One day at the Fifa HQ in Zurich, I expect to see the familiar world-weary face of actor Bill Murray at the entrance, crouched on the steps peering into the flowers looking for a groundhog.
There have been more ‘Groundhog Days’ than I’d care to remember around Qatar 2022. Or 2023, who knows.
At the meeting to discuss 2022 dates, all parties disagreed. They fought their corner. And yet their wishes are reported in some quarters as if revelatory or enlightening or even surprising.
Is there really any chance the World Cup could be played in the summer? No. It was always a red herring, always stupid and misguided. As I said to FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke earlier this year, “why did Fifa not consider dates could be moved to accommodate a hot host country before the bidding process started? Or should hot countries be precluded from bidding, because that’s a new one to me”.
And yet we constantly check in on D’Hooghe, the FIFA medical chief, as if he is ever going to say something new. His view is well documented: June-July is a no-no.
Proposing the dates
Does Fifa want the World Cup in November-December 2022? Yes? Is there a possible calendar that would work. Yes. Do some confederations prefer January-February? Yes. But that’s not going to happen unless they shift it to 2023 (Uefa are reportedly open-minded on 2023 and it does have positives).
But IOC won’t budge over 2022. Why would they and why should they?
It’s all a game. Will FIFA really take the IOC on and fall out when they don’t need to? The day FIFA starts disrespecting sponsors and broadcasting contracts (even the IOC’s) is the day they cease to respect the money that comes in to both organisations. Why would they take on such a potentially damaging battle? They have enough problems to contents with.
Do the European Clubs Association want April-May? Yes, but that’s surely the mother of all non-starters. European Cup finals in June? What nonsense. It rips the heart out of the very European season finale the clubs should want to protect.
And it’s Ramadan in the month of April 2022. As if a World Cup would be played in Qatar during that period. Is it ignorance or sheer bullishness by the ECA to suggest it might be. To me this is close to being the most staggering of all the hot air being produced around the exhausting topic of 2022.
Winter it should be
The only ‘development’ is the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee saying winter is the Middle East’s preference. After years of saying they will bend to whatever Fifa wants they surely have the right to express a preference. Though they then clarified they are ready any time of year. And recognising that the ‘international community’ are leaning towards winter is hardly a u-turn I saw it headlined as that in a reputable football magazine.
Of course if should be played in winter. As I’ve said in this column before, the world doesn’t revolve around Europe.
And remember this official meeting only came after 11th-hour calls from Executive Committee Members to actually spend time consulting.
When I headed to cover the ExCo meeting last October, I had been quietly informed deals were pretty much done, and that there would be a switch to winter. It’s as if the process is going backwards.
And now, more than seven years before the tournament, whatever they eventually settle on, there’s a sudden scramble to come up with a date.
Never mind the Garcia report, and Eckert, and sponsors leaving Fifa. Never mind the latest alarming Chuck Blazer revelations involving the FBI. Never mind the public’s irritation over the whole kerfuffle. Let’s all make our demands on which date suits us best.
I am grateful to Keir Radnedge – KeirRadnedge.com – for reminding me what former Fifa official Mr Blazer himself said about why they decided to simultaneously award two World Cups, 2018 and 2022. Arguably the most damaging mistake in sports administration history.
“It was a good idea at the time [in late 2007]. We were facing a variety of things – economic uncertainty and the further uncertainty of how successful we might be with the World Cup in South Africa. Given the concerns we had, being able to market two World Cups right away on the strength of where we were plus, frankly, our thoughts were probably that there would be two big markets.
“No-one considered then that Qatar would be a winner or even, for that matter, that they would be bidding.”
They did bid. And they won. And guess what got ‘Lost in Translation’. It’s extremely hot in summer and the tournament would realistically need to be switched to winter however flexible the Supreme Committee were being.
Fifa’s failure to not recognise the heat issue, to deal with it, to manage the dates disruption decisively. It’s what has brought us to this messy point.
Groundhog Day all over again.
Fifa may wish they could call Murray’s Ghostbusters. Those ghosts of the infamous 2010 bid process, and the instigation of the process three years earlier, are still haunting them, and the football world.