FIFA says winter World Cup in 2022 is possible
FIFA's top officials left open the option of rescheduling the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to avoid the blistering summer, but noted Thursday that any decision would require extensive talks with football federations and other overseers of the sport.
In separate remarks, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and general secretary Jerome Valcke said moving the Qatar matches to winter deserves study as a way to better protect players and show flexibility for future bid cities.
"FIFA's job is to have a World Cup that protects the players so we take note of the recommendations and go through the list of requirements," Blatter told journalists in Qatar in his first visit since the tiny Gulf nation was awarded the World Cup earlier this month. "We will look into this and make the right decision."
Valcke, attending the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, said that switching the schedule would make it possible for a wider range of countries to bid for the World Cup — which traditionally takes places in June and July — in the future.
"Why not? It means you open the World Cup to countries where they can never play it in June and July because it's never the right period of time," Valcke told The Associated Press. "If you can do so, it would be a solution to open the organization of the World Cup to a number of countries in this period which is winter in Europe but not winter in the rest of the world."
Still, he said it is "not so easy" to stage a winter World Cup since it would require changing the international calendar -- including possibly the year before and after the 2022 tournament — and getting the support of domestic leagues and national federations.
"You can't just make a decision to move the tournament and that is it," he said. "It means you have to change completely when the leagues will play, mainly I would say in Europe. It's less difficult in the rest of the world."
Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup this month despite fears that temperatures exceeding 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) pose a serious health risk to players and fans. Soon after it beat out the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea for the bidding rights, football executives started suggesting that it might be better move the 2022 tournament to January when it is much cooler in Qatar.
FIFA executive committee member Franz Beckenbauer was the first to voice the idea, and he was followed by UEFA president Michel Platini.
Valcke said Qatar has not formally requested changing the timing of the tournament and bid officials have not said anything publicly about whether they would support such a move. Until now, Qatar has only promised FIFA that stadiums, training venues and areas for fans to party will be cooled with solar-powered air conditioning.
Blatter said the decision to award Qatar the tournament — as well as sending it to Russia in 2018 — reflects the "modern World Cup" that moves into new areas.
"Now the Middle East has also got its first World Cup," he said. "The philosophy of football is that it should be accessible to everybody. It has happened now."
Last week, Blatter floated the idea that some games at the 2022 tournament could be played in other Gulf countries.
But Valcke said Qatar has not made a formal request to date to stage games in other nations and he emphasized that would be a decision left solely to the oil-rich nation.
"It's too early to say what would happen in 2022 and too early to talk about any change what is part of the current bid book on which the executive committee members have made their decision," Valcke said.