The 2022 World Cup final is officially set for December 18. With that date confirmed, let’s adopt the spirit of the “at least Mussolini made the trains run on time” * stance and accept that Sepp Blatter and friends are right.
A winter World Cup in Qatar will not be a disaster because of the timing. If it’s bad, it’ll be because it’s in a country that’s smaller than Connecticut that wants to host the World Cup not because it truly cares about soccer the way that you or I do, for its inherent wonderfulness, but because it wants to co-opt the tradition, history and prestige of the World Cup for its own nation-building ambitions.
Qatar turning the tournament into a marketing tool and status symbol, little different to owning an airline or a television network. Except that Qatar Airways and Al Jazeera are very good at what they do, while Qatar manifestly does not have a decent national soccer team. Even with all that sand, they’re not great at beach soccer, either.
No, for all the reasons to fear and loathe a Qatar World Cup, the winter isn’t one of them. Once you accept that summer temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees aren’t great for the health of players or for the quality of play, then the discussion’s really just about fine-tuning the dates.
And after all the back-and-forth over the timing, which started as soon as Blatter pulled out Qatar’s name from an envelope and a billion mouths opened wide in shock, it’s a relief to get a definitive ruling so we can all get on with our lives. Apart from the migrant workers building the facilities who are reportedly dying at a rate of at least one every two days, that is. They can’t get on with their lives, because they’re dead.
An end date of December 18th at least puts a week between the final and Christmas Day — although taking the World Cup to a Muslim country and promoting holding it in the Middle East as crossing a new frontier, only to feel guilty about interfering with Christmas, seems mildly perverse. The only truly solid argument for holding the World Cup in Qatar is that it will be a break from tradition, a journey into the unfamiliar. Bitching about it being too alien is a bit like traveling to Machu Picchu and bemoaning the lack of Starbucks and complaining that your plugs don’t fit in the electrical sockets.
That week won’t be enough to prevent those who dislike FIFA (pretty much everyone outside Switzerland by now, we’d guess) from getting all hot and bothered, and European leagues will lead the calls for millions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of millions, in compensation for the disruption to their usual schedules. They’ve got plenty of negotiating power, given that FIFA (a non-profit organization!) is sitting on $1.5 billion in cash reserves, and with Blatter facing three challengers in May’s presidential vote, he needs to keep Europe’s powerbrokers happy amid the inevitable horse trading that goes on during elections.
But let’s not forget this is the “World” Cup. It’s not the “Basically European but we’ll let a few teams from lesser continents play in it too Cup”. As such, it’s not unreasonable to consider the interests of leagues that typically play during a northern hemisphere summer and so might benefit from a winter World Cup — such as MLS. The league will be able to start and finish a month or so early (assuming that by 2022 the playoffs aren’t comprised of 20 teams), rather than interrupt its fixtures mid-season and get completely overshadowed by overlapping matches.
Nor will England be able to use tiredness as an excuse for its inevitable ineptitude, since the Cup will take place in the middle of the Premier League season. Europe-based players ought to be fit and in form. The weather should be ideal in the early evenings. And given that it will take at most 90 minutes to drive between the furthest-flung stadiums, players won’t be as fatigued as they were when they had to schlep all across Brazil. Travel will be easier for fans.
The mad scientist-esque scheme to air-condition all the stadiums can be axed, reducing the tournament’s environmental impact and buying south Florida a few more days before it gets swallowed by rising sea levels, significantly reducing the value of David Beckham’s Miami MLS franchise.
Globalization and greater demand to watch the top teams and players has seen the soccer calendar become increasingly bloated and filled with tensions between domestic and international codes and concessions to broadcasters. The knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, for example, seem to last almost as long as the preamble to a U.S. presidential election.
These days, every World Cup involves some sort of compromise, wherever and whenever it takes place. Given how long 32-team tournaments last, maybe it’s not so bad that everyone will be incentivized to get it over with as quickly as possible.
And now that the dates are set in stone, perhaps the media and authorities will concentrate on the real, substantial, issues surrounding the Qatar World Cup, rather than the self-interested braying of already-wealthy European leagues chasing a bigger piece of the cash cow.
* Like many good anecdotes, this turns out to be bullshit.