Keir Radnedge

World Soccer - - Contents - Keir RADNEDGE

Qatar 2022

In less than four years time the fo­cus of the in­ter­na­tional game will set­tle on Qatar and the 32 hope­fuls at the 2022 World Cup fi­nals. Yet the de­bate among the cognoscenti still fails to fo­cus on prag­matic is­sues.

For ex­am­ple, sig­nals have yet to emerge from in­ter­na­tional fed­er­a­tions and hun­dreds of leagues about how they pro­pose to man­age the switch to Novem­ber and De­cem­ber – not in terms of the su­per­stars, but the pro­fes­sional main­stream who keep com­pet­i­tive foot­ball turn­ing over and are so beloved of the TV cam­eras.

Firstly, though, to deal with the stag­ing is­sues...

When the Gulf state won the bid to host the World Cup the pos­si­bil­ity re­mained open that, for diplo­matic rea­sons, some matches might be shared with neigh­bour­ing states. But such talk is now barely au­di­ble. In the eight years since the in­fa­mous FIFA ExCo vote, the po­lit­i­cal balance in the Gulf has shifted dra­mat­i­cally.

Qatar re­mains a sub­ject at is­sue over the con­di­tions of im­mi­grant con­struc­tion work­ers, but crit­i­cal fer­vour is fad­ing and FIFA has sidestepped the is­sue by virtue of the ad­di­tion of hu­man rights to the list of de­mands for the fu­ture. For 2010 read the bad old days; for Blat­ter read In­fantino. And so on.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, Qatar is now iso­lated diplo­mat­i­cally by a coali­tion led from neigh­bour­ing Saudi Ara­bia. But the Qataris’ neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity is as noth­ing com­pared with the hos­tile per­cep­tion at­tracted by the Saudis over the past year. The bomb­ing of Ye­men on the one hand and the Is­tan­bul Em­bassy mur­der of Ja­mal Khashoggi have far out­weighed Qatar’s af­fairs in the balance of in­ter­na­tional op­pro­brium.

Hence Qatar is more than ever de­ter­mined to main­tain its sole com­mand of the 2022 fi­nals, and shar­ing is off the agenda at such com­par­a­tively short no­tice.

As for the num­bers, FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino has kept many of those po­ten­tial re-elec­tion vot­ers firmly on­side by hint­ing at a pos­si­ble early up­grade to 48 teams, rather than in 2026. But Qatar is pre­par­ing sta­dia, trans­port and ac­com­mo­da­tion for 32 teams and their fans. Also, the con­tracts have long since been signed, sealed and the ten­ders awarded.

So far, so clear. But that is not all. Not by a long way.

The World Cup is such a mas­sive event that com­par­a­tively lit­tle com­pet­i­tive foot­ball takes place si­mul­ta­ne­ously and there are no other in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions com­pet­ing for at­ten­tion. The fo­cus of fans, spon­sors and tele­vi­sion is all about the four-yearly ex­trav­a­ganza.

But what will hap­pen around the world in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber 2022? It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that, for ex­am­ple, the three English lower leagues will clear the decks and slum­ber away for two months.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that Sky, BT Sport and other broad­cast­ers will be con­tent with two foot­ball­free months in the mid­dle of the tra­di­tional sea­son sched­ule. No one is talk­ing about it, but there are other sports which may see an op­por­tu­nity to strike back.

Talk about tournament balance in the UK has been more about the un­known ef­fects of Brexit. But foot­ball does know an is­sue is loom­ing in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber 2022, and the need to shuf­fle pre­ced­ing sea­sons means such talk should start sooner rather than later.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that Sky, BT Sport and other broad­cast­ers will be con­tent with two foot­ball-free months in the mid­dle of the tra­di­tional sea­son sched­ule

Work in progress...FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino (left) in­spects the Al Wakrah Sta­dium in Qatar

Shut down...Leeds United (in white) and Bris­tol City in the Cham­pi­onship

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.