The decision last week by the taskforce behind the Qatar 2022 World Cup to recommend a November/December World Cup is, while not surprising, a highly controversial and damaging decision for FIFA.
The problems with the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 are well documented, not least the strange allowance of a bid based on a summer World Cup to be moved, without any opposition from the top, to the winter. What will the solutions be to the problems faced by world football with a winter World Cup?
Winter Breaks – Most European leagues have well-established winter breaks, with Germany, Switzerland and Italy all taking around a month off each season, albeit around December and January. The problem faced by these leagues is the question of where to put this break, or to have it at all.
With seasons generally starting in August and ending in May, the likelihood of the respective football associations agreeing to take most of November and all of December out of their domestic calendars is slim.
This raises the point that a World Cup, while only a month long from beginning to end, is actually a good month and a half in total, with warm up games usually running, as was the case in 2014, from as early as late May.
The prospect therefore for countries such as Italy and Germany is to either somehow fit the eight weeks’ worth of fixtures throughout the standard season through midweek games not to dissimilar to the way the lower leagues of English football are run throughout the year, or to begin the season early in early July and finish around the same time 12 months later.
This is not just a problem for Europe, the majority of world football’s top leagues will be affected. Argentina’s top flight, Mexico’s top flight, and the MLS all usually run through November and December.
It is a whole different kettle of fish for leagues without a winter break such as England and Scotland. With an already packed schedule from mid-August till mid-May, the prospect of the busiest point of the season being cancelled due to Qatar 2022 is utterly terrifying for the FA. Similar to most European leagues, there will be a decision to be made by Richard Scudamore and co from within the Premier League.
The likelihood seems to be three seasons, starting with the 2021/22 season and finishing with the 2023/24 season starting and finishing at a different point in the year to previous years. For example, to fit in the probability of the 2022/23 season running from July to July, the 2021/22 will likely start in July and end late April, and the 2023/24 season beginning in late August and ending in mid-June. Of course this is all speculation and nothing has yet been finalised or even tabled by the Premier League. What this does highlight is the huge disruption this will bring to the footballing calendar across the world.
Champions League – One problem that FIFA seem to, at best, fail to notice, and at worst, ignore as a point of principle, is the disruption to the biggest competition in the world. The Champions League, UEFA and club football’s crown jewel is by far the most lucrative and important club competition in the world, and a winter World Cup will cause havoc to the scheduling.
Even if the problem of the group stage games is solved, with them played earlier than September to December, the knock on effect on the earlier rounds will be huge. It is often forgotten that the Champions League begins with the first qualifying round in the first week of July.
What this could arguably lead to is certain clubs playing in the first qualifying round of the Champions League without actually having qualified, with the likelihood of disruption to smaller leagues in Europe being slim. UEFA will be under huge pressure not only from within to solve the problem, but will also have huge pressure from TV companies that make the Champions League such a lucrative competition.
TV Deals – The recent £5bn TV deal between Sky and BT for the Premier League has been discussed to death by pundits and fans alike, but what will the impact of a winter World Cup be to some of the biggest business deals on the planet? For one, the Premier League will surely be much less attractive of a prospect.
With the likelihood of various summer-only sports overlapping with the beginning of the season, and a large eight month break in the middle of it alongside the likelihood of the traditional festive fixtures being removed from the schedule, it is highly unlikely that the TV deal for the Premier League will bring about as much money as previously has been the case.
Perhaps the most interesting admission to come out of Jerome Valcke’s announcement in Doha was the fact that the US rights for the 2026 World Cup had been sold, without going through tender, to the Rupert Murdoch owned Fox corporation and NBC-owned Telemundo.
This decision comes after Fox became one of the most vocal critics of the World Cup’s move due to the clash with the NFL’s winter fixture list. In what seems to be a move to appease Fox and remove a major critic from the battlefield, FIFA has once again called into question its own legitimacy as the head of the World Cup. Back in the UK and across the world, it won’t have come as a surprise to see the dates of the World Cup move, but it will have come as an annoyance and will force many companies to rearrange most of their year’s schedule to fit the World Cup.
It certainly seems to be the case that FIFA’s decision will cause chaos across world football, but the decision is unlikely to be reversed with the only other major obstacle, the African Cup of Nations in Guinea in 2023, moved from January to June (where apparently the heat of Africa is less of a problem than the middle-east for a football tournament).
What a winter World Cup may be is a blessing in disguise. Ex-England international Phil Neville has said that it is possible that a winter World Cup is the most likely possibility for England to win a World Cup in the near future due to less player fatigue.
However, despite all the logistical problems that come with it, FIFA still have many questions to answer on human rights abuses of migrant workers in Qatar alongside the very real question of corruption within FIFA. What can be said for certain though, is that Qatar 2022 will be historic, regardless of the football played.