FIFA is considering moving the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the winter, a decision that will have adverse effects on domestic leagues, players, and television partners around the world.
A FIFA task force will consider three windows for the 2022 World Cup: January/February, June/July, and November/December.
In its initial bid proposal, the Qatar World Cup organising committee promised to hold the tournament in the June/July with the help of futuristic, not-yet-existent cooling technology that would keep stadiums at a comfortable 80 degrees. FIFA’s own evaluation of the bid said playing in summer, when temperatures hit 120 degrees, would be a “potential health risk” for players and fans.
Qatar won the bid despite those concerns. Four years later, FIFA is poised to admit that it’s impossible to hold a World Cup in the summer heat of Qatar — something that would have been a backbreaker for the nation’s bid in 2010.
Moving the tournament to winter is going to be an ugly, complicated process. But with FIFA president Sepp Blatter backing the move, it looks like it’s going to happen.
Here’s why it’d be such a mess.
1. Domestic leagues will have to take crippling mid-season breaks.
There’s a reason the biggest international soccer tournaments are played in summer. European leagues start in August and conclude in May. That allows international teams and players about five weeks of preparation before the World Cup, and five weeks of recovery for the next professional season.
This isn’t an accident. These guys are professional players first and international players second. The World Cup has to fit into the Premier League/Bundesliga/La Liga/Serie A calendar, not the other way around.
Moving the tournament to winter would disrupt these leagues. The Premier League wouldn’t just have to halt during World Cup, it would have to halt weeks before it began and weeks after it ended to give players adequate preparation and recovery time.
The leagues would either have to cram more games into fewer weeks (a potential health risk for players), shorten the length of the season (resulting in decreased television and ticket revenue for teams), or alter the calendar to stretch the season into the summer (which would have the domino effect of disrupting the next domestic season).
Would the Premier League play from August to September, take a three-month break, and then play from February until August? Would Real Madrid — the most valuable sports team in the world — be ok with tweaking the formula that has made the club so rich?
A group of European league executives met in May and released a statement saying, “all scenarios on the rescheduling of the World Cup in Qatar are damaging the domestic competitions and leagues’ business interests.”
2. A January/February World Cup would conflict with the Winter Olympics.
The IOC says this won’t happen, but since FIFA has a January/February 2022 World Cup on the table, it’s a possibility.
The Olympics and the World Cup are two of the biggest one-off sporting events in the world. That’s why NBC spent $US7.75 billion to broadcast the Olympics between 2022 and 2032 and Fox spent $US425 million on the World Cup. If they were staged at the same time though, they’d be competing for viewers and ratings for both events would take a hit.
3. It would screw over its American TV partners.
Fox paid $US425 million to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. That’s double what ESPN paid for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments.
ESPN drew record ratings for this summer’s tournament. But it came in the dead zone of the American sports calendar. With no NFL, no NBA, and no particularly meaningful other sporting events to speak of, the World Cup was the only show in town.
That will not be the case if the 2022 tournament is moved to winter. Fox will have to compete with the NFL for interest and viewers. And to make things even more complicated, it will have to compete with itself for interest and airtime since it also owns NFL broadcasting rights.
A November/December World Cup would conflict with the NFL regular season. A January/February World Cup would conflict with the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Fox told Bloomberg in a statement when the possibility of a winter World Cup was first raised, “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”
FIFA knew from the beginning that a summer World Cup in Qatar was unrealistic and dangerous. Because it ignored those concerns back in 2010, it has an even bigger mess on its hands.
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