QATAR are in danger of having the 2022 World Cup snatched from them as a result of a four-pronged attack on their right to stage the tournament.
Pressure from Europe’s football elite — including the Premier League — as well as the concerns of powerful American TV interests, Qatar’s beaten rival bidders for 2022 and anti-corruption investigators could scupper the project to stage the world’s biggest football tournament in the small but oil-rich desert state.
It is virtually certain that football’s world governing body, FIFA, will announce early next month that the 2022 tournament cannot be staged in Qatar in the summer — as originally envisaged when the World Cup was awarded to the emirate three years ago — because of the dangerously high temperatures, which can reach 40 degrees centigrade.
FIFA will propose switching the tournament to winter, but American TV giant Fox have told The Mail on Sunday that they agreed to pay $1billion for the rights to screen the World Cup in the summers of 2018 and 2022, not in winter. Industry sources say it is ‘unimaginable’ that they will accept a switch, not at that price.
The Mail on Sunday has also learned that, contrary to the public claim of FIFA president Sepp Blatter last week that bidders for 2022 agreed only ‘in principle’ to a summer event, the words ‘in principle’ did not appear in tender or bidding documents.
This bombshell revelation highlights the enormous legal complexities ahead. Legally and contractually, Qatar are obliged to stage a summer event that most agree they cannot now stage. But they have no legal or contractual right to stage a winter World Cup in 2022.
Although the head of Qatar’s bid, Hassan al-Thawadi, has been bullish in recent days that there is ‘no reason’ why his Middle Eastern nation — roughly the size of Yorkshire — cannot host the tournament, one source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘This is far from over. Qatar won’t be keeping 2022 without a struggle.’
The 2022 World Cup, lest we forget, is a tournament the FA’s new chairman, Greg Dyke, has set as a target for England to win. Goalkeeper Jack Butland, who will be 29, could be a fixture between the England posts by then, playing alongside other stars such as Phil Jones, (then 30), Luke Shaw (27), Jack Wilshere (30), Ross Barkley (28), Raheem Sterling (27) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (29).
Dyke’s target always looked unlikely for a tournament expected to be played in inhospitable conditions, even with Qatar’s much-vaunted plan to build air-conditioned stadia capable of dealing with high heat and humidity. A switch to winter might suit England’s national interests, but senior administrative figures within Europe’s major leagues are talking privately about the impossibility of a winter World Cup and are lobbying hard against it. Some are even suggesting a boycott.
If a winter event is ruled out and summer has been established as too hot for Qatar, then a change of venue would be the only option.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has told FIFA that he will not support a move to winter, while Dyke insists Qatar cannot host in summer. Their combined position, essentially, is that Qatar cannot stage the 2022 World Cup.
The major European leagues’ umbrella body, the EPFL, made it clear last week that an extensive consultation process must take place before FIFA’s Executive Committee rubber-stamps any winter move.
‘Any change to the international calendar must be carefully assessed through a full and proper consultation and decision making process balancing all relevant interests, including all football stakeholders and notably the EPFL,’ said a statement. The EPFL outlined how a switch to winter is far from simple, disrupting not just Europe’s domestic leagues but other major international sports events such as the Winter Olympics, FIFA tournaments including the Confederations Cup, UEFA tournaments including the Champions League and even impact on the global transfer and contract systems.
The EPFL’s public tone is amicable for now, ‘kindly requesting’ that FIFA do not make definitive decisions on a winter switch at FIFA’s next executive committee meeting on October 3-4.
But key figures from leagues of all sizes are increasingly indignant. ‘Clearing an eight-week winter window is a nightmare,’ said one. ‘That won’t be in January or February because even FIFA won’t go up against the IOC and clash with the Winter Olympics. So even theoretically you’d be looking at mid-October to mid-December. That cannot happen in 2021, it’s just impossible logistically to fit qualifying in between Euro 2020 and then.
‘And if you think the back end of 2022 is easier, try working out how much disruption that causes in the three or more years afterwards.’
One influential FIFA executive who has gone public with a plea for a detailed assessment of a winter switch before any vote is Sunil Gulati, the president of the US Soccer Federation and a new FIFA executive committee member.
He says: ‘I don’t see at this stage, frankly, how I or any member of FIFA’s executive committee could make a sensible decision [on a winter switch without a detailed impact assessment]’ ... we don’t have enough information and there are too many questions.’
Gulati wants detailed answers about how a winter switch would affect participants, leagues around the world and even Fifa finances if TV contracts have to be ripped up, potentially costing Fifa lost revenues in the billions.
Fox Sports, together with Telemundo (a subsidiary of the mighty NBC), bid $1bn for summer World Cups in 2018 and 2022. A Fox spokesman says: ‘Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.’
Fox would not comment on potential legal action if the 2022 event moves to winter, but a network insider says the broadcaster ‘will not countenance’ a World Cup being given prominence on US TV between October and December.
America’s primary ‘sports property’, NFL football, is screened on Sundays in that time and the hugely popular college football is screened on Saturdays.
Asked about TV contract problems and EPFL opposition to a winter switch, a FIFA spokeswoman said: ‘The matter of the timing of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be discussed in various ad hoc committees as well as the FIFA Executive Committee at the occasion of its next session on 3-4 October in Zurich and until these meetings have taken place FIFA is in no position to make any further comments.’ If the World Cup of 2022 is moved to winter in Qatar, FIFA face possible legal action from other 2022 bidders who lost out, having bid specifically for a summer event. Those rivals were the United States, Australia, Korea and Japan. It is understood the Australians are most likely to sue, with the Americans keeping a ‘watching brief’.
Blatter appeared to attempt to claim last week that FIFA had the latitude to move the event at will, saying 2022 bids were made for a summer event ‘in principle’.
But The Mail on Sunday has established that key paragraphs in the relevant documents never included that phrase, specifying a June or July 2022 World Cup, after a Confederations Cup in June 2021.
A FIFA spokeswoman: ‘The president made this [‘in principle’] comment in an interview situation. His statement was certainly not meant to be a legal explanation.’
Former US attorney for New York, Michael Garcia, is still investigating whether there was any corruption in the 2022 process. ‘He’s not finished yet,’ said a source. ‘There’s no firm conclusion either way.’
Any hard proof that Qatar broke the bidding rules, including colluding over vote swaps, could on its own see them lose the 2022 showpiece.
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