Like most people I have been appalled to read the recently published stories about the terrible conditions in which the builders and workers in Qatar who are constructing the infrastructure that will support the 2022 Fifa World Cup in that country, are being subjected to. It is shocking to hear about their lack of basic human rights and how so many have died working on projects there. The organisers in Qatar say that they share our concerns, as do Fifa, but they must show the world that they are clearly making a massive effort to stop these practices, and ensure the health and dignity of the workers. I don't want to see the World Cup being played in stadia built by slave labour.
This is sadly just the latest controversy to rock the Fifa World Cup in Qatar. Some might say that the idea of holding the tournament in a desert country smaller than the Falkland Islands, where the average daytime temperature in July is in the 40 degrees Celsius always defied any kind of common sense. Yet the tournament was awarded to the country on that basis, with the promise of air conditioned stadiums and infrastructure for the fans. Now Fifa are saying that they don't believe that this is possible and that the tournament should be played in the winter; they will discuss and vote on such a move next month.
Moving the World Cup to the winter will create massive disruptions to the sporting calendar around the globe. If the tournament was played in November it would most likely mean squashing the English Premier League season into a period from January to July with difficult decisions to be made over the format of competitions like the FA Cup and even whether some traditional fixtures would have to be abandoned altogether. The disruption caused by moving the football season would also most likely run over three years, as the changes would need to be phased in and out again. It also has knock on consequences for other sports. For example this summer, if the football season ran into July it would have clashed directly with most of The Ashes cricket, which whilst not of direct concern to the players, could have a significant impact on the revenues generated for the sport from advertisers and broadcasters.
Sepp Blatter has said that these issues are only the concern of traditional Europeans who expect the world to fit in with their plans. He has even suggested that it could be impossible to play the world cup in the southern hemisphere if it always had to be held during the northern hemisphere's summer. This is of course complete rubbish. The concerns about switching the tournament to November have been most strongly raised so far by the football association in Australia. The 2010 Fifa World Cup was held in South Africa, and was a fantastic success. The last time I looked, that country was in the southern hemisphere.
I am all for the World Cup being played in new countries where football is a growing sport and hosting the tournament could give a big boost to the development of the game in that region; but does anyone seriously believe that this was the criteria against which Qatar won the right to host the tournament?
Sadly I have no confidence that Fifa will reconsider its position and decide that if Qatar cannot host the World Cup when it said it would, in June and July of 2022, then the competition to host the tournament should be re-opened. Fifa should also be all over the Qatar officials to make sure there are no further breaches in human rights for the workers building the tournament's infrastructure, but I don't believe they will be.
So against all of this, what should we do. Well, if we are not happy with the way the questions of human rights are being dealt with, nor the consequences of playing the World Cup in the winter, the FA should consider boycotting the tournament. If the major footballing nations took a similar stand, Fifa would back down. I believe there should now be a serious, open debate about such a move. Ultimately Fifa's main concern is money, and their main source of it comes from the broadcasting and sponsorship rights associated with the World Cup. The value of these rights is of course dependent on the best and most popular players being on display.