[WORLD CUP 2022]Qatar 2022 is three World Cups away, but it continues to dominate the international soccer news. More trouble with Brazil 2014 stadiums? Hooliganism and racism and anti-gay laws in Russia, the 2018 host? Who cares?
After the first day of two days of FIFA executive committee meetings in Zurich, the only thing that seems certain is that FIFA still plans to hold the World Cup in Qatar. Just when it will take place in 2022 remains to be seen.
FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said on Thursday that the 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar.
"No doubt," he said. "What is open to question is if we play in winter, and if so, is it November, December, January? I don't know..."
Since Qatar surprised the world and won the right to host the 2022 World Cup with a 14-8 vote of the executive committee over the USA on the fourth ballot, it has been dogged by accusations that it bribed executive committee members as part of its multi-million dollar bid campaign. (FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia is expected to begin next week a worldwide investigation of nations involved in the bid process.)
More recently, revelations about the poor treatment of migrant workers from Nepal have led to charges that the Kafala employment system that ties migrant workers to employers amounts to slavery.
Hassan al-Thawadi, the young lawyer who ran the Qatari bid and heads its organizing committee, dismissed charges about how Qatar won the World Cup as conspiracy theories.
"I think what we're going to see is a picture of the grassy knoll in the JFK assassination and instead of it being smoke they're going to say it's the Qatari headdress and it's us," he told reporters on Thursday. "It proves the need for the Middle East to host a World Cup. It proves the need for us to actually be able to break down stereotypes."
Al-Thawadi also hit back at charges Qatar was turning a blind eye to labor abuses in a country that depends almost entirely on foreigners in a construction industry that has seen a boom in work on infrastructure to get the Gulf state ready for the 2022 World Cup. (Estimates are Qatar will spend $100 billion on infrastructure, not the mention the work on building stadiums.)
“It will always be our top priority,” Al-Thawadi said. “If the World Cup is doing anything, it is accelerating a number of these initiatives.”
About the only thing everyone within FIFA can agree on is that a 2022 World Cup cannot be held in June and July.
Qatar's bid called for plans to construct air-conditioned stadiums to hold the games -- and Al-Thawadi insists his country is ready to host a summer tournament -- but as American Chuck Blazer, the former executive committee member, famously said on the eve of the 2022 World Cup vote, "I don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."
It took three years for everyone else to come around to Blazer's position. Now, the fight is over when to hold the tournament.
Two periods have been proposed: November-December and January-February. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, along with the English Premier League, supports the former, while Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, which organizes the Champions League, is in favor of the latter.
Leagues and continental championships across the world would be disrupted by a winter World Cup. MLS, for one, would probably have to end six weeks earlier than it does now if a November-December World Cup was adopted.
Fox, which bought the TV rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, is strongly opposed to a winter World Cup. Period. A November-December World Cup would fall in the middle of the heavy NFL season, while one scenario has a January-February World Cup ending with the final on the same day as the Super Bowl.
The Fox issue may be the toughest legal hurdle FIFA will have to jump in the ongoing mess that is the 2022 World Cup.