FIFA likely to delay decision on 2022 World Cup dates

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - Despite widespread speculation that FIFA will vote to switch the dates of the 2022 World Cup on Friday, soccer's world governing body will probably delay making a decision and instead set up a task force to analyse the huge implications of moving the tournament from the searing heat of the Middle East summer.

Although the executive committee could agree in principle to move the dates of the World Cup, FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce told Reuters it should not rush into a decision and he wanted a task force set up to examine the issue.

"We will discuss when the World Cup will be held (and) we will also consider the plight of immigrant workers in Qatar whose harsh living and working conditions made headlines last week," he said.

Thomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said he doubted the World Cup would clash with the Winter Olympics in 2022, if the finals were moved from their traditional June and July dates, adding that FIFA was likely to opt for November 2022, if it switched.

In a development related to the vexed situation regarding the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar on the same day in December 2010, Michael Garcia, the head of the investigative unit of FIFA ethics committee, will tour all the countries involved in the bidding processes, he was quoted as saying in France Football on Tuesday.

Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney in New York, is examining allegations of corruption in the voting that led to the awarding of the two World Cups.

A highly-placed FIFA source told Reuters the game's world governing body now had to grapple with a huge political, social and financial problem of its own making.

"This is because the executive committee members who awarded the finals to Qatar in December 2010 ignored recommendations from FIFA's own inspection report group that ranked Qatar second from bottom among the five contenders. They should never have chosen Qatar. It was flawed from day one."

Boyce, who joined the executive committee six months after the vote was taken, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in Belfast: "I don't think there is any possibility of a decision being taken about moving the World Cup this week.

"What should happen next is that all the stakeholders, the major clubs from around the world, the major leagues, TV rights holders, sponsors, everyone needs to get around the table and have their say.

"Although UEFA's 54 members have agreed it would be best to move the World Cup away from the summer, all the implications need to be studied in detail.

"And don't forget, we don't need to rush into this. The World Cup is still nine years away, we have plenty of time.

"But we also need to look very closely at the conditions of the immigrant workers who are building the infrastructure in Qatar and will be building the stadiums there for the World Cup.

"I was appalled and upset after last week's stories that dozens of immigrant workers had died as a result of the conditions in Qatar and that thousands of others are being ill-treated. We cannot allow that.

"These people must be protected and their basic human rights safeguarded."

While FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his 27-strong executive committee struggle with the problem of when to stage the World Cup, the political implications of any decision they subsequently make will have far-reaching consequences.

NO WORRIES

Bach, who was elected IOC president last month, told the BBC he was not worried about a clash with the Winter Games.

"So far we have heard a proposal from the FIFA president to have it in November 2022, and there would be no clash whatsoever. We will now see how the discussions go.

"We are confident that in the mutual interest there will be a good solution for both big events and no clash with the dates."

The Winter Olympics are traditionally held in February, and sometimes the final days of January. The 2022 hosts will be chosen by the IOC in July 2015.

A close observer of FIFA's inner workings, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said of the World Cup decision: "The whole process was flawed from the very beginning and right now the FIFA executive committee, with a lot of new members who were not on the executive when the vote was taken, is split on how to put the problem right.

"The executive committee is in four camps divided between the ones who believe that no switch will support Qatar while others believe no switch will torpedo Qatar.

"At the same time, there is a group who think that by switching you support Qatar and others who think switching will torpedo Qatar.

"And it is too simplistic to say it all comes down to what Sepp Blatter wants. He wanted the World Cup to be held in the United States.

"His vision of an Asian World Cup was probably to go to China, one of the last great football frontiers, not Qatar, where more than half of the national team is naturalised because the locals don't play the game.

"His strategy from day one was to say we cannot play in June and July. By doing that he has sent a subliminal message, or perhaps not so subliminal, which is: 'Why did my colleagues vote for Qatar? - I did not vote for them'.

"But while he says the World Cup cannot be played in the summer, he also knows that changing the dates could cost FIFA one billion dollars."

Qatar says it can host the World Cup in summer by building air-conditioned stadiums using environmentally-friendly technology and is reluctant to change the dates from June or July.

Last month the powerful European Clubs Association (ECA), which has more than 200 members, urged FIFA not to rush into a decision, saying there were still nine years to go and they wanted to be included in any proposed task force. (Editing by Ken Ferris)

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