18 September 2013
FIFA president Sepp Blatter stunned the world last week by declaring Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup that “we made a mistake at the time”. This adds to his comment in May that a summer World Cup is “not rational and reasonable”, and Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger in July calling it a “blatant mistake”. The mistake being that the weather in Qatar’s fierce summer is just too hot and for some reason FIFA didn’t realise this at the time. Forget that the Qataris believe the can cool the stadiums; you can’t cool an entire country. The real mistake is, especially knowing the corrupt nature of FIFA, is why the other bidders didn’t twig to this reality of an impossible World Cup in Qatar’s summer and the future shenanigans that FIFA would play. Qatar was always certain to win the bid for the simple reason that if weather was the issue, FIFA would have told them much earlier not to bother bidding at all.
From the Socceroo Realm prior to the World Cup announcement:
“The only real conspicuous negative for Qatar is the weather. Qatar speak of air-conditioning all venues. That’s pointless for most of the other time when fans are not at games. The heat is debilitating, and would virtually kill any outdoor activity. It’s a wonder that FIFA just didn’t tell Qatar straight out to not bother. That’s unless the World Cup will be played in January. Nowhere have FIFA ruled out a proposition of a January World Cup, only citing that it is hot in June. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t already been some backroom deal that January is OK. It almost defies logic that Qatar would attempt a bid knowing that a June World Cup is impossible with the heat. Remember, a January World Cup is not at all impractical. Many leagues are closed for winter. Other leagues can easily adjust by suspending their league for 4 weeks and extending it into early June. It actually makes so much sense. With FIFA, nothing would surprise if they announce Qatar as a winner and the idea is to play it in January.”
The only error in that pre-announcement analysis was FIFA not immediately announcing a winter World Cup. Obviously the furore would be huge, so FIFA allowed the idea to cultivate on its own through various consorts and media to the point it became so compelling that FIFA would be seen as derelict in duty if it not propose a switch. While it was expected FIFA may wait a few more years for a regenerated Executive Committee to really propel the idea under the guise of fixing the past mistake of others, the mood is so strong and media rights both domestic and internationally need to be sorted that the time is now. Blatter will propose the move to the Executive Committee, which effectively guarantees the switch. Not so much because of Blatter’s input; the ExCo will make the change as it was always the plan and now is the perfect time to take advantage and lock it in.
Qatar is remaining silent in this controversy, as it should, as the move is always a FIFA initiative. It’s also perfectly allowable in FIFA’s agreement with the bidder to change many aspects as it wishes, including the schedule. The real issue is that such an idea was not readily known, or that bidders believed they could realistically plan their bid at a period any other than June and July and be successful. Bizarrely, only now, and on behalf of Qatar and other nations, Blatter raised the idea of discrimination if the World Cup can’t be moved…
“If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a FIFA World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator. We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe and we make it impossible for all those who would love to host the world’s biggest game in a global tournament to ever get the chance to do so. I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places and we must accept that football has moved away from being a European and South American sport. It has become the world sport that billions of fans are excitedly following every week, everywhere in the world.”
Ironically, if Qatar had used this themselves as an argument they would have gained broader sympathy. More relevant would have been the consequences for Australia’s bid. Stymied by a crowded calendar of domestic football codes and a recalcitrant AFL, Australia had no hope. If it wasn’t enough the lack of unity for the bid with the AFL, much of the resources into new stadia would leave the greatest legacy for Australian Rules football, not the round ball code. Perth’s Subiaco, Adelaide Oval, Gold Coat’s Carrara and Geelong’s Kardinia Park all get upgrades, when it should have been a new stadium in Perth, with Hindmarsh, Robina and Bubble stadiums upgraded in the other cities. If renovating AFL grounds was to appease the AFL, it clearly didn’t work, and would have sent strange signals to FIFA about the organisation truly running the sport in this country. Is it the FFA or the AFL? Add to that the appalling presentation video of cartoon kangaroo and tacky and irrelevant icons of Hoges, Freeman and Thorpe, it was a disaster. Getting one vote was simply a message of thanks for participating, not an endorsement of any facet of the bid.
Consider had their been an open schedule then Australia would have suggested March, as the Socceroo Realm always proposed. Nicer weather, cricket over and domestic football yet to start. No need to appease the AFL or anyone. In hindsight, its critical benefit would have been to hold FIFA accountable to their traditional June schedule. No doubt Australia would have been knocked back on interrupting the club season. If so, then absolutely no avenue to consider Qatar then or now for a January tournament. The big problem was that Australia, as the immature amateurs stepping brazonly into the world of FIFA slime and sleaze, chose to play that game, and lost. Had it marched with integrity and a March schedule and boasted of a brilliant World Cup wrecked by a discriminatory scheduling tradition, then already FIFA could have opened the schedule or slammed it shut.
Right now FFA CEO Frank Lowy is demanding compensation for the $43 million spent on the bid. Australia’s definitely owed something in that it was forced to make a compromised bid. That won’t be money as FIFA has already snubbed the idea, reaffirming that “as part of the bidding documents all bidders accepted that the format and dates, though initially expected to be in June/July, remain subject to the final decision of FIFA”. While not compromised on a technical matter, as there’s nothing stating a World Cup must be June (it’s there as tradition), the compromise was ethically, as the scheduling flexibility was not transparent. Had it been, even Qatar would bid on a winter Cup, along with its summer Cup proposal, leaving FIFA to decide its preference.
Australia’s best case now for compensation could only be to argue for the bidding to be re-opened. Remember, this was an unusual process with two World Cups decided at once. Normally 2022 would be decided late 2014. Of course, if FIFA decided to re-open the bidding and for an openly flexible schedule, they’d probably still choose Qatar, using discrimination as Blatter just described as an advocacy tool, and also discrimination of fairness in that it’s not Qatar denying it can’t host a summer Cup or even demanding a change of schedule for the World Cup, it’s FIFA driving the change. With the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 World Cups proudly boasted as spreading the game to new territories, FIFA will just be more resilient to hold it in Qatar, especially now without high temperatures – the key flaw of Qatar’s initial bid – a problem no longer existing.
The best thing for Australia is actually Qatar does have its World Cup, and hosts it successfully. That means Australia can target a friendlier schedule itself for a future bid. Despite much criticism from clubs and commentators that domestic leagues will be ruined by two months of a shut-down and players will be burnt-out, that’s nonsense, and a World Cup easily slotted into January. First of all, it’s not much more than two weeks between the end of the domestic leagues and the World Cup starting in its traditional June slot right now, so the preparation period needs only be two weeks, and when you consider that it would start on a Monday after a weekend’s round, only one actual round is skipped pre-tournament. During the Cup itself, only four teams make the final week, so it’s no problem for the world’s leagues to resume after 3 weeks. Of course, the A-League could resume after two weeks, or not close at all if the Socceroos is primarily overseas based. The maximum season break is four weeks, and easily accomodated by extending the season by two or three weeks and adding a midweek round or two. Note, this break mid-season only applies to leagues that do play through the winter. Most have a winter break through January so a winter World Cup is zero effect.
All FIFA need to do is set the dates and let the individual leagues and competitions decide how to manage their scheduling. For only a few clubs in a few leagues to be affected, and for such a rare occasion, it really is snobbery to the highest degree that they can’t make one small sacrifice in the interests of the broader world of football. So many of these elite clubs talk about a fair go for minorities, and even FIFA has their “fair play” edict. How about acting it?
For a full chronicle of events surrounding Australia’s World Cup bid: