Ever since the announcement in 2010 that Qatar would play host to the 2022 world cup, there have been those who have doubted that it will happen and those hoping that it doesn’t. Amidst scheduling conflicts surrounding the games themselves and whether staging the world cup for the first time in the winter to resolve intense heat concerns, lies questions on the validity of the selection process itself. Dubious as it may have seen at the time, Russia’s somewhat surprising award of the 2018 world cup at the same event was almost at once forgotten about as soon as Qatar piped Australia, United States, Korea and Japan to the post for the 2022 event. With no real history in the sport nor the infrastructure to support hosting its pinnacle event, Qatar’s winning bid was a shock to say the least but not unexpected. FIFA’s strange decision to announce the 2018 and 2022 Cups at the same event led to a Eurovision style you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours bidding system with nations helping each other in exchange for a vote. Not the best start by FIFA. Rumors of corruption and bribery were an almost daily occurrence in the run up to the announcements, (which three years on has still never been satisfactorily substantiated) but still Qatar was awarded the games ahead of other more suitable candidates.
US and Australian soccer lawyers have already been called in to challenge the validity of the selection adding further problems to the Qatar organizing committee who are fighting battles now on all fronts. Their argument is that when nations were asked to submit a bid for the 2022 event they did so under the pretense that the competition would be stage in the summer. All nations submitted their bids in due course for inspection with financial modeling based around June and July coverage. However as Qatar backtrack now and campaign for the tournament to take place in the much cooler January, the other bidding nations feel that the vote should now be null in void. Blatter was quick to shoot down claims stating that the timing was “in principle” to be held during the summer, however the leaked tender document does not show this language which presents FIFA with a potential legal minefield.
Blatter has all but acknowledged now that the World Cup cannot be held in the summer due to the intense heat which could have serious implications for the players, coaches and fans who attend. Qatar had originally suggested mist fields and giant cooling fans as ways to keep temperatures down but logic and common sense prevailed. Realigning the World Cup to the winter is a logistical nightmare with FIFA struggling to find an eight week window for the tournament to take place. February is more than certainly out as it would clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics so late 2021 looks like the only option. Playing through Christmas would be novel but unwelcomed by many of the players so a November timeline would likely be more favourable. However the final decision may not be down to FIFA who are now coming under increasing pressure from the various domestic leagues and TV rights holders. Both parties feel a move to the winter would be disruptive and not as financially lucrative and could stage protests if their hand is forced by FIFA. The leagues would threaten to strike and are likely to cite the disruption of all leagues at all levels for years to come as their guiding principle. The TV networks, especially the likes of Fox Sports who paid $1 billion for the rights, will suggest that the move devalues the proposition and will seek a refund, massively denting FIFA’s coffers.
Either way FIFA are in a bind. Sources inside FIFA have been quoted in saying that the award to Qatar was a blatant mistake adding further problems to Blatter’s plate. There are two sides to this argument – whether Qatar as a developing nation with footballing intent should be given the chance to host the world’s largest event is one and the other is around FIFA’s handling of the process and its next steps. Stripping Qatar of the World Cup could have significant repercussions in the Middle East, which is seen as an important area of growth for FIFA. On the flip side, allowing the games to proceed there could damage the global game and FIFA beyond compare. Blatter and FIFA need to make a decision and fast, knowing that neither resolution will please everyone.