If allegations of human rights abuses and blatant bribery can’t compel the 2022 Qatar World Cup to be moved, something else is finally getting FIFA’s attention.
The power of money.
Just when FIFA thought it has successfully muted the calls to remove the World Cup from the Middle East emirate, a new threat has emerged. The powerful European Club Association (ECA) over the weekend has indicated that it will demand that the World Cup be staged in April and May – if it’s still held in Qatar.
In recent months, FIFA has successfully obfuscated the issues of Qatar’s viability as host to be merely one about the weather. The tournament is normally held in June and July, but the summer temperatures in the Gulf state often hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unsafe for players and spectators alike.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has floated the idea of holding the 2022 World Cup in November and December, but that proposal has met with fierce opposition from broadcasting rights holders, particularly Fox, which is paying FIFA $425 million to televise the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the U.S. Fox does not want the event to conflict with its more valuable property – NFL football, whose regular season runs from September to December.
Europe’s powerful club teams also voiced their displeasure, as a move to the winter would completely disrupt the European domestic leagues. FIFA was forced to change its tune, suggesting a switch to February would be more feasible, though that is now being opposed by the International Olympic Committee, which will be staging its own Winter Games that month.
“Mr. Blatter had flown to Qatar straight after the World Cup (in Brazil) so he was there in July and I think he just realized how unbelievably hot it is,” Greg Dyke, chairman of England’s Football Association, told BBC Radio last week. “His view is that we can’t possibly hold it in the summer.
“There seems to be some going back on that now, that we could hold it in the summer after all. But I just don’t think it’s possible and I don’t think he thinks it’s possible”
Now Europe’s most influential clubs are making clear what their preferences are, and FIFA will have to play ball with them.
The ECA was originally founded in 2008 by 16 of the richest clubs in the world. Among its ranks are such titans as England’s Manchester United, Germany’s Bayern Munich, and Spain’s Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The association has now grown to include 214 clubs from across Europe.
During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, European clubs supplied more than 75 percent of the players and nearly all members of the teams that advanced past the quarterfinals. Most of the top players in the world are contracted and paid by the elite European club teams.
The ECA will present its formal proposal at a FIFA Task Force meeting on Nov. 3. The task force will then recommend a preferred a timetable to FIFA’s executive committee in the spring of 2015. FIFA is supposed to announce all decisions concerning the Qatar World Cup at that time, in a transparent attempt to stall for more time.
FIFA has been under siege since the selection of Qatar as host in December 2010. Numerous reports have surfaced deploring the inhumane working and living conditions for the gulf state’s migrant laborers. And corruption in the Qatar vote has been so widely alleged that FIFA finally had to appoint an independent entity to investigate the process.
But after American lawyer Michael Garcia presented his formal findings to FIFA’s executive committee in September, it immediately shut down all efforts to make that report public.
To be sure, FIFA has successfully changed the subject on Qatar’s viability as host to a simple weather issue. Blatter is – gladly – willing to negotiate the timetable of the 2022 World Cup with his various moneyed constituents just as long as allegations of the governing body’s corrupt practices and other unmentionables concerning the host nation are kept under wraps.