The boss of football’s world governing body has said he is backing the switch of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup to be held in winter, in a bid to avoid the intense summer heat.
Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was speaking at a two-day sports conference in Austria when he said that Fifa ‘still has time’ to discuss moving the dates of the tournament.
“The executive committee will certainly follow my proposal. Then we will have dealt with the topic for good,” said Blatter, quoted by AFP subsidiary, SID, in Austria.
“The World Cup must be a festival of the people. But for it to be such a festival, you can’t play football in the summer.
“You can cool down the stadiums but you can’t cool down the whole country and you can’t simply cool down the ambience of a World Cup. The players must be able to play in the best conditions to play a good World Cup.”
Temperatures in Qatar and the surrounding GCC countries can top 50 degrees Celsius in the height of summer; the precise timeframe the 2022 World Cup is scheduled for.
Having previously rebuffed suggestions that staging a world event in the heat of a Middle Eastern summer would be dangerous for players and fans alike, a recent trip to Jordan and the Palestinian Territories has seemed to change Blatter’s mind.
A switch to a winter competition would cause major disruption to several domestic football leagues, with many European sides historically playing during the period.
“There has been a fresh medical investigation into what it would be like to play football there in the summer and we have to take into account the health, not of the spectators, but of the players,” he said.
“We have to have the courage – that is Fifa’s executive committee – to play this World Cup in the winter and to start to work out now what impact this will have on the international calendar.
“It would only be for one year, afterwards you’d be back to the normal routine. But I will advocate that.”
Qatar has said it plans to invest around Dhs371 billion ($101 billion) on infrastructure projects, including air-conditioned stadiums.
Hassan Al-Thawadi, head of Qatar’s organising committee, spoke to the conference via satellite link: “If it’s a wish of the football community to have the World Cup in winter, then we are open to that.”
Blatter is expected to raise the proposed move at an executive committee meeting in October.
Qatar beat off rival bids from South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States to win the ballot for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.