UEFA nations to back 2022 World Cup winter switch
DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP) — Europe's 54 soccer nations are prepared to support moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup from the summer heat to playing in January.
European soccer leaders told The Associated Press they gave UEFA President Michel Platini a mandate on Wednesday for change, which FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested his ruling board should agree to in principle next month.
Estonia Football Association President Aivar Pohlak said UEFA had "quite clear" support for the switch in Qatar, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
"As an exception and that is it," Pohlak said. "As a one-time problem, it can be handled."
Platini will announce UEFA's position after meetings with his strategy council and executive committee end Friday. The strategy panel includes representatives of Europe's top leagues, which have been the fiercest critics of altering the traditional August-to-May soccer season.
A World Cup in January 2022 would have less impact on European countries, including Germany, which take midseason breaks during that time of the year. It would have little effect on Scandinavian and Baltic countries, where leagues play March-November.
Blatter has suggested a November kickoff to avoid a clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it would bump up on half of the current group stage matches in UEFA's popular and lucrative Champions League.
"I don't see the logic of November-December," Pohlak said. "From my personal point of view, I see only that it is possible to play in January."
Nearly three years after Qatar was awarded 2022 hosting rights by the much-criticized FIFA board — several of whom have since left soccer while facing corruption allegations — it appears there's momentum for changing the World Cup plan.
"It seems the 2022 World Cup can't be played in the months of June and July," Belgium soccer federation president Francois de Keersmaecker told The AP.
Blatter has said any switch should involve broad consultation across world soccer.
Veteran FIFA board member Michel D'Hooghe, who chairs its medical committee, opposes staging a World Cup in minimum 104-degree temperatures because of potential health risks to fans, workers and officials. D'Hooghe has stated support for Qatar's promise to develop air-cooling systems that will lower temperatures for players in stadiums and training areas.
"There is a belief that playing it in summer would not be proper for players, for spectators and for broadcasters and media partners," Scotland FA chief executive Stewart Regan said after the UEFA consultation.
"The mood of the meeting was very much supportive of pulling it forward to the beginning of 2022," said Regan, adding that member countries would "have discussions with their respective league bodies."
Pohlak said he supported Qatar's right to host the World Cup and believed it could stage matches in the Gulf summer.
"But this is not the key issue. The key issue is the spectators, the fans," Pohlak said. "It's an event, it's a football party, which means that the people have to feel also comfortable outside of the stadiums."
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