In an interview with insideworldfootball.com, FIFA president Sepp Blatter revealed his belief that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been “a mistake.”
Conceding that world football’s governing body should have foreseen the Gulf nation’s inability to host a World Cup in its scorching summer, Blatter divulged that his motion to move the tournament back several months would be submitted to his organization’s Executive Committee.
“After many discussions, deliberations and critical review of the entire matter, I came to the conclusion that playing the World Cup in the heat of Qatar’s summer was simply not a responsible thing to do, despite the fact that I know full well that Qatar has the means to develop the best cooling technology,” he said.
Blatter also remarked that FIFA’s bidding documents, which were circulated to each nation interested in hosting the event, did not expressly stipulate a requirement to stage the World Cup at a particular time.
“[The Bid Registration Agreement] does not say that it 'must' take place in those months,” he said, adding that it only lays out “FIFA’s wish” to schedule the World Cup during June and July.
An argument over semantics, to be sure.
In truth, Blatter’s handling of the 2022 World Cup has been muddled from the very beginning. However, the true embarrassment has proven to be the lack of forethought employed by him and his organization during the bidding process that eventually awarded the competition to Qatar in December 2010.
They might have considered the summer climate in the country, which can see temperatures rise to as high as 50 degrees Celsius, and realized that a World Cup held in June and July simply wasn’t feasible.
But instead of providing intellectual leadership on the issue, they allowed the fallout—much of it rightfully furious—to shape the process over several years.
Not surprisingly, some of the most vociferous complaints have emanated from Europe, where Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has been at the forefront of the backlash.
In an August interview with Sky, Scudamore claimed it would be “extremely difficult, nigh on impossible,” for English football to conform to a winter World Cup.
“The international football calendar is one that has to be consulted through,” he said. “It is not something FIFA can just decide because the whole of world football has an interest in that.”
It certainly does, but what he didn’t point out was that major leagues in other parts of the world, notably the global South, already have their own clashes with the international calendar—a schedule that typically accommodates Europe’s biggest divisions at the expense of all others.
It’s here that Blatter’s thinking has evolved in a progressive direction, and in his interview he opined that the “European summer” can no longer set the World Cup template.
“The world has become a much smaller place,” he said. “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. We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe.”
As a remark, Blatter was only expressing what every school-age child knows: Seasons differ according to hemisphere, and “summer” in one part of the world is “winter” in another part.
A basic concept, but one Europe continues to resist.
“Who are we, the Europeans, to demand that this event has to cater to the needs of 800 million Europeans above all when there are over 7 billion people who populate this planet and of whom 6.2 billion are not European, but who must at all times succumb to our diktat?” he asked rhetorically.
“I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will onto others in far-away places.”
As an idea, the one Blatter put forward in his interview is something most high-minded people bought into long ago, yet because it came from the lips of the FIFA president, it can carry some weight going forward.
In his assertion that European seasons and the European calendar no longer hold sway over other continents, Blatter is essentially acknowledging that football fans in places like Brazil and Japan should be no more inclined to have their domestic leagues interrupted than their counterparts in England and Germany.
While his outspokenness on the matter is convenient for him given the Qatar bungle, it is nevertheless the politically, rationally and morally correct position.
The 2022 World Cup may well be moved to January or February, and the process of that move may well have been the result of carelessness and oversight.
But Blatter is in every way correct in fighting for the principle behind the move. While his arrival at the principle was reckless, he now finds himself in perhaps unfamiliar territory—profoundly and decisively in the right.