By James M. Dorsey
Barely a month after winning the bid for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar appears to have won a round in a looming battle later this year for the leadership of FIFA, soccer’s world body.
In a statement on Thursday, FIFA quashed talk of holding the Qatar World Cup in the winter rather than the summer because of the Gulf state’s scorching summer heats.
"Any potential move of the 2022 FIFA World Cup from a summer to a winter period would have to be initiated by the football association of Qatar and would have to be presented to the FIFA Executive Committee. At this stage there are no concrete plans to change the international match calendar," the FIFA statement.
The statement follows repeated rejections by Qatar of calls by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his allies, including UEFA president Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer, to hold the 2022 World Cup in January rather than June and/or July. Platini went further in efforts to alter the terms on which Qatar last month won the bid to host the World Cup by suggesting that other Gulf states could co-host the tournament. Blatter last week told CNN that he assessed the chance of holding the Qatar games in winter at 50 percent.
FIFA’s quashing of the efforts of its president to pressure Qatar comes against the backdrop of a looming Qatari challenge to Blatter’s imperious rule of the world soccer body. Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, has made no secret of his ambition to become head of FIFA. Bin Hammam has left open the possibility that he may challenge Blatter in this year’s May election for which Blatter is already on the campaign trail.
The FIFA statement also follows remarks by FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer, who represents the U.S., that switching the event to winter could take 10 weeks out of the international club season and would "upset the entire football world."
FIFA’s turnaround was in part prompted by fears that a change in the terms of Qatar’s successful bid in which it beat Australia, the United States, Japan and South Korea, could force it to cancel Qatar’s victory and hold a new bid for the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
The dispute over whether the tournament should be held in Qatar’s average temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius has divided European club soccer. England Football Association general secretary Alex Horne sided with Bin Hammam, warning that switching the Qatar tournament from June/July to January would be a "logistical nightmare" because it would require a winter break in the Premier League.
On the other hand, Philipp Lahm, who captained Germany at last year's World Cup, said it would be "madness" to stage a summer World Cup in the Middle East and FIFA's inspection team said conditions were a potential health hazard to players and supporters.
Qatar has insisted that the fierce summer heat will not be a problem as all its stadiums will be air-conditioned.