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SBD Global/October 7, 2013/International Football

FIFA Agrees To Set Up Task Force To Examine Moving 2022 World Cup To Winter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter answers questions at a news conference Friday.
FIFA leaders agreed Friday "to set up a working group" to study switching the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to "avoid the extreme summer heat in the tiny desert country," according to Graham Dunbar of the AP. However, FIFA exec committee member Michel D'Hooghe said that a final decision on which months the tournament could be played "is unlikely" before '15. D'Hooghe said, "We will consult everyone in the football family. To have some concrete information, this will not be done in two days." D'Hooghe and fellow committee member Hany Abo Rida said that the new commission "will not report back to President Sepp Blatter's board before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil." D'Hooghe said, "We have two World Cups before Qatar where we also have concerns" (AP, 10/4).

STAYING IN QATAR: In N.Y., James Montague reported Blatter emerged from two days of meetings Friday "to address serious questions about the 2022 World Cup with a concrete answer to one of them." Blatter: "The 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar -- that’s it." Will that "be in the heat of summer or the relative cool of the Middle Eastern winter?" Blatter: "I do not know." And the issue of workers’ rights, which "have become a thorny topic" after recent news media reports revealed deaths and poor living conditions among construction workers employed on projects related to the 2022 tournament? Blatter said that he would "travel to Qatar" to meet the country’s 33-year-old ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a “courtesy” visit to discuss, among other things, the "conditions that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers face living and working in his country." With little more to announce to a group of about 100 sometimes hostile journalists, Blatter, 77, "answered questions in three languages, stonewalled others and waved away at least one with a flick of his hand." Blatter said, "This is not a question," when presented "with a list of the controversies surrounding the Qatar 2022 bid." Blatter: "It is a declaration. I take note of it. I don’t agree with it" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/4).

THE TASK FORCE: In Bahrain, Patrick Salomon reported Asian Football Confederations President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa "has been tasked" to head FIFA's task force. He "will be spearheading" the task force that will "undergo an intensive consultation process that will involve all the main stakeholders concerned with the World Cup" (GULF DAILY NEWS, 10/6). In London, Roger Blitz reported FIFA "will have to factor in compensation claims" from sponsors, broadcasters and domestic leagues in deciding whether to move the World Cup to the winter. Blatter announced FIFA would begin a “very deep consultation” on rescheduling the tournament. FIFA is "under pressure on several fronts" over the event, not least from the U.S., Australia and other bidders "who lost out" when the exec committee voted in Dec. '10 to stage the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Rescheduling the tournament could also force FIFA "to compensate broadcasters," including U.S. network Fox, which paid $400M for the '18 and '22 rights and which "would have to schedule a winter World Cup against NFL games" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 10/4).

FEVER PITCH: INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL's Andrew Warshaw reported with the hype of the Qatar 'winter or summer' debate "reaching fever pitch amongst the world's media, providing a feast of guesswork and mis-interpretation," Qatar 2022 CEO Hassan Al Thawadi has "re-iterated once again that his country's intensive lobbying campaign to secure the tournament was totally above board and broke none of FIFA's strict bidding rules." FIFA ethics committee investigatory head Michael Garcia "is about to step up his investigation into the bid process, and again al-Thawadi was unequivocal." Garcia: "We were stringent in complying with the bid registration. We have not broken any rules. We are very confident of our position" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 10/4). REUTERS' Brian Homewood reported politics "are intrinsically linked with the decisions to host major sporting events." Blatter: "There is no awarding of a top level sporting competition such as the World Cup or Olympic Games without the political element showing up. We were in Buenos Aires for the 2020 Olympic Games (vote) and you had the entire political world, the top political brass of all the countries, turning up. The same thing happened in Zurich when we chose the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts" (REUTERS, 10/4).

MONEY AND POWER: In Melbourne, Henry Winter opined FIFA's "damaging affair with Qatar strips bare the organisation's fixation with petro-dollars and broadcast dollars." Show "me the money." It reveals FIFA's "self image as a mighty sovereign nation," with Blatter "a self-appointed global statesman sharing ideas and canapes with presidents, chancellors and prime ministers." Show "me the power." That is "what this Qatar controversy is all about: money and power." The sadness is that FIFA "could be a force for good, spreading hope from Zurich." At the very least, the powerbrokers of the world's most popular sport "could have called the Qataris to proper account over labour conditions in their 2022 construction sites." Qatar "strenuously denies any wrongdoing in the bidding process," but the departure of almost half of the FIFA exec committee who voted for 2022 (and Russia 2018) "signalled concerns within FIFA amid external pressure" (THE AGE, 10/7). In London, Gibson & Booth reported Blatter admitted that football cannot "turn a blind eye" to the deaths of hundreds of construction workers in Qatar. Blatter said he would "meet the new emir of Qatar to discuss the issue" (GUARDIAN, 10/4).

SEEDINGS FOR '14: FIFA said that the top seeds in the 2014 World Cup groups "will be host Brazil and the seven best-ranked teams in the October standings." Friday's decision by FIFA's exec committee means Belgium and Colombia -- which did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup -- "are almost assured of being seeded in the Dec. 6 draw." It also means that England is "set to drop out of the seeds for this tournament." The current top seven teams are Spain, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Colombia, Belgium and Uruguay. Brazil is ranked No. 8 (AP, 10/4).
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