LONG SEEN as inevitable, a 2022 World Cup in November and December is now practically a done deal.
A Fifa task force yesterday recommended playing the tournament in Qatar at the end of the year in 2022 to avoid the summer heat. Temperatures in the Gulf emirate routinely top 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) when the World Cup traditionally kicks off in June.
A 23 December final in Doha is possible as Fifa aims to shorten the tournament from the current 32-day schedule to ease disruption for players, clubs and leagues worldwide.
The plan should be approved by the Fifa executive committee, chaired by President Sepp Blatter, at a meeting in Zurich from 19-20 March.
Blatter, who is an IOC member, has long favoured November-December to avoid clashing with the Winter Olympics, scheduled for February 2022.
Fifa said its task force chose the “most viable period” over other proposals to play in January, April or May, dates favoured mostly by European football officials.
Choosing Qatar was a controversial choice from the outset but recommending that the final be played so close to Christmas has sparked further uproar, especially within football in Britain where the festive programme is so important to clubs.
The proximity to Christmas would cause opposition from parts of Europe – and not least Scotland and England. FA chairman Greg Dyke has already vowed to fight to protect the traditional club programme.
Britain’s Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce said moving the World Cup to winter was a “common sense’’ decision but will oppose any move to hold the final on 23 December.
Boyce said: “I think that is too close to Christmas – that’s the only reservation I would have and I would like it a week earlier, but I want to wait until the Fifa executive committee meeting to hear all the details about the dates.
“I welcome the fact all the stakeholders have been involved and although this is not going to please everyone I think common sense has prevailed.
“It will cause a lot of disruption but it is eight years away and people should have enough time to make it work.’’
Some observers believe suggesting 23 December is a tactic to allow Fifa to offer a compromise of 18 December which also happens to be Qatar’s national day and falls on a Sunday, the traditional day that World Cup finals are held and early enough in the month to allow the festive club programme to take place.
The task force announced its recommendation for a “late November to late December” World Cup following a meeting in Doha, and also said that the tournament should be shortened, possibly by three or four days. Clubs and leagues will also press for reducing the period before the tournament where players have to be released and cutting the number of international dates that year.
A Fifa statement confirmed the task force had recommended a shorter tournament in November and December. January/February was ruled out because of the Winter Olympics, Ramadan made April unavailable, while the climate blocked the World Cup being played between May and September.
The statement said: “The outcome of the discussions is also a proposed reduced competition days schedule with the exact dates to be defined in line with the match schedule and number of venues to be used for the 22nd edition of football’s flagship event. The proposed event dates have the full support of all six confederations. The proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of the Fifa executive committee, scheduled to take place at the Home of Fifa in Zurich on 19 and 20 March 2015.”
The statement said the task force was exploring the option of staging the Confederations Cup in another Asian confederation country during the traditional June/July window in 2021, and using another Fifa competition such as the Club World Cup as the operational test event for Qatar in November/December 2021.
Task force chairman Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “We are very pleased that, after careful consideration of the various opinions and detailed discussions with all stakeholders, we have identified what we believe to be the best solution for the 2018-2024 international match calendar and football in general.
“It was a challenging task and I want to thank all members of the football community for their productive input and constructiveness in helping to find a solution that we believe can work for everyone.”
The leagues and clubs had pushed for a May/June tournament but that was ruled out on grounds of heat, but they are expected to push for a reduced preparation period beforehand and a cut in the number of international dates during the season.
Uefa said it supported the recommendation made by the task force for the World Cup to be played in late November to late December 2022.
A statement said: “Uefa believes that – for the benefits of players and fans – the event should be played in winter and now awaits the final decision from the Fifa executive committee meeting. Uefa sees no major issues in rescheduling its competitions for the 2022/23 season, should the 2022 Fifa World Cup proposal be approved by the Fifa executive committee, and Uefa acknowledges that the competition may be shortened and thus that the release period of players be reduced.”
The Fifa executive committee chose Qatar as host in December 2010, when the gas-rich emirate won a five-nation bidding contest to host the tournament in the traditional June-July slot.
Yesterday’s recommendation comes 17 months after the Fifa board – minus several members who have left since the hosting vote after being implicated in corruption – ordered a consultation on finding the best dates in Qatar.
The process was widely seen to have been pre-judged by Blatter, who insisted on November-December as the only realistic choice.
Blatter also reversed his position on the winter World Cup debate. After the December 2010 vote, he said the tournament would be played in the summer and the dates could only be changed at Qatar’s request.
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