FIFA to set up Qatar World Cup task force

Oct 04, 2013, 8:01 AM EDT
Members of the union UNIA demonstrate in front of the FIFA headquarters against the working conditions for the soccer World Cup 2022 in Qatar, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. FIFA opened a two-day board meeting Thursday that will discuss whether to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the traditional summer dates. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been pushing for a switch but will likely meet opposition from Europe and the United States. They want FIFA to consult widely before agreeing to a change from the usual Ju
AP Photo/Keystone, Steffen Schmidt

ZURICH (AP) — FIFA leaders agreed Friday to set up a working group to study switching the dates of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to avoid the extreme summer heat in the tiny desert country.

However, a final decision on which months the tournament could be played is unlikely before 2015, FIFA executive committee member Michel D'Hooghe told The Associated Press

"At the earliest in 2015," D'Hooghe said after Friday's executive committee meeting. "We will consult everyone in the football family. To have some concrete information, this will not be done in two days."

D'Hooghe and fellow committee member Hany Abo Rida told the AP that the new commission will not report back to President Sepp Blatter's board before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"We have two World Cups before Qatar where we also have concerns," said D'Hooghe, who also chairs FIFA's medical committee.

The lengthy consultation process will involve medical experts and FIFA's broadcasting and sponsor partners, as well as the influential European soccer leagues and clubs that are worried about disruption to their season schedules.

D'Hooghe said it has not yet been decided who will head the working group.

The FIFA board also discussed Qatar's treatment of migrant workers after reported deaths and human rights abuses connected with World Cup construction projects.

FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan told the AP that Blatter offered to visit Qatar and discuss the issue with the emir, who is a longstanding IOC colleague of the FIFA president.

"We received a letter from Qatar saying they will abide by international norms," on labor rights, the prince said.

Prince Ali said he believed that the Qatari World Cup organizers — who are not represented on FIFA's ruling panel — were treated fairly and respectfully in the meeting.

Friday's agreement falls short of Blatter's stated plan to flatly reject the principle of playing the Qatar World Cup in June-July. He has suggested starting the tournament in November.

Still, the momentum to move FIFA's showcase event appears unstoppable because of the searing summer temperatures.

The executive committee includes 13 men who took part in the December 2010 vote which awarded the World Cup to Qatar.

The gas-rich emirate beat the United States 14-8 in the final vote despite warnings that the extreme temperatures in June and July posed a health risk to players and spectators.

Qatar has twice hosted major soccer tournaments but neither was played in June or July.

The 2011 Asian Cup was played in January, the month preferred by European body UEFA and its president Michel Platini.

In 1995, Qatar staged the Under-20 World Cup in April. A spring 2022 tournament has been proposed by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, head of the European clubs' association.

Blatter has pushed FIFA in recent months toward moving the 2022 World Cup dates after spending two years insisting that Qatari officials first had to ask for a change.

The Qatar organizing committee insists it can stage a safe tournament in June-July by using air-cooling technology. However, Qatar says it would comply if FIFA reaches a consensus for change.

Any switch of the dates could lead to legal challenges from the losing bidders, European leagues and broadcasters that bought rights based on a June-July event.

The U.S. is FIFA's most lucrative territory, and November or January dates would clash with the NFL season. Fox, Telemundo — owned by NBC Universal — and Futbol de Primera Radio agreed to pay a combined $1.2 billion in October 2011 to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

FIFA has ruled out compensating losing bidders after 2022 candidate Australia said it wanted to recoup its publicly funded $40.6 million campaign costs.

FIFA gets around 90 percent of its revenue from the World Cup. It earned $3.655 billion from commercial deals tied to the 2010 tournament in South Africa.