reliance of this promise and that the promise has subsequently been broken: “Before the vote, I told him ‘I’ll vote for Qatar, but I want the World Cup in winter’. He wanted my vote and said, ‘Of course, yes.’ Now he has changed.”
Platini states that he voted for Qatar because “it is time to go to a country in that part of the world”. Surely though by voting for the World Cup to take place in a particular country, the voter states that they believe that the country is a suitable host nation. It cannot have come as a surprise to Platini that Qatar is a hot country. Attempting to impose arbitrary qualifications on a countries hosting of the event would seem a strange precedent to set.
Since FIFA awarded the most prestigious competition to Qatar, back in December 2010, there have been concerns as to how teams will cope with the Qatari summer heat. During the time at which a World Cup might normally be taking place temperatures in the country would be expected to be around the 45 degrees Celsius mark and there are worries as to how sides from countries with cooler climates will fare in such scorching temperatures.
Platini has unwaveringly advocated switching the 2022 tournament to the winter but it remains to be seen how popular the proposal would be on the continent that UEFA represents. There would effectively need to be a complete overhaul of the European club football calendar. Platini feels that the switch would benefit both the national squads and the fans and is quoted as saying: “I hope it will be held in winter… We have to go to Qatar when it is good for everyone to participate. What is better for the fans?”
It seems difficult to imagine that Europe’s top clubs will be thrilled at the prospect of releasing their key players for a month mid-season, with top managers already bemoaning the injuries picked up during friendlies and tournament qualifiers, when the players are away from the clubs for just a few days. Chairmen and more particularly managers, whose jobs hang in a delicate and ever changing balance, based on the results they achieve will be loath to see players jet around the world to play an intensive month of football, for the teams reaching the latter stages of the World Cup. The money invested in players and the potential financial rewards of winning a high profile division, or UEFA’s own Champions League will surely be at the forefront of clubs’ minds. A winter World Cup is likely to be viewed as an unwelcome distraction to the players, a potential minefield given the chance of key players returning with injuries and could also be disruptive to the momentum of a club that was on a winning streak before the break.
Beyond this, as is so often the case, football’s governing bodies completely overlook clubs plying their trade outside of the top divisions, with few or no international players. What effects could they expect? If lower league clubs were forced to break for winter, it would be essentially be for no reason, for most, as they would be able to fulfil their fixtures with their remaining squads in relative comfort. This break may still disrupt a run of good results that could have a catastrophic effect on a clubs season and finances if, for example, it costs them a promotion.
What then if we say that lower league clubs should not break for the World Cup? We firstly would have an unprecedented scenario, disrespectful to the World Cup of league football continuing at the same time as the competition. Also what about the club competitions that see teams from different divisions play each other? English football saw a major trophy lifted by a second tier club in 1991, when Sheffield Wednesday won the League Cup. What if in 2022 the FA Cup Finalist is from outside the top flight? If they do not break for the potential winter World Cup, they may face an unfair lack of competitive football between the end of their league season, and the FA Cup Final, which would be taking place a month or more late to accommodate the proposed winter tournament.
Platini for the moment appears unconcerned as to the minutiae of the arrangements commenting that, “In ten years we can manage to decide how we can postpone the season for one month. January is difficult for the World Cup because you have the Winter Olympic Games”. Platini did however venture his own vision as to how the European club season might be re-arranged to accommodate the proposal: “If we stop [European club football] from November 2nd to December 20th, it means, instead of finishing in May, we stop in June. It is not a big problem.”
A little over a year ago, the organisers of Qatar 2022, were inconclusive about when precisely the tournament would take place. Supreme Committee general secretary Hassan al-Thawadi stated that they were open to the idea of hosting a winter World Cup, but at that time the organisational effort was focussed upon hosting international football’s show piece event, during the more traditional summer slot that it has always occupied. The organisers have indicated that they would accommodate any instruction from FIFA to reschedule the tournament to the winter time, if this was the wish of world football’s governing body.
Earlier this month a Premier League spokesman said of the proposed shift to a winter World Cup, “Our view is that such a proposal is unworkable and unacceptable to domestic European football”. It seems difficult to disagree with the Premier League on this. The potential disruption that would be caused by the proposal looks simply too great to manage effectively, with the ramifications for all levels of the game too great. It appears once again that those who hold the power in world football are more concerned with the commercial marketing of the product, than the traditional roots of the sport. One cannot help feeling that if Michel Platini had any qualms about the suitability of the candidate nation for which he was voting, he should have placed his vote elsewhere.