FIFA panned over plans to change Qatar World Cup start date

·6-min read
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is reportedly set to begin one day earlier than previously planned. Pic: Getty
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is reportedly set to begin one day earlier than previously planned. Pic: Getty

FIFA has come under fire from the football world, following reports the start date for the Qatar World Cup is set to change.

Host nation Qatar is now set to play in the opening game of its own World Cup, with a standalone date likely to be added to the tournament barely 100 days before it gets underway.

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Football's marquee tournament is now reportedly set to start one day earlier than originally scheduled seven years ago, in a move that would allow hosts Qatar to play Ecuador on November 20.

The proposal will reportedly be put before a committee comprised of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the heads of the six continental football bodies, with the move expected to be approved this week.

Qatar will now likely get an exclusive Sunday slot for its opening ceremony and World Cup debut at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium.

The World Cup is currently scheduled to start on the Monday of November 21, based on a FIFA decision in 2015 to push back the tournament to avoid the extreme desert heat in June and July.

FIFA also agreed to a shorter, 28-day program to minimise disruption to domestic football calendars, especially in Europe, which will shut down ahead of the World Cup.

Recent World Cup tradition gave 2014 host Brazil and 2018 host Russia exclusive opening days to play their first opponents.

However, the tighter schedule in Qatar called for four games daily for the entire group stage — 48 games in 12 days.

At the tournament draw in Doha on April 1, the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador landed in Group A with Qatar.

The Netherlands and Senegal were allocated the 1pm local start time and Qatar was to due to play Ecuador in the third game, with an evening kickoff six hours later.

The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of 28 days has been favoured by Qatari officials and South American soccer body CONMEBOL, with talks also involving the Qatar and Ecuador football federations.

Seen here, members of the victorious France team celebrate after winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup trophy.
Holders France will be hoping to defend the FIFA World Cup trophy they won in Russia in 2018. Pic: Getty

FIFA acknowledged in its letter that changing the date, after tickets have been sold, would affect some traveling fans - mainly those from Ecuador.

However, FIFA said “any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposal” commercially.

The proposal to change the start date of the World Cup so close to the tournament - particularly when FIFA and organisers have had years to plan it - has come under fire in the football world.

New York Times reporter Tariq Panja tweeted: “Qatar and FIFA has had 12 years to plan for the 2022 World Cup now with just over 100 days and — with tickets sold, travel booked — they now want to start the tournament a day earlier so Qatar could play the first game (which could always have been the case). But here we are.

“What I suspect has happened here is that because it’s ‘only’ Ecuador and not a big European country, it has probably been easier to switch the game. What has never been made clear is why Qatar had not been placed in the opening game as per the original schedule.”

Qatar to host opening game under new proposal

A Qatar-Ecuador game involves only a few players who are with European clubs. Several members of the likely Ecuador squad play for clubs in Spain, the United States and Mexico, where leagues will take a mid-season sneak before the World Cup gets underway.

The schedule switch would have been tougher to agree to if Qatar was scheduled to open against the Netherlands, which has key members playing until November 13 with clubs in England and Italy.

Because of the proposal, FIFA is expected to push back the Netherlands-Senegal from the lunchtime start to the early evening slot that would be vacated by Qatar.

While an opening game on a Sunday evening in Qatar should play well with viewers in Asia and Europe, in the United States it puts the World Cup in direct competition with NFL games.

The US soccer team plays its World Cup opener against Wales as the late Monday game in Qatar.

The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be played outside of the traditional northern hemisphere summer. The previous 21 editions were all played between late-May and the end of July.

The November 21 to December 18 tournament schedule was agreed to so European clubs could play on the previous weekend before releasing their players to the 32 World Cup teams.

More than four years after Qatar won hosting rights in 2010, FIFA moved the tournament from it's traditional June-July time slot so it would be played in temperatures between 25 to 30 degrees celsius, as opposed to the oppressive conditions in summer.

Now, a further seven years later, the dates are set to change again.

with agencies

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