Monday, October 1, 2012
The heat is on again
World Cup hosting is back in the news, starting with the announcement that some games at Brazil 2014 will kick-off in the lunchtime heat, presumably for the benefit of sponsors and European TV schedules.
USA '94 all over again? In 2014 there will be seven different kick-off times for the group stages and two time zones. That is going to need some advanced planning to avoid doing a Rory McIlroy.
And as for the heat - "The history of football has shown that great players can play in all conditions," said Sepp Blatter, brushing aside criticism. Was this the same FIFA President who a few years ago briefly banned international games above 8,000ft following pressure from...Brazil of all people!
Heat remains the big issue for that whitest of white elephants, Qatar 2022, as the climate-cooling technology has yet to be perfected. The man designing the mega air-con systems now says he expects the arena temperature to be closer to 86F (30C) instead of the promised 81F (27C), but Michel Platini, who will probably replace Blatter in 2015, is still eyeing a winter wonderland in the desert that year.
The thermometer must favour some teams over others. Mexico seemed to have had an inbuilt edge over Ireland when they kicked off at midday in Orlando in '94, although the same El Tri lost to Norway at RFK (4pm start), while chilly Sweden reached the semi-finals. The heavy humidity at Korea 2002 reminded me of much of the US, though that did not stop Germany, accustomed to more pleasant summers, from reaching the final.
There is no panacea as altering the calendar every tournament to take account of a particular climate would cause untold chaos to domestic schedules, and who would want that?
Platini! The UEFA boss was again quoted last week saying 2022 must take place during the European winter, specifically Nov 2nd- Dec 20th. But this does not seem long enough for UEFA's leagues, who realistically would need a couple of months' hiatus. This is not arrogant Euro-centrism: The big leagues and stars are in Europe, UEFA provides almost as many World Cup participants as Asia, Africa and South America combined and as the Brazil 2014 kick-off times confirm, the big sponsor money for now at least still hinges on European TV viewers.
If only we could follow the Germans, whose senior football figures have been alone in calling for a review of the Qatar decision, which had trouble written all over it as soon as it came out the envelope. The English FA, who briefly looked like they were up for a plot, were instead spotted cosying up to Blatter at the 2012 Olympics, presumably in the hope Platini, his likely successor, will shed his organisation's Anglophobia.
The UEFA boss did confirm last week that he voted for Qatar against the USA for 2022, and would do so again, but denied he was influenced by a certain dinner date.
"One day I was invited to dinner by Sarkozy where there was the Prime Minister of Qatar," Platini confirmed, adding, "Mr Sarkozy never asked me during the dinner to vote for Qatar." Quite so, but that must have been the first time he went out to dine and came home with a wallet heavier than before.
Thus are World Cup hostings arranged. U.S. attorney Michael Garcia, head of the oxymoronic FIFA Ethics Committee, will have a hard job proving impropriety in the awarding of the 2018 & 2022 editions.
Russia's capture of 2018 looked only marginally less bent than Qatar's but at least it is a major nation with a long soccer heritage instead of an expat boomtown ranked 92nd in world football.
The final 12 venues and 11 host cities are now decided and include Kaliningrad, the bit between Poland and Lithuania formerly known as Konigsberg, which the Soviets bagged in 1945; Sochi, the Black Sea home to the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Yekaterinburg, where the Romanovs met their end, 1,000 miles to the east of Moscow.
The as yet un-built Spartak stadium is one of two capital venues, with the final at their historic Luzhniki (89,000 cap.) home.
Barring a miracle of common sense for 2022, 2026 looks the next chance for the USA to host the World Cup. But America will face competition from Mexico, buoyed by their wins in the U-17 World Cup, Gold Cup and Olympic Games. Canada is also rumoured to be interested, which opens up the potential for a cross-border bid as well.
Assuming the rules remain, 2026 cannot be held in Asia or Europe, which leaves Africa and the Americas (forget Oceania).
There are more pressing matters in North Africa right now, but Egypt and Morocco have long harboured World Cup hosting ambitions and are familiar holiday destinations for Europeans.
South of the Panama Canal, Colombia is the obvious country to bid if FIFA continues its 'new lands' policy, and the original host for 1986 has made encouraging noises, but the demands of a 32-team tournament could again mean a joint effort, alongside Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela. Yet Colombian dreams could be shattered by increasing talk of a centenary World Cup in 2030 being penciled in as a homecoming for Uruguay (& Argentina).
It's very early days, but the prospects of the World Cup returning to the US in 2026 seem fair to good.
And there's plenty of time to arrange something.