(WFI) AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam, who played a leading role in bringing the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time, says Qatar can host a “very comfortable” World Cup in the summer.
But he has also supported the idea of staging the 2022 tournament in the winter months to avoid the desert heat that sees temperatures reach up to 50C. A shift from summer to winter has already received the backing of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, UEFA chief Michel Platini and FIFAPro, the international players’ union.
But at the Dubai International Sports Conference this week, officials from Italian and Spanish giants AC Milan and Barcelona opposed the move. They cited concerns in breaking up the season, the impact on revenues and potential problems in securing players in the always-sensitive club-versus-country debate that could occur in the 2021-2022 season.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Bin Hammam was quoted by Emirates 24/7 as saying: “As a Qatari citizen I can assure you that our country is ready and willing to host a very comfortable World Cup in the summer season.
“We have presented solutions to heat challenges during June-July,”, he said of Qatar 2022’s proposed stadium cooling technologies that aim to answer concerns over venue temperatures and the health risk to players of Qatar’s heat.
But Bin Hammam said he was open to a winter World Cup.
“I believe it is more a desire by national associations outside Asia, our region. Organising the World Cup in the middle of the season like January is a solution actually because players are going to be fit to play and entertain their fans,” he said, noting that most World Cups were played after a long season during which footballers may have played up to 60 matches.
“So this is actually a requirement not by us but for the welfare of the players. Secondly, January is also sort of dead season with most of leagues in Europe not playing with one or two exceptions. So it is not going to affect
the leagues or clubs if they play World Cup in January.”
At the conference, Barcelona president Sandro Rosell applauded Qatar’s new stadium air-conditioning innovations, claiming they would provide satisfactory playing conditions at the World Cup.
“In Spain during 1982 World Cup, I remember it was 40 degrees and nobody complained. In 2022 new technology will be there and stadiums will be air-conditioned,” Rosell was quoted by Emirates 24/7.
He rejected the idea of moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter. “I don’t like to break the Spanish league because it is one of the leagues in Europe which has continuity in January.”
AC Milan director Umberto Gandini told reporters that he was happy with the 2022 June-July schedule.
“It would be very difficult today to see the top five European leagues change their calendar in order to accommodate the World Cup in January,” Gandini was quoted by the Associated Press.
“We have traditions. We have business in place. We have contracts in place. It would be complicated,” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s not possible but it would require a lot of negotiations, a lot of discussions and it would probably affect not only 2022 but 2021 as well.”
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke recently backed a winter Qatar World Cup plan as a good idea to protect players from the desert heat.
But Valcke and Platini have already spoken of the difficulties in changing the international calendar and the battles they would face to win the support of leagues and national football federations.
Qatar’s World Cup chiefs have yet to say anything in public on the issue.
Withdrawing the controversial but much-hyped stadium cooling technologies plan that was the centrepiece of the 2022 bid – designed to reduce temperatures in host venues, training facilities and fan parks – would not reflect well on the Qatar organisers.
But they may ultimately be forced to bow to pressure and ask FIFA if they can move the World Cup to the winter.
Qatar 2022 bid officials, including chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani and chief executive Hassan Al-Thawadi, are expected to clarify their stance ahead of the AFC Asian Cup taking place in Doha from Jan. 7-29.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER