Sepp Blatter has admitted FIFA may have made a “mistake” in the initial proposal to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar during the summer but stressed that moving the tournament is the governing body’s prerogative.
Blatter, the FIFA president, has said on several occasions that he wants his executive committee to move the tournament to the winter as temperatures can reach 50°C in Qatar in June and July. The matter will be discussed at a board meeting on October 3.
The proposed schedule change has led to several calls for the vote on the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to be reopened, with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore telling Sky Sports News last month that “FIFA can’t just decide” to move it, while former FA chairman David Bernstein called it a “false prospectus” and ex-German FA president Dr Theo Zwanziger told SportBild it was a “blatant mistake”.
However, Blatter, in an interview with insideworldfootball.com, dismissed the suggestion that there might be “legal considerations to be taken into account”.
“Wait! What legal considerations? In the Hosting Agreement that we signed on December 20, 2010, we say that the FIFA World Cup is, in principle, ‘expected to be held in June and July of the year of such competition’,” Blatter said. He added that clauses in the agreement state that FIFA has “final authority over any matters relating to the staging and hosting” of the competition. “Don't you agree with me that this is pretty clear?”
He said the "the loudest critics" are "the ones who should know better because they signed the exact same bidding documents as Qatar did", again underlining that the June-July schedule is only 'in principle'.
"It does not say that it 'must' take place in those months, nor is it a ‘conditio sine qua non’ to host the World Cup in June and July. What the document does is express FIFA's wish to host the World Cup in June or July.”
Blatter did, however, concede that the decision to award the tournament to the Gulf state had been made in spite of the executive committee being aware that playing in the summer was never a realistic option.
“That may well be so, and it may well be that we made a mistake at the time,” he said.
Nonetheless, it was not reasonable for the European football calendar to dictate the timing of every edition international football’s biggest tournament, Blatter argued.
He said: “Who are we, the Europeans, to demand that this event has to cater to the needs of 800 million Europeans above all, when there are over 7 billion people who populate this planet and of whom 6.2 billion are not European, but who must at all times succumb to our diktat?
“I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in faraway places, and we must accept that football has moved away from being a European and South American sport: it has become the world sport that billions of fans are excitedly following every week, everywhere in the world.”
Blatter stressed the importance of using football as “a global unifying force for the good, a force that offers to be inclusive in every which way and a force that has written anti-discrimination on its banner under my presidency” and said FIFA must “walk the walk -- not only talk the talk”.
He added: “I believe that the World Cup should be awarded to a nation that really, really wants to host it, a nation that has the financial means to do it without neglecting other societal obligations, and a nation where the national football federation can determine when it is the best time to play the game. Frankly, if we automatically exclude potential hosts because of the weather then the next step can easily be exclusion for other arbitrary and discriminatory reasons. I am not going to be party to any such thing.”
The European Clubs' Association (ECA) will meet on Tuesday to discuss the prospect of a winter tournament for 2022.
The calendar change will cause significant disruption to the major domestic leagues on the continent, but the organisation is likely to accept the move as a “one-off”, its senior vice-president, Umberto Gandini, has said.
Gandini told Press Association Sport: “I have a personal opinion that it is almost inevitable. We will have to find a solution because it is very unlikely that you can play the World Cup in Qatar in the summer -- or maybe you can play it then but it will be impossible for fans to follow it, so something will need to be addressed.
“Now it is a matter of studying the possible solutions and we will have to do it. I think it's important it's going to be a one-off and is not going to something that's going to be there for ever.
“If we have to find a one-off solution I think we will be able within the football family to find it but everybody has to be properly involved and we have to consider which is the best solution for football and the fans.”
Blatter has said he is seeking a “harmonious” agreement with the leagues, adding in the insideworldfootball.com interview: “Where there is a will there is always a way. I know that we can get it done. And the initial exploratory meetings we have already had with some of the most affected leagues show us the way.”
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.