NEIL WILSON: No April Fool for this German
THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications
(SFC) Thomas Bach versus Sepp Blatter, Gian Franco Kasper v. Sepp Blatter. Rupert Murdoch v. Sepp Blatter - everybody has it in for the FIFA president, and he has only himself and his executive committee to blame.
Arguably, the award of the 2022 World Cup finals to the Gulf emirate was good forward thinking, a nod towards the wider development of the game. Timing it for June and July though when temperatures can hit 50 Celsius was close to madness.
So Blatter and his friends have dug themselves into a hole, and the rest of the sporting world is anxious to ensure it is not buried under FIFA’s mess.
Bach, the IOC president, has made clear that January and February in a direct clash with the Winter Olympic Games is out of the question. Kasper, president of skiing’s FIS, is as vehemently opposed to that time slot, and he is not much more enamoured with December. A resolution opposing those months is expected soon from all seven winter Olympic sports.
Kasper is aware that Blatter cares little about the problems of sports other than football. “They are kings of the world – at least they believe so – and they do what they want,” Kasper has said.
But King Football does owe homage and fealty to one power greater than itself – the Kings of Television, the holder of its purse strings. One among them, Murdoch’s Fox Television, has made its feelings clear already.
Blatter’s type of football may be big but in the United States it is not bigger than the NFL’s variety and certainly not in January when NFDL play-offs and Super Bowl take place.
Fox’s $425 million deal with FIFA for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA finals will be dependent for a full pay-out on the 2022 timing not clashing with the NFL finale.
So that takes us back to November and December when the clash will be with UEFA, the European association, which has its Champion League group games scheduled, another must-have event with the continent’s TV stations.
So stuck between a rock and a hard place, Blatter is looking for a compromise that may offend the least. Karl Heinz Rummengger, CEO of European champions Bayern Munich and of the European Clubs Association, suggests April, a time warm but not boiling hot in Qatar.
Soccer’s national league and cup competitions would have to finish their season early, which probably means starting the season earlier in the previous summer and possibly squeezing the 2020-2021 season as well.
FIFA’s contribution to compromise might have to be to forego scheduling the Confederation Cup as a test event in Qatar a year earlier to avoid added seasonal disruption but that would be a small price for FIFA’s original blunder.
Football’s World Cup is the second most important event in the sporting calendar but its federation made the mistake. Now it must accommodate every other sport’s season in the sun. Rummengger may just have found a solution.
NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.
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