And so the great sandstorm will yield a winter World Cup. As we are tucking into our Christmas turkey or goose, we will be celebrating the crowning of a new world champion. It’s far from ideal for the major European leagues, although some will be slumbering in their mid-season break, but we should also remember that Europe’s premier competitions have six years to work something out.
FIFA’s approach during this entire debacle has been little short of shambolic. Qatar was not a good choice, no matter how you shuffle the cards, and there are more issues to consider other than climate. But the decision was made and FIFA would create a terrible precedent should they take the competition away from Qatar at this stage.
It may be a case of “grin and bear it” and let’s get through the competition as quickly as possible. It’s a tiny place although ranted as the richest country per capita in the world. It’s not too hard to see why FIFA wouldn’t want to upset Qatar.
But given the scheduling and the inappropriate location, FIFA could – and should – change the format of the competition for 2022. A 16-team tournament – which, incidentally, is the optimal size.
Of course, the TV people won’t like it, major sporting sponsors won’t like it and the other big corporates who emblazon every FIFA event – have you ever tried to take a bottle of mineral water (non-endorsed) into a World Cup game, only to find that the only refreshments available in the ground were high sugar content soft drinks?
If we’re truly honest, the World Cup gets interesting after its first fortnight. Watching two weeks of group games is as arduous as reading James Joyce’s Ulysses or listening to Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes. The difference is, you can’t change monumental works by Joyce and Yes, but you can do something about the 32-team format. Make it smaller.
There will be enormous benefits. Given the vast majority of players in the World Cup come from European clubs, a November/December World Cup will mean that most European leagues are still in their early months. Players will be less tired, less likely to be sidelined by injury. The European clubs are already starting to complain and talk of “compensation”, but you can stick them all into a mid-season break and resume action after Christmas. It could mean that the quality of football may be better – especially if you bring the World Cup back to 1978 levels.
I would imagine that countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and England would welcome a 16-team tournament, as long as they qualify, of course. There is a danger, however, that if the protests over Qatar 2022 refuse to go away and a major country decides to boycott the finals, then all bets might be off. You get the feeling that this will be the World Cup that nobody really wants. The best way to ensure that it doesn’t prove too disruptive is to make it shorter. It’s unlikely, but it might just work…..