The decision Tuesday by soccer's world governing body to delay the opening of the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the cooler winter months of November and December is being blasted by German and European professional leagues that fear the mid-season absence of star players.
A day after the decision by Fifa, soccer’s governing body appeared to be on a collision course with European leagues angered about the prospect of a prolonged break in professional play.
Temperatures in Qatar in the summer regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius, more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and are known to even reach 50 degrees Celsius. Moving the matches to the end of the winter, when temperatures drop into the mid-20s Celsius, would be a way to avoid the sweltering heat for fans and players outside air-conditioned stadiums, hotels and restaurants.
But tinkering with schedules in the multi-billion euro soccer industry is tricky business. It’s about money – big money.
Tinkering with schedules in the multi-billion euro soccer industry is tricky business.
When World Cup tournaments start, professional league play stops. That means players not selected for their national teams have time off from normal competition but still draw their salaries. During that time, fans have no opportunities to buy tickets, beer or food at games, and sports channels have nothing to broadcast, while clubs sit on the sidelines and watch the bills pile up.
Add to that the scheduling nightmare – squeezing in league play, national tournament games and the Champions League before and after the World Cup. And imagine what it will be like for players on national teams who advance to the finals and return home, exhausted, even possibly nursing a slight injury, to compete with rested players keen to advance their careers.
European clubs are expected to mount a fierce lobbying campaign against the proposed changes before Fifa’s executive committee votes on the recommendation later next month.
British club managers are particularly ticked. Richard Scudamore, chief executive of Britain’s Premier League, said the recommended November-December slot would ruin the country’s traditional Christmas program, when clubs participate in four games in the course of 10 days.
In interviews with The Telegraph, Mr. Scudamor described the task force decision as “disappointing” and “wrong.” Chairman of Stoke City, Peter Coates, didn’t mince his words, calling the move a “disaster."
European clubs can’t be expected to pay the costs alone for moving the World Cup to winter. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge,, president of Bayern Munich
The temperatures of German league officials and club managers already are boiling.
“European clubs can’t be expected to pay the costs alone for moving the World Cup to winter,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, president of Bayern Munich, one of the world’s top soccer teams. “We expect a serious willingness (on the part of the tournament organizer) for the clubs to be compensated.”
Bayern Munich alone sent five players to the Brazil World Cup, which Germany won last year, and could be sending as many or even more to Qatar.
The Brazil tournament ran 32 days. For the Qatar games, FIFA has recommended beginning them on November 26 and ending on December 23 before Christmas. Including the designated pre-tournament training period, that would sideline national team players for nearly seven weeks.
Video: Computerized view of the Khalifa stadium.
Then there’s the viewing issue.
Speaking for fans accustomed to following the games at summer garden parties and in public viewing areas, Wolfgang Niersbach said on television it's difficult to imagine watching “a World Cup tournament before Christmas,” a time when Germans typically celebrate the pre-holiday season outdoors with cup of hot mulled wine instead of a glass of cold beer.
Nor is the German ski association happy with the scheduling. “Even though the proposed date for the World Cup doesn’t fall into our core ski tournament season, many top ski races take place during this time,” association president Franz Steinle said in a statement.
Others, like the United States, for instance, couldn't he happier. For the first time in the history of World Cups, the Qatar tournament would take place outside the season of the MLS professional league.
From the very beginning, Fifa’s choice of Qatar to be the first country in the Middle East to hold a World Cup has been controversial. Many clubs argued that the country was simply too hot and too remote to host a World Cup. Investigations also point to bribery and corruption in the vote.
More recently, stadium construction work has been marred by deaths and alleged mistreatment of foreign workers.
John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt. He attended two games during the World Cup tournament in 2006 in the Munich and Frankfurt stadiums, watched numerous games at garden parties and can't imagine watching any games outdoors in 2022 over a cup of mulled wine. To contact the author: [email protected]