FIFA will decide on the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after next year’s tournament in Brazil as the soccer ruling body confronts concerns about high temperatures in the emirate, President Sepp Blatter said.
“We are going to carry out consultations that will include all the participants” including players, clubs, leagues, national associations, and media, Blatter said yesterday at a press conference. “The FIFA 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar. There is no reason to question that decision.”
FIFA’s top officials met in Zurich to discuss whether to move the event to the winter to avoid the summer heat in the emirate three years after backing Qatar as the first Arab host of the World Cup. They also discussed an increase in deaths of Nepalese immigrants in Qatar, some of whom are working on tournament projects.
Qatar plans to spend more than $200 billion on infrastructure, including a rail and metro network and $9 billion on stadiums. A date change could set up conflict with England’s Premier League and other European championships, forcing them to rearrange their schedules. Broadcasters, including Fox Sports in the U.S., have complained about rescheduling because games might conflict with other sports, such as the National Football League.
FIFA executives didn’t think through their 2010 decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, according to Borja Garcia, a lecturer in sports management and policy at the U.K.’s Loughborough University.
“It was just 24 people making a decision behind closed doors, and they were a bit dazzled by Qatar’s wealth,” Garcia said by telephone. “There is a risk players might not want to go, which could devalue the tournament.”
FIFA executives picked Qatar as host ahead of Australia, Japan and South Korea and the U.S., even after an evaluation report by the soccer authority’s own officials that said it was a “potential health risk” for players and fans to play matches there in June and July.
Qatar organizers say temperatures as high as 50 degrees Centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit) could be mitigated by air conditioning systems in stadiums, although they are open to changing the dates.
Able to Accommodate
“If the international football community reaches a consensus to move the event to an alternate date, we are able to accommodate that change,” the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee said in a statement. “This would not affect our planning and preparation.”
Fox agreed to pay a record $425 million for U.S. broadcast rights to the World Cups in 2018 and 2022, and is opposed to moving the date. The price is more than four times what current rights holder ESPN paid for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and next year’s edition in Brazil.
FIFA and Qatar are having to contend with a “Euro-centric” approach toward soccer’s calendar, according to Wolfgang Maennig, an economics professor at the University of Hamburg who is a consultant to the German Olympic Committee and has written about the World Cup.
“Our European view is that it’s a European game but it’s not -- it’s a world game,” Maennig said. “The world is not based on northern Europe.”
Some of 400,000 Nepali workers in Qatar -- which has a population of 2 million and is the richest nation by capita -- are employed by sub-contractors at Lusail City, a town under construction near where the opening ceremony is planned. Building work on as many as nine stadiums hasn’t started yet, according to Qatari officials.
Several construction workers in their 20s have died of cardiac arrests in Qatar in June and July, according to Nicholas McGeehan, a spokesman in London for Human Rights Watch, citing information from Nepal’s embassy in Doha.
An embassy official said in a Sept. 30 interview that 53 Nepalis died between June 4 and Aug. 8, an increase of 51 percent compared to June and July 2012, without giving more details. A similar death toll was first reported by the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper last week.
Developer Lusail City, which is controlled by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co., said in a Sept. 26 statement it employs 20,000 people directly or through contractors and the “vast majority” exceed labor law requirements. Among regulations is that workers aren’t allowed to toil during the middle of the day in the summer.
Qatar’s World Cup committee said in a statement its first priority is to safeguard the health of workers, and the government is investigating the “allegations” by the Guardian newspaper and humans rights groups.
All workers “have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their well-being, safety, security, and dignity,” the committee said in the statement.
Under a patronage system in Qatar, migrant workers can only enter and leave the emirate at the request of an employer and some have their passports confiscated by sub-contractors and live in “appalling” conditions that are dirty, cramped and poorly-ventilated, McGeehan said.
“The most shocking thing is that they are trapped there,” McGeehan, who visited Doha last month, said by telephone. “They can’t come and go as they please.”
Blatter said FIFA has been contacted by Amnesty International and other organizations that raised concerns about the workers’ health.
“It’s not FIFA’s responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye,” said Blatter, who added that he will travel to Qatar to meet the country’s new Emir. “It’s a courtesy visit but I will also touch on the concern” about workers’ rights.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Zurich at at firstname.lastname@example.org