The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
To move or not to move: The challenge of switching 2022 World Cup dates in Qatar
LONDON - With the tournament still nine years away, the start date of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar remains soccer's most divisive issue.
FIFA's leadership this week will discuss whether the tournament should be switched to the winter months to avoid the searing summer heat in the tiny desert nation.
Most domestic leagues would be affected by moving the World Cup from its traditional June-July dates to a November-December format preferred by FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
The Associated Press looks at why the change is set to happen and if the switch can work without widespread disruption for world soccer.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
Qatar's bid was centred on air-cooling technology for stadiums, but heat would remain an issue for players, officials and fans travelling around the country in the summer, when temperatures can reach 122 degrees.
Even FIFA's own inspection report flagged heat as a "potential health risk for players." Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the author of the inspection report, is concerned the weather wasn't taken into account by the voters.
"We said this (the heat) would be a problem," Mayne-Nicholls said in an interview with the AP. "It was a little bit obvious it won't be easy for the players. Now, after almost three years, it's still a subject on the table.
"I think it's not creating a good image for football and FIFA. I think it will be good if they finally close this issue and take a final decision."
When Mayne-Nicholls led FIFA's inspection tour of Qatar in September 2010, "walking in the street with high temperatures was really tough," he said.
Mayne-Nicholls, Chile's former soccer chief, recalls only one member of FIFA's executive committee asking him about the heat when he presented his report before the December 2010 vote.
"You heard a lot of rumours that people had taken their decisions (already) and it wouldn't matter what the report says," he said.
Qatar defeated the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea in the vote. Blatter has said direct political intervention pressured some voters to give the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time, with economic interests of countries also at play.
The Qatar issue is on the agenda for FIFA's executive committee meeting on Thursday and Friday under the section "sports-political matters," alongside a discussion on the Palestine Football Association's issues with Israel.
Even if no final decision is made this week, FIFA's ruling body is likely to push closer to a winter World Cup in Qatar, given Blatter's support for a move.
Moving the tournament dates would force dozens of leagues to split their seasons in two. Opposition is being led by the English Premier League, which has warned of years of disruption.
Not everyone in European soccer agrees with that pessimism.
"I really hope the decision of the FIFA executive committee would be in principle to have the opportunity for future editions of the World Cup to change dates, but after a deep and full inquiry on all the aspects — the technical side, the players, the clubs," AC Milan director Umberto Gandini, who is vice chairman of the European Clubs' Association, told the AP.
FIFA might have to curtail or sacrifice its Club World Cup in 2022 to accommodate its showpiece event. It is also unclear when Qatar could stage the Confederations Cup, which serves as a World Cup test event for venues and infrastructure, most of which is yet to be built.
The International Olympic Committee has cautioned FIFA against holding the World Cup in January, which would clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics in February. New IOC President Thomas Bach said that Blatter is looking at holding the tournament in November 2022, posing no conflict with the Olympics.
WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
The AP has formulated how a November-December World Cup could work. Here's how the calendar would look:
May 2022: European season ends as usual.
June: When the World Cup would usually be played, soccer players will have the month off.
July: Champions League qualifiers as normal. Gandini says there might have to be fewer qualifying entrants to cope with the earlier start.
Mid-July: Start of season for leading European leagues.
August 2-3: Champions League playoff round.
August 9-10: Champions League playoff round.
Mid-August: European transfer window closes.
Aug 23-24: Champions League group stage begins.
Sept 2: Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Sept 6: Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Sept 13-14: Champions League group matchday 2.
Sept 20-21: Champions League group matchday 3.
Sept 30: Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Oct 4: Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Oct 11-12: Champions League group matchday 4.
Oct 18-19: Champions League group matchday 5.
Nov 1-2: Champions League group matchday 6.
Nov 4: Mandatory release of players two weeks before World Cup. There would be no need for the usual post-season rest period before the World Cup given the event falls in the middle of the season when they would usually be playing up to three times a week. There would be space for the usual World Cup warm-up games, which would take the place of the regular November international date.
Nov 18: World Cup begins in Qatar.
Dec 1: World Cup group stage ends. 368 of the 736 players exit.
Dec 4: World Cup round of 16.
Dec 6: World Cup round of 16 ends. 184 players exit.
Dec 9: World Cup quarterfinals.
Dec 10 World Cup quarterfinals. 92 players exit.
Dec 13: World Cup semifinals.
Dec 14: World Cup semifinals.
Dec 17: World Cup 3rd-4th place. 46 players exit.
Dec 18: World Cup final, which falls on Qatar National Day. The final 46 players exit the tournament.
Dec 24: The Premier League could return to start its traditional packed Christmas program. Other leagues could chose to resume later if they determine that players returning from the World Cup after reaching the final or third-place game need a longer break.
Mid to late June: European leagues end.
August 2023: Premier League season starts as usual after a two-month break. In 2014, the Premier League season is starting just a month after the World Cup final in Brazil.
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