Wednesday 21 February 2018

Blatter backing for winter World Cup

Glenn Moore

Another week of sagacious comment from the revered head of the 'football family' ended with Sepp Blatter apologising for his "joke" about gay people, and opposition growing over the possibility of switching the World Cup to winter.

The connection is the decision to host the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, a country in which homosexuality is illegal and summer temperatures exceed 40C.

On Tuesday, Blatter said gays should "refrain from sexual activity" if attending the finals.

FIFA initially said their president would not comment further, but yesterday he said: "If I hurt a group of people in the world by making those comments, then I regret it. That was not my intention."

Blatter also gave his support to the idea of staging the 2022 finals in the winter "when the climate is appropriate for the footballers".

The world players' union yesterday backed Blatter's proposal, but the idea could receive an icy reception from Europe's leading leagues, given the risk of disruption to their schedules.

Since Qatar won the right to host the tournament on December 2, senior FIFA figures have been floating the possibility of moving the finals to January or February to avoid temperatures of up to 50C (122F) in the summer.

The hosts did not request the change and believe that air-conditioned stadiums and training pitches will solve the problem, but Blatter was happy to offer his support.

"(It is important) to play when the climate is appropriate and I'm thinking about the footballers, not only the fans but the actors," Blatter said.

FIFPro, the global players' union, said on Twitter: "FIFPro is in favour of a World Cup in winter in 2022. Better for the players and the fans."

Rescheduling the tournament would raise even more questions about the fairness of the bidding process, since such a fundamental change was mooted only after the vote. Blatter also opened the door for Qatar's neighbours to stage some matches, which appears to be a direct contradiction of Qatar's promise to host a "compact" tournament.

The Premier League, in common with Europe's other leading leagues, will expect to be consulted before Fifa takes a decision and will see if the idea continues to gain traction before taking an official stance.

However, it is likely to view a change as deeply problematic given the tight domestic football calendar. So too would clubs, who will fear injuries, fatigue and a loss of focus mid-season.

This year the Premier League ended a month before the World Cup finals started, to allow the England squad time for rest and preparation. That rest period could be cut to three weeks, with a month for the tournament -- requiring at least a seven-week suspension in the heart of the season.

More midweek fixtures would have to be crammed into an already pressurised schedule and the season could drag on into June. A later finish would make a later start to the next campaign, and an earlier start to the previous one, almost inevitable.

However, one representative of a leading European league privately expressed support for the move last night. The Bundesliga has a month-long winter pause and Spain, France and Italy take about a fortnight off over the festive period. Those nations are more open than England to the concept of a hiatus.

The end of January or the start of February seems to be the most feasible time to start a winter World Cup finals, although the move could impinge on the knockout stages of the Champions League as well. Sponsors and broadcasters would also expect to be consulted. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport