Friday Funny: Ian Holloway on Moving the 2022 World Cup to Winter

We’re a few months after the fact on this, but it’s late on a Friday and we’re big fans of any rational responses to the irrational decision to stage the 2022 World Cup in the ceramic kiln that is Qatar in the height of summer, so … here’s the inimitable Ian Holloway, Crystal Palace manager, reacting to Michel Platini’s suggestion that the 2022 tournament be rescheduled for the winter, right in the middle of most European seasons:

He never disappoints, Holloway. He and Crystal Palace are currently in fourth place in the English League Championship table, seven points behind leaders Cardiff City and comfortably in the promotion-playoff zone.

France Football Compiles List of Alleged Qatari Shenanigans Surrounding 2022 World Cup Bid

QatarReturn with us now to the sovereign Arab state of Qatar, home of artificial clouds, next-level stadium air-conditioning systems, and endless streams of petrodollars.

The tiny monarchy (citizen pop: 250,000) was also—according to a 15-page article published in France Football this week—home to a no-holds-barred approach when it came to convincing FIFA that its 2022 World Cup bid was the best one submitted.

Among the many allegations brought by the magazine is that there was a “secret meeting” at the French Presidential Palace on Nov 23, 2010, between then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, UEFA President Michel Platini, Sebastien Bazin, who was representing Colony Capital, the financially-troubled owners of Paris St. Germain at the time, and Tamin Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Crown Prince of Qatar.

The purpose of this meeting, according to France Football, was to discuss a deal for the Qataris to buy Paris St. Germain, and to challenge French sports TV channel Canal+ (something Sarkozy allegedly wanted to do) by creating a rival sports channel in France—all in exchange for Platini to promise to switch his vote for the 2022 World Cup from the United States to Qatar.

Explosive stuff. And of course if you cut to the present day, well, Qatar owns Paris St. Germain (and financed its massive summer spending spree, which brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to the club), and they’ve launched beIN Sport, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera, in France, wresting the television rights to live French soccer away from Canal+.

Platini, for his part, acknowledged that he voted for Qatar (the votes became public knowledge after the bid process was complete) and that he met with Sarkozy before the vote, but told Agence France-Presse:

“As I’ve always stated, president Sarkozy would never have asked me to vote for Qatar 2022 because he knows that I’m my own man. I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic … opening up countries who have never organized major sporting events.”

In the annals of flimsy excuses, that’s got to rank pretty high. But we’ll have to take the French legend at his word, unless and until Michael Garcia, the former New York Federal prosecutor who now heads up FIFA’s new investigative arm, unearths a smoking gun of some kind.

AFP dredged other juicy bits from the France Football piece, including:

“… what [FF] said was an internal email in which FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke allegedly said that the tiny Gulf state had ‘bought the 2022 World Cup.’

Valcke subsequently claimed a misunderstanding and insisted that the tone of the email was ‘light-hearted.’ France Football also quoted former FIFA media chief Guido Tognoni, who was kicked out of the organization in 2003, as saying he believed there were “strong suspicions” that members were compromised over the 33.75-million-euro ($25 million) Qatari bid.”

Soccer America combed the report as well, coming up with the following further allegations:

• A Qatari representative offered to spend millions on pumping up ailing Argentine soccer to gain the vote of Argentine [Ex-Co member] Julio Grondona.

• Middle Eastern holding companies bankrolled deals struck by since-disgraced Brazilian soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira.

• A sweetheart deal was struck with the Spanish federation to organize a friendly game in Qatar and “silence” Angel Maria Villar, who supposedly had a vote-swapping pact with Qatar to back Spain’s 2018 World Cup bid with Portugal and was furious that in fact Russia won the 2018 contest easily.

• The Qatari sports agency Aspire spent millions on promoting youth sports in countries with members on FIFA’s executive committee.

Of course France Football’s report has not exactly blown the lid off anything yet. In fact, it probably hasn’t been accorded a fraction of the attention its publishers hoped for. But remember back in 1999, when a French sports journal (L’Equipe) first accused cyclist Lance Armstrong of doping? That didn’t get too much traction at the time, either.

World Cup 2022 is still nine years away.

Oh, Look: UEFA Boss Michel Platini Wants to Move the Qatar World Cup to the Winter of 2022

International soccer’s powers-that-be are back on this one. You may recall FIFA’s suggestion, almost immediately after the bid was announced, to shift the 2022 World Cup from the molten-lava summer in Qatar (average high temperature: 115 degrees Fahrenheit) to its more moderate winter months.

After the idea was first floated, there followed a series of increasingly entertaining potential solutions to the problem of staging the planet’s most popular sporting event in its hottest location. The games would be played at night, the stadiums would be air-conditioned, or—and this was a real suggestion, not an Onion headline—robot clouds would be used.

Now, UEFA President Michel Platini, a former superstar with the French national team, is reviving the let’s-move-it-to-the-winter initiative:

“I hope it will be held in winter,” he said. “We have to go to Qatar when it is good for everybody to participate. What is better for the fans?”

What about the many, many domestic leagues around the world that would have to be shut down for a month or more for that to happen?

“In 10 years we can manage to decide how we can postpone the season for one month,” he said.

There are more complications: You couldn’t stage it in January—when some European leagues, including the German Bundesliga, are on winter break—because there’s a Winter Olympics that year (In the Tunisian desert. Kidding. Their location hasn’t been decided yet.):

“If we stop from Nov. 2 to Dec. 20,” Platini continued, “it means, instead of finishing [domestic seasons] in May, we stop in June. It is not a big problem. It is for the good of the World Cup, the most important competition in the world.”

We also wonder how such a change would impact the qualifying setup: moving the event up six months would most likely compress the schedule—and further disrupt domestic leagues around the world.

They could probably move everything around to make it happen. They could also probably move in those artificial clouds.

Fortunately, with 10 years to go until the event, there’s still time for them to consider the easiest move of all—that of the tournament to a different host nation.

 

Let’s Check Today’s Temperature in Qatar, Shall We?

Just for smiles.

On our way into the office this morning, we overheard a gentleman talking about how he had just returned from a business trip to Qatar. (He actually used both of the pronunciations we’ve heard for the 2022 World Cup host nation—“Cutter” and “Kuh-TAR”—opting for the second one when his listener blanked on the first.)

He said, referrring to the current summer temperatures in NYC, “This is comfortable compared to where I was yesterday. Just got back from Qatar. It was 118 degrees.”

That’s right. One hundred eighteen degrees.

Let’s take a glimpse at the extended forecast for the capital, Doha.

Oh, looky, the heat wave is over: Thursday’s high is predicted at only 104—followed by 107 on Friday and 108 on Saturday.

Sarcasm aside, the mind balks at these numbers. There will be a double-digit dropoff from Tuesday’s scorcher—will people be able to tell? What we mean is, there’s a noticeable difference between, say, 94 degrees and 80 degrees. Does the same apply to 118 and 104? Or does the human body just categorize anything above 103 as “bloody effin hot?”

We’re not sure, and we wouldn’t especially want to find out.

In any case, we hope those robot clouds are coming along smoothly.

Foxes Investigate FIFA Henhouse; Blatter Cleared, Bin Hammam and Warner Suspended

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics panel Sunday, paving the way for him to run unopposed for a fourth term in Wednesday’s election.

Executive committee members Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were both suspended indefinitely in the wake of accusations that they offered $40,000 apiece to roughly 24 federation officials from the Caribbean in exchange for their votes for bin Hammam as FIFA president.

(Bin Hammam withdrew from the election before the panel convened, and he accused Blatter of knowing about and not opposing the alleged payments, hence Blatter’s appearance before the panel.)

Neither bin Hammam nor Warner was found guilty in the investigation, but both are suspended from any involvement with soccer until a full judicial inquiry can be staged.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who oversaw the inquiry, said that the suspensions were necessary to “ensure that the investigation [pending; likely in July] is not compromised.”

No word on whether this statement was met by snickers, but plenty of comments at Blatter’s Monday press conference in Zurich were. A quick sampler, courtesy of The New York Times:

“I am the president of FIFA; you cannot question me.”

(Actual quote. No, really.)

“I believe that the decision which we took for World Cup 2022 was done exactly clean in the same pattern and again I say what I said at beginning of press conference there is no issue for the World Cup 2022.”

(This one prompted such a reaction from the assembled media that Blatter followed it up with: “We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”)

“Something has changed in FIFA and we will try to change more in future. I cannot change members of my government, it is not up to me.”

Blatter pleaded for respect over the reporter grumblings that followed that one, then abruptly pulled the plug on the press conference, walking offstage as journalists tried to lob more questions his way.

Good times.

Other Juicy Bits From the Fallout

• “Why should I be hanged now, and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer, John Collins? Give me a break, guys. I will hold my head high to the very end. I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing.”

—ExCo member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner, speaking in the Trinidad Parliament on the eve of the ethics panel.

Merriam Webster has announced they will replace their current definition of the word chutzpah with the above.

Also, apparently, the word “American” is an insult in Trinidad and Tobago.

• There were two cases before the panel on Sunday. One involved bribery surrounding Wednesday’s FIFA presidential election, the other concerned vote-selling for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

In the latter, two FIFA ExCo members were suspended and four were cleared, due to insufficient evidence.

Among the cleared, our favorite was Nicolás Léoz of Paraguay, who (allegedly) requested both an honorary knighthood and that the FA Cup be named after him in exchange for voting for England’s 2018 bid.

That is just fantastic, and we applaud the imagination involved.

But there are some logistical issues. How, for example, would both honors be explained? Oh, yeah, this Paraguayan bureaucrat has been integral to English football and culture since way, way back in the day. We need to get that guy knighted, or at the very least, rename our 140-year-old domestic competition in his honor—stat. The British people will instantly recognize both honors as long overdue.

Finally, there was the following sensational statement from Blatter in his column on Inside World Football:

“When a Swiss farmer’s neighbor has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbor does, that farmer will kill the neighbor’s cow out of sheer malice.

“I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

On an island, say, ….”  Sepp—very subtle. Jack Warner lives on an island, doesn’t he?

Well, the island farmer was talking tough after Sunday’s hearing, promising that a “tsunami” of bad news would be visited upon FIFA in the coming weeks.

In any event, it’s on to Wednesday’s “election,” over the objection of British sports minister Hugh Robertson, who, according to the Times, has called on FIFA to suspend the vote, saying, “I think the process is fast descending into farce.”

Only In FIFA: Presidential Candidate To Face Ethics Investigation Just Three Days Before Presidential Election

In light of allegations made yesterday by FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer (left, apparently relaxing in Margaritaville), soccer’s world governing body has called presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and Vice President Jack Warner to appear before its ethics panel on Sunday.

The FIFA presidential election, between Bin Hammam and incumbent Sepp Blatter, is scheduled for next Wednesday in Zurich.

Bin Hammam and Warner will face allegations of bribery linked to the June 1 election. The fact that the allegations come from Blazer—a fellow FIFA ExCo member and a colleague of Warner’s in CONCACAF (he’s general secretary; Warner is President)—make them unprecedented.

Warner and Bin Hammam both denied the allegations, with Bin Hammam calling them “little more than a tactic” from his opponent, Blatter.

For more on this, check here, here, and here—and of course, stay tuned. It should be an interesting next several days.

U.S. Back in the Mix? Qatar Could Be Stripped of 2022 Cup

Not so fast? FIFA says it will investigate the Sunday Times claims.

This slipped through the cracks last week, but … better late than never: FIFA’s golden summer in Qatar may be in jeopardy after the governing body’s President, Sepp Blatter, stated last Thursday that there could be a re-staging of the vote for the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

According to The Independent, Blatter “said that a FIFA inquiry into claims made by The Sunday Times that there was corruption in the vote could lead to the FIFA executive committee (ExCo) voting again.”

Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as FIFA poobah in the June 1 election, is clearly shocked—shocked—to find that corruption may exist in his organization:

A rerun of the vote would of course be unprecedented. It’s possible that the 75-year-old native of Switzerland is engaging in some political posturing as he runs for re-election next month against the president of the Asian football confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who hails from … wait for it… Qatar.

For more, check here, and here.

Oh, and there’s also this gem from Blatter today: He says he received a bribe upon his first election in 1998, but of course promptly turned over the cash—“I couldn’t refuse because he put it in my pocket”—to FIFA’s finance director, who made the bad guy reclaim it.

“Then it was specifically known,” says Blatter, “that please don’t try to give money to somebody who’s in FIFA.”

Yep. From that point forward, Sepp, it was specifically known….