The head of FIFA’s Medical Committee has added his voice to concerns over the wisdom of holding the 2022 World Cup in its traditional July – August window when temperatures in Qatar, the host nation are likely to be in excess of 40 degrees.
While this has been an issue ever since the gas-rich and sport-centred Gulf state surprised the world by winning its bid to host the tournament, it may well be that the voice of a medic may just prove to be the straw which breaks the camel’s back of resistance to moving the tournament from mid-summer to a winter slot where conditions are more Mediterranean than inferno.
FIFA’s man, Michel d’Hooge is reported to have told a conference that while he is not too concerned over the impact on players, who are due to train and compete in air conditioned facilities set at a more modest 21 degrees, his gears are for the fans and the army of other individuals required making the World Cup happen.
At present sport’s biggest event is subject to a bizarre stand-off instigated by FIFA over whether to switch the competition to a winter window. While FIFA members voted for Qatar in the full knowledge of the climatic conditions and against the advice of some of their advisors, there is now a detectable and growing feeling that the dates simply have to change. Among those leading the call IS UEFA chief Michel Platini who, just for good measure, has said that not only should the competition move to winter but should be hosted by Qatar in conjunction with a number of other Gulf States.
But FIFA’ line is that the World Cup will move only if the Qataris make the first move and ask for permission. They, on the other hand, say that they are happy to move the event but only if that is the will of FIFA. The result is a ridiculous impasse which would be more serious was it not for the fact that there are still nine years to kick-off.
The Qataris are blameless in this footballing farce. They ran a campaign to stage the World Cup in summer and they won. Platini was among those who supported their candidacy. But knowing what they were voting for there is a mood for change but not the desire to be seen to instigate it.
What has developed is a situation in which both sides are waiting to see who blinks first and the latest outburst from a FIFA official may just be enough to change minds and end the impasse.
If that happens it will not be the end of the affair, merely the beginning of a new chapter. If and when a decision is taken to move to winter there are incredibly difficult issues of re-scheduling domestic leagues to be dealt with and, of course, the potential for FIFA to be sued by those federation which bid against Qatar and lost. They may claim that the goalposts have been significantly moved and they wasted millions of dollars campaigning in a competition whose rules turned out to be more flexible than they had been told.
The important thing for the organisers, for FIFA and for football is an early decision and this week’s news may just take us one step further towards a conclusion.