A winter World Cup may be one of the most sensible decisions FIFA has taken of late
The former Manchester United captain and current England coaching staff member Gary Neville was on a radio show in the UK on the day that football’s governing body, FIFA, confirmed that its 2022 World Cup tournament would be played in Qatar in the winter – starting in mid-November and concluding by 18 December.
When asked by a presenter whether he thought this decision was the right one, Neville answered with two questions of his own. Firstly, does the Middle East deserve to have a World Cup? Secondly, should a football tournament be played in heat of up to 45 degrees?
For those who do believe that the region deserves the same chance as other parts of the world to host football’s biggest and most important tournament, he argued, then a change to the timings of the regular football season in Europe is inevitable.
Neville admitted that the route to which the decision was taken had been less than ideal. And FIFA’s decision not to publish the results of the investigation by its own Ethics Committee into the manner in which both the 2018 and the 2022 World Cup tournaments were awarded also means that accusations of bribery surrounding Qatar’s bid are unlikely to die down, despite the fact that the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has “vehemently denied” them.
Assuming there are no further twists and turns in this story (which, on recent history, is a big assumption to make), a winter World Cup makes sense.
Engineers and architects had already come up with innovative, energy efficient methods for cooling pitches and seating bowls within stadiums, and the new precincts being created around the eight stadiums set to be built.
There had also been plenty of talk among construction professionals about sustainable ways of keeping fans cool in the ‘final mile’ between public transport interchanges and football stadiums – including natural shading and cooling water sprays. Yet there is no feasible way of cooling an entire country (even one as small as Qatar).
So perhaps the best thing the footballing world can do now is let Qatar get on with it. This doesn’t mean that the Supreme Committee shouldn’t be held to account if standards within its own workers’ charter are not upheld, but both of the two most recent World Cup tournaments have had work programmes that have run massively behind schedule, with completion works running right up until tournaments starting.
Qatar has attempted to start early – work on five of the eight stadiums is underway – and has a staggered programme of completions over a three-year period between 2018-21 to avoid massive cost inflation and a scarcity of resources that could potentially cause delays.
If, as looks likely, Doha Metro and other infrastructure projects can also be delivered in a timely fashion, then starting the World Cup a few months late will be a small price to pay if it means it is successful.