FIFA President Sepp Blatter speaks to journalists following the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. Blatter said a final decision on which months to play the 2022 World Cup in Qatar might be delayed until 2015. (AP Photo/Keystone, Ennio Leanza)
Friday, October 04, 2013 3:46 pm
FIFA decision on Qatar dates could come in 2015
By GRAHAM DUNBARAP Sports Writer
FIFA President Sepp Blatter ordered "deep consultations" Friday about shifting the tournament from the scorching summer heat in the Gulf country, saying a decision on the highly divisive issue might be delayed until 2015.
Blatter also reiterated that the tournament will definitely stay in Qatar, and said he will travel to the desert nation to raise concerns over the treatment of migrant workers involved in building World Cup venues, transportation links and hotels.
"The 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar - that's it," Blatter said. "We don't know if it's winter or summer. I do not know what will be the outcome."
Momentum now seems unstoppable for moving the dates of FIFA's showcase event because of the searing summer temperatures in the tiny emirate.
FIFA's executive committee agreed Friday to set up a working group to study the options of changing the tournament from the usual June-July period.
"We need to carry out very deep consultations. We need to show some diplomacy and wisdom," Blatter said.
The two-day FIFA board session followed weeks of intense speculation, fueled by Blatter, that FIFA would switch the dates even without a request from Qatari organizers.
Instead, Blatter outlined a longer timetable for a consultation process led by FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. The group will report to the board after the 2014 World Cup finishes in Brazil next July.
"Let us first play the World Cup in 2014 with an easy conscience," Blatter said.
The FIFA leader said a "road map" for the process would be completed at the Dec. 4-5 board meeting in Brazil.
The consultations will involve medical experts, FIFA's broadcast and sponsor partners and the influential European leagues and clubs, which worry about schedule disruptions.
Blatter said his executive committee member Michel D'Hooghe was "not so wrong" when he told The Associated Press that a decision was expected in 2015 "at the earliest."
"I cannot contradict what he said," Blatter said at a news conference.
In 2015, the politics of FIFA already figures to be intense with a presidential election due in May of that year. A delayed decision on 2022 would surely become a campaign issue. Blatter has not ruled out running for a fifth term when he will be 79.
Still, Blatter's inner circle resisted his wishes Friday, declining to back his previous suggestion that the board should reject outright the principle of playing in the hot summer months.
Blatter has suggested starting the tournament in November 2022, avoiding any conflict with the 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled in February.
UEFA and its president, Michel Platini - the FIFA heir apparent - prefer January to avoid disrupting the Champions League and national leagues. A spring 2022 tournament has been proposed by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, head of the European Club Association.
Rummenigge and the European leagues' chairman, Frederic Thiriez, both issued statements Friday welcoming FIFA's patience. They had previously warned against a rushed decision.
Blatter has pushed FIFA in recent months toward moving the 2022 dates after spending two years insisting that Qatari officials first had to ask for a change.
Qatar organizers insist they can stage a safe tournament in June-July but would comply if FIFA reaches a consensus for change.
Any switch of the dates could lead to legal challenges from the losing bidders, European leagues and broadcasters that bought rights based on a June-July event.
Blatter's confirmation that the tournament would not be taken away from Qatar comes amid mounting pressure on the gas-rich emirate over its treatment of migrant workers. In addition, FIFA's ethics prosecutor, Michael Garcia, is still investigating whether Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia broke bidding rules before being chosen in December 2010.
Blatter said he will soon visit the emir of Qatar, his fellow International Olympic Committee member, to share FIFA's concern over labor rights for construction workers.
"It is not FIFA's primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye," said Blatter, offering "sympathy and regrets" about deaths in extreme heat and alleged human rights abuses highlighted by the British newspaper The Guardian and international labor organizations.
FIFA released a letter from the Qatar organizing committee which said it regarded The Guardian newspaper's investigation with "utmost seriousness."
Blatter's courtesy visit to Qatar was dismissed as "totally inadequate" by the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, which first met with FIFA on the issue in 2011.
"Scores of healthy young men are dying. This web of deadly practices draws in international companies, the government of Qatar and FIFA," Sharan Burrow, the ITUC general secretary, said in a statement.
The FIFA executive committee included 13 men who took part in the 2010 vote. Qatar beat the United States 14-8 in the final vote despite warnings that the extreme temperatures in June and July posed a health risk to players and spectators.
Qatar has twice hosted major football tournaments but neither was played in June or July, nor even November. The 2011 Asian Cup was played in January, and the Under-20 World Cup in April 1995.
The U.S. is FIFA's most lucrative territory, and November or January dates would clash with the NFL season. Fox, Telemundo - owned by NBC Universal - and Futbol de Primera Radio agreed to pay a combined $1.2 billion in October 2011 to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
FIFA has ruled out compensating losing bidders after 2022 candidate Australia said it wanted to recoup its publicly funded $40.6 million campaign costs.
FIFA gets about 90 percent of its revenue from the World Cup. It earned $3.655 billion from commercial deals tied to the 2010 tournament in South Africa.