(AP) Column: Blatter should go over 2022 Qatar-strophe
By JOHN LEICESTER
AP Sports Columnist
Qatar-strophic. Qatar-clysm. The headlines will write themselves if FIFA turns the world of soccer on its head this week by deciding that the 2022 World Cup cannot be played in summer.
Moving the tournament from its usual June-July slot to another time of year when the heat in 2022 host country Qatar isn’t such a health hazard would clearly be disruptive, and not just for soccer.
Quite how disruptive_ ranging from moderately to massively _ isn’t yet clear. That will depend to a large extent on what new dates FIFA picks: May or November, for example, at least wouldn’t clash with the Winter Olympics in the first few months of 2022.
Still, this much is certain: This whole mess was completely avoidable. The danger of staging the showcase event in the extreme heat of a Gulf summer was laid out in black and white by FIFA before its executive committee picked the oil- and gas-wealthy nation in 2010, in a secret ballot overshadowed by allegations of influence trading and corruption.
“Very hot, sunny and humid summers,” FIFA’s fact-finders stated in their 34-page report that evaluated the Qatari bid.
Expect average afternoon temperatures of at least 99 degrees, rarely dipping below 88 in the evenings, they added.
And, leaving absolutely no doubt, they warned: “The fact that the competition is planned in June/July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators, and requires precautions.”
So can’t FIFA bosses read or is it just that they didn’t care? Did the 14 executive committee voters (from 22) who backed Qatar against the United States in the final round of voting put personal interests, whatever they might have been, before those of the sport they are meant to safeguard? Or did they believe that Qatar will deliver promised solar-powered, air-conditioning technology to cool the stadiums and other venues? If so, are those promises no longer valid? Why is there a need less than three years later to debate possible wholesale changes to everyone’s schedules and plans?
At this point, three years too late, the causes of this public relations disaster _ yet another _ for FIFA are less important than what the next step should be: the resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the bulk of his executive committee.
Because if they decide at their closed-door meeting Friday that a summer World Cup in Qatar isn’t reasonable then that can only mean it wasn’t reasonable when they opted for it in 2010, either.
That, in turn, would mean that collectively, regardless of how its members voted as individuals, FIFA’s decision-making body displayed very poor judgment, so poor that it surely can’t be completely trusted to now deftly clean up this mess of its own making.
Standing aside, allowing other, hopefully more competent, administrators to dig FIFA and soccer out of the hole would be the decent thing to do. That won’t happen, of course. Blatter being who he is, so frequently haughty and untouchable at the pinnacle of the sport, the world of soccer probably won’t even get an apology. Thirteen executive committee members who voted in 2010, including Blatter, still serve _ if that’s the right word _ today.
As a World Cup venue, Qatar always made some sense. Europe and the Americas have hogged soccer’s showcase event for too long, hosting it 17 of 19 times. Only very belatedly did Asia (2002) and Africa (2010) also get the nod. The beautiful game has plenty of fans and history in the Middle East _ the soccer associations of Egypt and Iran will both celebrate their centenaries before 2022. To be a truly World Cup, the tournament can no longer bypass the region.
In tiny Qatar, the mostly new stadiums will be so close together that spectators could theoretically attend several games in a day. No vast treks from hotels to venues for players. After World Cups spread across the expanses of Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018, and the multination European Championship in 2020, not needing to fly planes everywhere will make a welcome breather for everyone involved and for the ozone layer.
But Qatar’s summer heat always looked problematic. If FIFA now decides that its choice of Qatar in June-July was wrong, then the rest of soccer, other sports, broadcasters and everyone else affected should not have to rearrange their schedules to fix that mistake.
The honest thing to do would be to hold the 2022 vote again, under new management at FIFA.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester