Doha: A FIFA World Cup taskforce yesterday called for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to be shortened and held in November-December to avoid scorching summer temperatures.
A tournament from the end of November to the end of December was "the most viable period" for the World Cup, the taskforce decided, according to a FIFA statement. A source later told AFP that the dates proposed would see the tournament begin on November 26 with the final held on December 23.
A final decision will be made by the FIFA executive committee at their meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 19 and looks likely to be approved despite Europe's top clubs stressing their opposition. If the move goes ahead, it will be the first time the World Cup has been played in these months and away from its traditional northern hemisphere summer format. "There is one solution, November-December," said FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke after a meeting of the taskforce in Doha.
Valcke said the group touched on "all the options", including considering holding the World Cup in January and February 2023. "It is clear there are pros and cons for all but there is one solution coming out from this discussion, which is November-December 2022," said Valcke, adding that the proposal would not please everyone.
The taskforce chairman, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalif, said there was also a recommendation for a shorter competition.
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil ran for 32 days. However, officials said there was no proposal to reduce the number of countries taking part from 32. "The outcome of the discussions is also a proposed reduced competition days schedule with the exact dates to be defined inline with the match schedule and number of venues to be used," said a FIFA statement. "The proposed event dates have the full support of all six confederations," it added.
The move to shift the tournament was backed by the Qataris. They had insisted they could host a World Cup during their summer but said they would go along with the majority decision. "We have always committed ourselves to what the football community decides," said the country's World Cup chief, Hassan al-Thawadi. "We are onboard whatever the executive committee decides."
'Let down by UEFA'
But Europe's top leagues and clubs, who fear a potentially costly disruption to their domestic championships, expressed immediate opposition. English Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, who was a member of the taskforce, expressed the anger of European leagues and players. "Yeah, very disappointed that's the word, I think, on behalf of all the European leagues and particularly the European clubs who provide most of the players for this World Cup," said Scudamore.
He added he felt "let down" by European football's governing body, UEFA, which has already accepted a switch to winter. "FIFA keep their international dates, they keep their World Cup intact, even UEFA, who, I think, let us down a little bit, clearly pushed this...so their Champions League can start and carry on again, just like it always does."
Frederic Thiriez, the president of the French league and of the European Professional Football Leagues, also expressed his concern. "It is the worst solution. We are going to stop in November after 13 or 14 games and start again in January. In the meantime, players will not play, the clubs will not make any money, the fans will be deprived of national competitions and television companies will be furious," he told AFP.
Fierce lobbying is expected before the FIFA executive meets in March 19, and Britain's FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce said the move to later in the year was "common sense" but that he would oppose holding the final as late as December 23. FIFA has ruled out holding the tournament in January-February because of a clash with the Winter Olympics, which would put football's governing body on a collision course with the International Olympic Committee.
But it also said a European club proposal for a tournament in May-June was unworkable because of the heat. European clubs and championships could seek compensation for their losses from an enforced break in their competitions. Traditionally the World Cup is played in June and July, but summer temperatures in Qatar soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
In November-December, the temperatures would be around 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). Officials from football's global governing body, top leagues and players' representatives attended the crucial meeting in Doha.