FIFA Mulls Qatar Soccer World Cup Schedule, Worker Deaths

FIFA executives today will discuss whether to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the winter to avoid the summer heat in the emirate.

The soccer ruling body’s executives are considering the option, three years after they voted for the first Arab host. They will also discuss 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. It says it’s investigating the workers’ deaths and is open to switching the World Cup dates. FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio said yesterday there are no plans for the tournament to be relocated.

A change in the dates of the World Cup could set up conflict with the England’s Premier League and other European championships, which would have to rearrange their schedules. Fox Sports in the U.S. has complained rescheduling would clash with 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 phone. “There is a risk players might not want to go, which could devalue the tournament.”

Qatar Selection

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 by playing 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.

“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.”

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.

World Game

“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.”

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the head of a group representing Europe’s top soccer clubs, said FIFA must include teams and players in any decision to change the dates of the World Cup. He said 75 percent of national team players at the World Cup are under contract with European clubs.

“We have to be sitting at the table when it comes to a final decision,” he said.

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.

Worker Danger?

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.

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