(Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Wednesday the 2022 World Cup should be switched to the winter months because of the blistering heat in Qatar during the summer.
Blatter admitted he had to take his share of the blame for not taking the heat problem sufficiently into consideration when awarding the tournament to Qatar in 2010.
“The World Cup must be a festival of the people. But for it to be such a festival, you can’t play football in the summer,” Blatter told a conference in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
“You can cool down the stadiums but you can’t cool down the whole country and you can’t simply cool down the ambience of a World Cup. The players must be able to play in the best conditions to play a good World Cup.”
Blatter had previously said that any request to change the timing of the 2022 World Cup would have to come from the organizers. In March he said the World Cup was a competition “that has to be played in June and July”.
“We must protect our partners, our sponsors, our television partners. We must be very strong about this. We still have enough time. I will open discussions in the executive committee in October,” Blatter told reporters.
“The executive committee will most certainly follow my proposal. And then we will have dealt with the topic for good.”
The head of Qatar’s organizing committee, Hassan Al-Thawadi, told the conference in Austria by video link: “If it’s a wish of the football community to have the World Cup in winter, then we are open to that.” Games are scheduled to be played in air-conditioned stadiums.
Moving the World Cup to the winter would have a seismic effect in Europe. Many leagues outside Britain have a winter break but they would need a hiatus of at least six weeks to accommodate national teams preparing for, and playing at, the World Cup finals.
“We have to have the courage - that is FIFA’s executive committee - to play this World Cup in the winter and to start to work out now what impact this will have on the international calendar,” Blatter said.
“You just have to have the courage to say it at some point because you have to start to get awareness into the leagues that something has to be changed.
“It would only be for one year, afterwards you’d be back to the normal routine. But I will advocate that,” he told Sky Germany television.
Blatter said his change of heart had followed medical information about the effects of the heat on players, but he admitted his standing would be affected by the volte-face.
“I personally have had to take a lot of criticism but I have strong shoulders and it doesn’t really bother me.
“There has been a fresh medical investigation into what it would be like to play football there in the summer and we have to take into account the health, not of the spectators, but of the players,” he told Sky Germany.
“We didn’t underestimate this topic. It wasn’t looked at properly. Because even back then our chief medical officer said you can’t play in June/July.
“But the point is 2022 was a long way away when we decided this in 2010. Now we’re in 2013, three years later and now it’s time to think about what was maybe not done so well.”
Reporting By Robert Woodward; editing by Toby Davis