Jerome Valcke’s comments to a radio station in France about the likelihood of 2022 FIFA World Cup being held in winter between mid-November and mid-January, have thrown FIFA and the different stakeholders involved in hosting it into a tizzy.
Even so, many believe, and with good reason, that FIFA’s secretary general was merely mouthing what is held to be common knowledge. So why did FIFA react with a wordy statement denying Valcke’s opinion was the official line? What is all the fuss about?
The World Cup can be a logistical nightmare, as Brazil is finding out, and stakeholders across the board often balk at their interests not being prioritised and the same situation is being repeated now.
What holds as a truism however, is this. There can be no Cup without teams, spectators or host country.
It was this aspect, more than any other, that raised eyebrows when Qatar was awarded the 2022 WC. Temperatures vary in the approximate range of 27C to 45C during June and July — the hottest months of the year in Qatar — incidentally, the exact months in which FIFA contractually obligates the winning bidder to host the tournament.
Bearing player and fan safety in mind, a winter World Cup was first envisaged a few hours after Sepp Blatter announced the emirate as host in December 2010. Bribery scandals and political intrigue aside, the tournament was never going to be a hit even if Qatar somehow managed to pull off a technological heist by airconditioning their stadiums. Questions about open-air practice-grounds remained and general fan movement would surely suffer in the melting heat.
In light of Valcke’s slip, whether calculated or otherwise, football leagues in Europe and South America (other continents get the short shrift) sponsors, broadcasting companies — in short, a veritable mash of commercial interests — are frantically waving arms at FIFA. And we haven’t even talked of Australia and the United States who lost out in the bidding process, either or both who are considering a legal appeal in case FIFA allows shifting of goalposts.
Valcke, Blatter’s firefighter, is clearly angling to reach a position whereby no one is surprised should a winter World Cup materialise. Yet, Valcke’s statement has surprised as Blatter’s best option would have been to kick the ball to 2015 when Michel Platini ostensibly takes over as FIFA president.
Still, in the age of televised revenues trumping all else, FIFA has a tough sell on its hands. They’ve sold their product at top price and will need to explain their position to all stakeholders carefully, if they do not wish to get into legal disputes.
Even so, a winter tournament seems an inevitability. FIFA though, has to pull its weight, and openly and answer the question: What’s the fuss about?
(Hormazd is a senior sub-editor based in New Delhi)