Friday, January 10, 2014

Full 90: Winter Wonderland in Qatar?

On Wednesday FIFA’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, reported to a French radio station that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not be held during the usual months of June and July. Instead, due to extreme summer heat in Qatar, the 2022 tournament will take place in the winter. Valcke admits that he believes the tournament will take place between November 15th and January 15th at the latest. “If you play between November 15 and the end of December that’s the time when the weather conditions are best, when you can play in temperatures equivalent to a warm spring season in Europe.” Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, has since told the media that Valcke’s comments are not conclusive, rather they are the personal opinion of Valcke.

Valcke’s comments Wednesday caught soccer analysts worldwide by surprise. Many were certain the 2022 World Cup would not break 80 years of tradition by moving the torunament to the winter months. Blatter admits, “this has to be a decision that’s made by the executive committee of FIFA. I’m totally surprise by what I’ve heard this morning”. President Blatter promised that prior to reaching a decision on this matter, he would consult all stakeholders including players, clubs, leagues, and national associations: a consultation that has yet to occur.
The decision to shift the 2022 tournament to the winter can have severe backlash on players’ fitness, league matches, league tournaments and federation tournaments. While the World Cup takes place every four years, qualifying for the holy-grail-of-soccer-tournaments begins three years prior. Soccer has a very demanding schedule both at club and international levels. Not only are players competing in their club matches and club tournaments, they are simultaneously competing in international friendlies, continental tournaments, and not to mention, World Cup Qualifiers. By shifting the World Cup forward rather than hosting it in June and July, the formatting of the soccer club season and competitions will need to be restructured around the international breaks for qualifying as well as the physical dates of the World Cup.
While I firmly believe Valcke’s comments to remain true, I believe managers and clubs will be the toughest critics to convince in terms of diverging from the traditional summer World Cup, as both club owners and their managers are usually the most selfish and protective regarding their players’ departure for their international duties. Typically, a summer World Cup is viewed as a fitting way to wind down the club season and a reward for players to compete with their international mates. However, if the World Cup does take place in December of 2022, many European leagues will be in the middle of a title race, in other words, an immensely inopportune moment for an international stoppage. From a media and television rights perspective, however, a winter World Cup may cause a larger uproar.
The United States broadcasting rights for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were bought by FOX for approximately $425 million. With rumors of potentially playing a winter World Cup in 2022, FOX communicated to FIFA its concerns that a winter World Cup would interfere with viewership of NFL games on its network, specifically, the Super Bowl. Consequently, the $425 million FOX initially shelled out for the rights to two World Cups may be in fact, worth less. If the World Cup in Qatar does in fact move to the winter, it will be interesting to see if FOX seeks to recover part of the money it spent on the television rights.
While a winter World Cup would certainly be an interesting spectacle, I believe it would have too many repercussions and impact too many parties beyond global soccer federations its players. Perhaps FIFA will consider a spring World Cup. While no concrete discussion towards such an option has been mentioned, I believe a winter World Cup is too drastic of a shift and a spring World Cup would be a more plausible alternative in Qatar, pending of course, Mother Nature's approval.


1 comment:

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