If Qatar loses the 2022 World Cup will it ever be held in an Arab country?
Is Qatar’s summer 2022 World Cup in jeopardy? FIFA’s executive committee are set to vote on the matter in Zurich, Switzerland in early October.
At this pivotal meeting, for both Qatar and global football, they will decide whether to compel Qatar to move the event to cooler winter months. Should FIFA’s ExCo do so – and in late August, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was convinced they will – the ramifications for both Qatar and the World Cup could be enormous. In a worst-case scenario it may result in Qatar losing the rights to hold the event altogether, say some pundits.
This unprecedented development is but the latest in the ongoing controversies surrounding the awarding of both Qatar’s 2022 and Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament rights. When Blatter joined the Qatar 2022 bid team on stage to lift the trophy and celebrate that historic moment in football in Zurich in December 2010, he seemed supportive of the legitimacy of Qatar’s bid for a summer event, despite issues such as the heat, and alcohol sponsorship and consumption by visitors in an Islamic state.
When Blatter joined the Qatar 2022 bid team on stage to lift the trophy and celebrate that historic moment in football in Zurich in December 2010, he seemed supportive of the legitimacy of Qatar’s bid for a summer event, despite issues such as the heat, and alcohol sponsorship and consumption by visitors in an Islamic state.
Indeed, on the former point, Blatter and FIFA only said he/they would entertain the idea of moving the event to cooler months if Qatar requested it. But at first Blatter was at pains to counter detractors to the decision, justifying that it was important for the growth of the beautiful game that the event was held in new locations, such as South Africa that very year, the first time ever on the continent, and in Russia in 2018.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) in turn reiterated their willingness to consider moving the tournament to winter, but also to their commitment to hold the event in June-July as planned. After all, they won the bid with that in mind, their promise to have air-conditioning for the stadiums and fan zones etcetera, seeming enough at the time to satisfy the FIFA executives.
Since then, global media speculation regarding whether they should move the tournament has grown, fuelled by recent comments by prominent figures in world football, including Blatter himself.
Further negative coverage has also emerged from human rights organisations around the plight of the migrant construction workers being employed in Qatar in the build-up to 2022. This is against a background of unfounded accusations of corruption within FIFA, which Qatar’s most vocal opponents use to bolster its non-legitimacy as the 2022 World Cup host.
Should the FIFA executive committee fulfil Blatter’s prophecy in October, what will this mean for Qatar 2022? The disruption to European club tournaments, the main obstacle to holding the event in months the climate in the Gulf can be regarded as cool enough, is the central challenge, one that will affect thousands of players, millions of fans and sponsors and media rights worldwide.
Unsuccessful bidders for 2022 such as Australia and United States could also seek to legally nullify the 2010 FIFA vote on the grounds that Qatar had not fulfilled its original bid criteria.
But the question has to beg why would FIFA’s executive make such a demonstrative change after nearly three years? Why intentionally cause so much disruption and cast the Qatar 2022 World Cup into doubt? So far at the time of writing no insight has been provided as to the real reason behind this seemingly sudden loss of faith in Qatar’s ability to keep the players and fans cool in the summer of 2022 using sustainable methods.
Whether or not Qatar could have pulled it off with air-conditioned stadiums and fan zones it seems may itself become a moot point. If the stakeholders fail to negotiate the winter option and Qatar does in fact lose the event rights in the coming months, the country itself will retain its dignity and continue to thrive. But it would be also be a shame because it may be the only chance many Arabs might get to see the event in person. It would also send a clear message that the FIFA World Cup may never be held in the Middle East and North Africa, due to the mid-year heat and unresolvable European winter scheduling clashes.
One can only hope that whatever follows the probable FIFA October vote against a summer event is resolved – and Qatar can continue to prepare for 2022 unhindered by controversy.
Miles Masterson is the managing editor of The Edge Magazine.