Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Winter World Cup heats up

A November and December 2022 Qatar showpiece is making ties between FIFA and some federations cool, reports Marawan Zayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

After so many discussions, meetings and negotiations between top football authorities around the world and FIFA, the expected announcement to officially move the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the winter has been made, much to the dismay of some top football federations and clubs.

Even though the move was expected as it was the only realistic option to avoid the high summer temperatures in Qatar and the Middle East in general, as soon as the official announcement was made some European leagues threatened to take legal action against FIFA and against the decision, according to the French league president Frederic Thiriez. At a meeting in Barcelona last Saturday, the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) approved a resolution critical of the decision to move the competition from its traditional dates in June and July to November and December in order to combat the searing heat in the Middle East.

“The EPFL is ready to support any legal actions that the individual leagues may take in this respect in the near future,” said Thiriez.

“The EPFL is very disappointed with the decision of the FIFA who decided to move the World Cup to November and December in 2022. This is seriously damaging to the European leagues, both from a sporting and a financial point of view,” added Thiriez.

Fortunately for the FIFA, football’s world governing body, a top federation in the form of the English One declared that they would not take legal action against the organisation even though they were not too impressed with the decision.

In a statement echoed by the Football League, the Premier League said its focus was to ensure the impact on its season was as “limited as possible”. It added: “While we remain disappointed, at least we now have fixed dates to work with.” FIFA is doing its best to limit the opposing views of the clubs and federations around the world, so much so that they decided to triple the amount paid to clubs who release their players for the World Cup to £142 million. But they still find themselves in a very difficult position, waiting to see if legal action will be taken against them.

The point with the 2022 Qatar World Cup is that apart from the timing of the tournament – the final will be on 18 December -- this is still the most controversial World Cup in the history of the event for many reasons. First, it was criticised after it was announced that it will cost around $220 billion, nearly 20 times more than what it cost Brazil to host the last World Cup in 2014 and the one that drew protests in the country -- because it cost too much.

 Second, the World Cup is supposed to be the world’s tournament, hence the word “world” in its title. However, not everyone in the world is welcome in Qatar, which has strict laws against alcohol and homosexuality. Russia, which will play host to the 2018 tournament, has stopped short of banning homosexuality but has adopted draconian laws against pro-gay statements. No problem, said FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who advised gay soccer fans to simply refrain from having sex while in Qatar.

It’s a big problem, said Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers, a former US national team player and the first male athlete in a major US professional team sport to come out of the closet. “If you look at the next few World Cups, they are in places where, if I were to go, I would possibly be imprisoned or beat up. It is pretty ridiculous,” Rogers told England’s Sky Sports.

Third, is the Israeli-Arab conflict with the big questions remaining: what will happen if Israel qualified for a World Cup on Arab soil?

Regarding this point, the Qatari government stated that it would let the Israeli national football team participate in the World Cup on their territory despite not recognising the state of Israel, the head of Qatar’s World Cup bid said. Israeli athletes have previously competed in Qatar, such as Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er in 2008. In addition, an Israeli also participated in the Doha 2010 Indoor Championships. However, Israelis themselves were and still are against giving the World Cup to Qatar, according to Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett who said that Qatar supported Hamas and was “a terror sponsor”, and called upon FIFA to give the 2022 World Cup to another country.

These issues just add to the problems of changing the timing of the World Cup which will always be the biggest dilemma related to the 2022 World Cup. While some federations agreed to the decision, some others are still pondering if they will go with legal action against FIFA or just accept the decision like the English federation and move on. However, in all cases the timing of releasing the players will be a huge issue come November 2022 as most of the teams will do their best to release their players as late as possible while national federations will surely demand earlier releases. In this specific issue FIFA will have to be very lenient with the clubs after already putting them in this unenviable position where they’ll have to release their players only two months after the start of their local seasons.

The coming days will tell whether FIFA will get away with the decision without minimum damage.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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