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A Winter World Cup? Why Not?

Posted: 12/06/2013 00:00

We can't possibly have a World Cup during the European winter, can we? If it means holding the world's biggest and most important football tournament in temperate conditions, suitable for both players and fans, then yes... let's do it... and soon.

The 2010 World Cup, the first to be held in Africa, was trumpeted by Fifa as the start of a new era for the global game, a footballing rebirth heralded by the vuvuzela among the towns and cities of the continent's southern tip.

The reality for the travelling fans and South Africans proved different. Playing during the hemisphere's winter months dampened the spectacle to such an extent that fan parks, created to allow everyone to enjoy the supposed "festival", were empty from the knockout stages onwards. Temperatures at night were such that watching the game outside on a big screen was uncomfortable, while camping, as many fans (and journalists) were forced to do, proved an exercise in endurance.

In monochrome contrast to Shakira's colour-strewn vision of the host nation offered in the official 2010 'track', the entire country was pitch black by 5pm, the streets were empty and the fan parks boasted less spectators that a mid-week game in the Isthmian League. Those who made the journey expecting 'Waka Waka' were met with four weeks of dark, cold desolation. Fifa should have gone for the Manic Street Preachers for the music video... but even they would have been too upbeat.

Contrast South Africa to Germany four years earlier. The 2006 tournament was held during summer months, offering travelling fans and natives a chance to revel in a festival bathed in sunshine, with temperatures that allowed everyone to party en masse well into the night. The fan parks, set up in towns and cities across the country, were packed nightly, allowing everyone to engage in genuine celebration of a truly global tournament.

If the World Cup is to expand beyond its traditional hosts to the Middle East and back to the Southern Hemisphere, it should be played in the middle of the European winter to avoid repeats of the African experience or, in the case of Qatar 2022, to avoid the stifling heat.

What of the disruption to the domestic European leagues? Simply start the season earlier allowing the game to benefit from the European summer, and introduce a winter break allowing players to rest during the bleakest months. Does anyone really think cricket will suffer from an overlap?

But what about Boxing Day football? What about it? Football changes and evolves all the time... and often for the better. If it didn't, men would still be running around on mud pitches in tiny shorts, passing back to the keeper, in dangerous standing stadiums, in a game that wasn't being broadcast live, while fans directed racist chants at black players.

 

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