The world’s two most maligned sporting events — the 2022 Qatar World Cup and the 2022 Winter Olympics — have fallen into a scheduling conundrum.
FIFA is expected to move the Qatar World Cup to the winter sometime in 2015. The Qatari bidding committee originally promised to hold the tournament in summer with the help of futuristic stadium cooling technology, but now even FIFA agrees that the 120-degree summer heat is too dangerous for both players and spectators, and the proposed cooling technology may or may not actually exist.
FIFA has proposed two potential winter windows for the tournament to take place — November/December or January/February.
Both dates would massively disrupt the world’s biggest leagues, clubs, and players. But all things considered, a January/February World Cup would be less catastrophic than a November/December one. That’s because a bunch of big leagues — including Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A — already have winter breaks during the first few weeks of January. If you have to take an eight-week break for the winter World Cup, it’s much smarter to do it after the New Year when some leagues are already on hiatus.
There’s one problem with this — the Winter Olympics is scheduled for February of 2022, and the various broadcasters who paid billions in TV rights fees don’t want their audiences split in two.
Umberto Gandini, the vice president of the European Club Association that represents Europe’s biggest soccer teams, says that’s too bad for the Olympics.
In a fiery interview with Reuters, he said he wants the Olympics moved if the Qatar World Cup is in February:
“Not to be controversial, but the World Cup is one of the major events in the sports landscape with the Summer Olympics. But the Winter Olympics, with all due respect, are not up there.”
“When you have such a huge event like the World Cup, and you have to move it from its summer window, don’t tell me it’s not possible to find a solution and move the Winter Olympics a bit so they don’t clash — especially now where the Winter Olympics are still under the bidding process and there are only two candidates (Beijing and Almaty).”
Burns aside, Gandini is correct to say that the 2022 World Cup is further ahead than the 2022 Olympics at this point.
Last week Oslo pulled out of the 2022 Olympic bidding process. It was a crushing blow to the International Olympic Committee, which gave Oslo the highest scores in its evaluation of the competing bids in May. It was also an ominous sign for the future of the Olympics. Once Oslo pulled out, every potential host city with a democratically elected government had pulled out of the 2022 bidding process, generally over financial concerns. The last remaining bidding cities, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, have autocratic governments that don’t need public support in order to earmark billions of dollars for Olympics-related projects.
Despite the disastrous 2022 bidding process, though, the Olympics is still a juggernaut. NBC recently paid $US7.75 billion to broadcast the six Olympic Games between 2022 and 2032. At $US1.3 billion per Olympics, that number dwarfs the $US425 million Fox paid to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. NBC paid all that money under the assumption that the Olympics would be held in the sports dead zone of early February, when the Games are the only major sporting event on TV.
The IOC is just as powerful and aristocratic and entitled as FIFA. In fact, FIFA president Sepp Blatter is an IOC member. The Olympics aren’t going to just fold to the World Cup’s wishes.
An IOC spokesperson told Reuters that FIFA assured them there would be no scheduling conflict, saying, “It is in the interest of both organisations (FIFA and IOC) that there is no clash between our calendars, and we have received assurances from President Blatter that this will not be the case.”
That suggests that FIFA will push for a November/December World Cup — something that the European leagues and teams, as evidenced by Gandini’s strong words, will absolutely hate.
It’s a mess. And it’s a mess that stems directly from FIFA’s decision to hold the World Cup in a country where it’s impossible to hold a summer soccer tournament.
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