A German member of FIFA’s executive committee, Theo Zwanziger, feels that it is too hot in Qatar to safely host the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament. Since this summers tournament in Brazil, where FIFA held the first water breaks during game action due to the heat, rumors surfaced that the United States had been approached about replacing the Arab country as host in 2022. This was quickly dismissed by FIFA, but today it appears that the choice of the 2022 host country is again in question.
The former head of the German Football Federation pointed out the extreme heat that Qatar faces during the timeframe the tournament takes place in the summer. Temperatures will typically range between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and can get even hotter. Zwanziger stated that it is his opinion that these extreme temperatures should be the reason the global football showcase should be taken away from Qatar. Concern is that not only that the players could face extreme heat exhaustion, but that fans could also be facing the same health hazard as crowds gather for entry to the stadiums, in the stadium and at the fanfests that FIFA holds in host cities.
A FIFA spokesman responded that the idea to pull the World Cup from Qatar because of the hot temperatures was Zwanziger personal opinion. FIFA felt a similar pressure leading up to this summer’s tournament in South America. Many of the stadiums and support buildings for the tournament were still under construction as the players and fans showed up in Brazil. However, FIFA was determined to hold the games in Brazil no matter what and the tournament went off with little incident.
While Zwanziger’s idea may be his personal opinion, in May, FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter said that awarding Qatar the World Cup was a mistake. Sepp went on to indicate that the tournament may have to move to a location in Europe closer to winter. However, the change of year is an unpopular choice around the soccer world. Moving the tournament to fall/winter or earlier in the year would conflict with existing professional club seasons.
Qatar, however, seems determined to hold on to the tournament. The country has reportedly developed a cooling system for the stadiums to counter the extreme temperatures. It is not clear if the cooling system is going to cover the field of play, sidelines and fan areas or just specific areas.. With the extreme temperatures, it is important that everyone is safe from heat exhaustion. With fans coming from around the world, safety is the number one priority for both host country and FIFA. Despite Zwanziger’s opinion and Sepp’s comments about pulling the tournament from Qatar, the soccer governing body rarely will pull a tournament from a host once they are selected. FIFA would rather work with the hosts to ensure the tournament goes on and fans and teams both remain safe, which is what happened in Brazil.
Brazil faced financial struggles, claims of corruption, violence in nearby slums and the fear of drug wars and protests were concerns, but FIFA made the tournament work. Heat was a factor and a new rule stopping play for mandatory water breaks for players and officials when the temperature hit a specific level went into effect. While these water breaks were manageable in Brazil this past summer, during the 2022 tournament, the heat is anticipated to be more difficult to overcome.
In the technical report about the 2022 host, the temperatures were clearly indicated, showing the extremes that could be an issue of safety. That did not stop the executive committee from selecting Qatar to host. A majority of the committee appeared firm on selecting the gas-rich country as the host and that introduced accusations of corruption in the selection of the Persian Gulf nation.
Mohamed Bin Hammam, the former boss of Qatari football has faced allegations brought forth by Britain’s Sunday Times that he paid over $5 million to secure the vote to give the World Cup to his country. These allegations have been denied by the host country’s officials. However, FIFA’s ethics committee is investigating not only the attribution of the 2022 tournament to Qatar, but also the 2018 tournament in Russia. Following the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the numerous sanctions that Western nations have set upon Russia, questions have arisen about rewarding President Vladimir Putin and Russia with the 2018 tournament. Putin’s disregard towards the West and then rewarding them with the 2018 tournament is viewed by many Western leaders as the wrong message that FIFA should be setting forth. The ethics committee is scheduled to release their findings into both the Qatar and Russia tournaments in early 2015.
Commentary by Carl Auer