European Clubs Call For Talks With FIFA Amid Plans For Biennial World Cup

FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses the media during a press conference following the FIFA Council Meetings in Miami, Florida, on March 15, 2019. Infantino on Friday confirmed plans to launch an expanded 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 following a meeting in Miami. The new tournament, which has drawn threats of a boycott from leading European clubs, is to be staged in June-July 2021 instead of the Confederations Cup. RHONA WISE / AFP.
File photo: FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses the media during a press conference following the FIFA Council Meetings in Miami, Florida, on March 15, 2019.  RHONA WISE / AFP.

 

The European Club Association has said it is willing to “engage” with FIFA over potential changes to the international calendar but has hit out at world football’s governing body for its attempts to introduce a biennial World Cup.

The ECA, which has nearly 250 members from across Europe with Paris Saint-Germain’s Nasser al-Khelaifi its chairman, complained in a statement released on Friday that there had been “a lack of genuine (or indeed any) consultation” from FIFA about its proposals for a more regular World Cup.

It said it believes changes are needed to the calendar to make it “modernised and simpler”, with fewer windows in which players have to be released by clubs for international duty, “better player protection and health and a balanced approach to club and international football”.

It said it was available “to engage with FIFA to agree what those changes should be”.

READ ALSO: Wenger Criticises ‘Emotional’ Response To Two Year World Cup Plan

However it is not in favour of a World Cup every two years. “There is no room” in the current calendar said Michael Gerlinger, a vice-chairman of the ECA and on its legal advisory panel, earlier this month.

The ECA statement said FIFA’s project would have “a direct and destructive impact on the club game” and “would put players’ health and well-being at risk”.

“They would dilute the value and meaning of club and country competitions” and “diminish and conflict with women’s and youth football”.

The organisation said FIFA was in “direct and unilateral breach of certain obligations”, referring to an agreement, the so-called memorandum of understanding, that is currently in place with the ECA until 2024 and includes “joint approval” on the international calendar.

FIFA said earlier this week that there was “a broad consensus within the game that the international match calendar should be reformed and improved”.

It has invited football’s national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the calendar as it pushes to hold the World Cup every two years instead of four.

FIFA’s plan has also come under attack from UEFA, with European football’s governing body saying it had “serious concerns” and that the World Cup would lose “legitimacy” by being held more often.

AFP

Wenger Criticises ‘Emotional’ Response To Two Year World Cup Plan

File photo: Arsenal’s former coach Arsene Wenger has been named FIFA’s world football development director, the Zurich-based body said on November 13, 2019.
Ozan KOSE / AFP

 

Arsene Wenger has criticised the “emotional” response to his controversial proposal to hold the World Cup every two years.

Former Arsenal manager Wenger, now working as FIFA’s head of global development, caused dismay in many quarters by suggesting the World Cup should be played more often.

The tournament is currently held every four years, with the next edition set for Qatar in 2022.

Wenger’s idea to stage the World Cup once every two years led to widespread criticism from managers, while UEFA issued a scathing response.

“There are real dangers associated with this plan. The dilution of the value of the No.1 world football event, whose quadrennial occurrence gives it a mystique that generations of fans have grown up with,” European football’s governing body said.

UEFA urged FIFA to stop “promotional campaigns” for the scheme before they have consulted the relevant stakeholders.

But Wenger believes those who study his suggestion properly begin to see the merit in it.

“I’m confident, but I do not know the forces who are for or against. I just make that proposal because I think it’s good for the game,” Wenger told the BBC’s Sports Desk podcast.

“After the proposal for the World Cup every two years sometimes (there is an) emotional response.

“I’m not surprised. Many people who were completely against it changed their mind after having seen my proposal.

“Some people have judged only based on every two years of World Cup and it was more emotional because ‘we’ve all grown up in that cycle’, and I can understand that.

“But many responses who were negative came out because they had not completely seen the whole concept.

“This concept of course, every two years a World Cup makes only sense if you see the whole proposal and if you regroup the qualifiers.”

AFP

FIFA Poll Claims Majority Of Fans Want ‘More Frequent’ World Cup

Players fight for the ball during the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification football match between Nigeria and Liberia at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

 

 

A majority of football supporters support the idea of a “more frequent” World Cup, according to an online poll published Thursday by FIFA in the midst of a debate on its biennial World Cup project. 

According to the IRIS/YouGov study carried out among 15,000 people “with an interest in football”, 55 percent of respondents want to see the top international competition more often than every four years, says football’s world governing body.

The survey showed that 30 percent would like the World Cup to be held every two years, 11 percent every year, and 14 percent every three years, a highly unusual frequency in international sport.

The survey nevertheless reveals strong differences according to the geographical areas and the age of the respondents.

The most favourable towards this increased frequency are the “younger generations in all regions” and “developing markets”, while older football lovers remain attached to the tradition of a four-yearly tournament which has been in place since the first World Cup in 1930.

This finding will be followed by an “expanded” survey of 100,000 people in “more than one hundred countries”.

FIFA’s controversial proposal of a biennial World Cup, first floated in the 1990s, was revived in March by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of football development at FIFA.

The central argument is that a World Cup every two years would create more profits that could be distributed to federations in Africa, Asia and South America, who have a greater reliance on FIFA funds than the wealthy European leagues.

Wenger says the idea would be to have a final phase every summer from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championships and Copa America. Qualifying matches would be grouped together in October, or in October and March.

However, the plan has been rejected by UEFA, the South American Football Confederation, the World Leagues Forum and the powerful European Club Association, all of whom are already struggling with an overloaded schedule.

The FIFPro players’ union denounced Tuesday “the absence of a real dialogue” on the subject, pointing out the “natural physiological limits” of footballers.

Football fans have also voiced their opposition to the proposal.

“It is legitimate for FIFA to do market research, since it has something to sell,” Ronan Evain, coordinator of the Football Supporters Europe network (FSE).

“But if it wants to consult representative organisations, it knows where to find us.”

Any final decision on the proposal would have to be made by a FIFA Congress, which usually takes place in May.

Zimbabwe Sack Coach After Poor World Cup Qualifier Results

 

Croatian Zdravko Logarusic on Sunday became the second coaching casualty of 2022 World Cup group-phase qualifying in Africa when he was fired by Zimbabwe.

The 55-year-old paid the price for the Warriors’ poor start in Group G this month with a 0-0 home draw against South Africa followed by a 1-0 away loss to Ethiopia, leaving them bottom of the table.

A national football association statement said “it would like to inform the football fraternity and the nation at large that it has amicably parted ways with senior team coach Zdravko Logarusic”.

His exit follows that of Hossam el Badry, who was axed as coach of Egypt and replaced by former Real Madrid manager and Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz.

Criticism of Logarusic had grown since last January when Zimbabwe were beaten by hosts Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Mali to make a humiliating early exit from the African Nations Championship.

Logarusic was hired by Zimbabwe last year having taken outsiders Sudan to the 2018 semi-finals of the African Nations Championship, a two-yearly competition for footballers playing in their country of birth.

Before moving to Sudan, the Croatian worked with clubs in his homeland, Germany, Australia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola.

His three Zimbabwean assistants, Lloyd Chitembwe, Tonderai Ndiraya and former national team star Benjamin ‘Benjani’ Mwaruwari, have also been fired.

Zimbabwe play Ghana twice in October and South Africa and Ethiopia the following month in other World Cup qualifiers.

They then prepare for the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations from January 9 in Cameroon, facing Senegal, Guinea and Malawi in Group B.

AFP

‘No Sporting Justification’: South America Rejects Biennial World Cup

File photo:  The World Cup winner’s trophy is seen during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL hit out at FIFA proposals to stage the World Cup every two years on Friday, saying there was “no sporting justification” for shortening the window between tournaments.

In a strongly worded statement which echoed opposition to the proposals by European football’s ruling body UEFA, CONMEBOL said holding the World Cup every two years would diminish the quality of the tournament.

“A World Cup every two years could distort the most important football competition on the planet, lowering its quality and undermining its exclusive character and its current demanding standards,” CONMEBOL said.

“(It) would represent an overload that is practically impossible to manage in the international competition calendar.

“In the current conditions, it is already complex to harmonize times, schedules, logistics, adequate preparation of equipment and commitments.

“The situation would be extremely difficult with the proposed change. It could even put the quality of other tournaments, both club and national, at risk.

“There is no sporting justification for shortening the period between World Cups.”

READ ALSOFIFA ‘Regrets’ Chaos At Abandoned Brazil vs Argentina Match

Fifa To Make Decision On Biennial World Cup ‘By End Of Year’ – Infantino

CONMEBOL said that although it had previously been open to holding the World Cup more frequently, technical analysis had show that the proposals were “highly unviable.”

“Therefore, under current conditions, it ratifies its support for the current World Cup model, with its terms and classification mechanisms, considering it consistent with the spirit that animated those who conceived and founded this competition,” the statement said.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised this week there would be decisions by the end of the year on the proposed World Cup overhaul, which is part of a move to cut out what he called “too many meaningless matches”.

However the FIFA proposals have drawn broad opposition across football, with UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin saying the plan would “dilute” the World Cup and the World Leagues Forum saying it would “undermine” player welfare.

AFP

Football ‘Not Above The Law’, Says Brazil Coach Tite

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 05, 2021 Brazil’s coach Tite (C) is seen after employees of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) entered to the field during the South American qualification football match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Brazil and Argentina at the Neo Quimica Arena, also known as Corinthians Arena, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)

 

Brazil coach Tite said “not everything is allowed” in football in reference to Sunday’s World Cup qualifier aborted minutes after kick-off over alleged Covid-19 quarantine breaches by Argentina.

“The justice system, laws, respect and social order exists; in football not everything is allowed, there are rules,” said Tite, without explicitly mentioning Argentina, during a press conference in Recife ahead of Brazil’s upcoming match with Peru.

In remarkable scenes on Sunday, Brazilian health officials stormed the pitch seven minutes into the clash between the South American giants at Sao Paulo’s Neo Quimica Arena, halting the match and triggering a melee involving team officials and players.

Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), which was the victim of a cyber attack Wednesday following its intervention in the match, said four England-based players in Argentina’s squad should be placed in “immediate quarantine” for violating Covid-19 protocols.

Argentina have denied the accusations. FIFA has said a decision on possible disciplinary action would be taken “in due course”.

“I don’t know exactly what was done nor at what point. I cannot and should not judge, but to go above the law… no. A bit of respect for an entity, for a country, for a population, for a club and a national team,” said Tite.

“I still want the game to be played, but if a mistake was made then the law applies,” he added.

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL said the game had been “suspended” but gave no detail on whether the match would be played at another date.

AFP

Fifa To Make Decision On Biennial World Cup ‘By End Of Year’ – Infantino

FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses the media during a press conference following the FIFA Council Meetings in Miami, Florida, on March 15, 2019. RHONA WISE / AFP.

 

FIFA president Gianni Infantino promised Wednesday “decisions by the end of the year” on the controversial proposal of staging a World Cup every two years.

The plan, backed by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is now director of development at world football’s governing body FIFA, would be part of an extensive shake-up to cut out what Infantino called “too many meaningless matches”.

“We have to have a system which is simple and is clear, which everyone understands, which clearly defines when there are national team games and when there are club games,” he said in an SNTV interview made available to AFP by FIFA.

With the existing international match calendar ending in 2024, “we need to take some decisions by the end of this year”, he said.

READ ALSO: FIFA ‘Regrets’ Chaos At Abandoned Brazil vs Argentina Match

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin warned this week that holding the World Cup every two rather than four years would “dilute” the tournament.

Fans from across the globe were also in favour of keeping the World Cup status quo.

“The overwhelming majority of fans oppose a biennial World Cup cycle, and if FIFA had bothered to engage with us on the subject, they would have known this to be the case,” 58 national fan organisations across the sport’s six confederations said in a joint-statement on Tuesday.

“Why abandon almost a century’s worth of tradition on a whim and with no evidence that it will improve the global game?,” it added.

The World Professional Leagues has added its voice to those opposing the project.

AFP

Super Eagles Beat Cape Verde 2-1 In World Cup Qualifier

(File Photo) Super Eagles players pose for a group picture before the start of the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification football match between Nigeria and Liberia at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, on September 3, 2021. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

 

The Super Eagles of Nigeria have beaten the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde 2-1 in the World Cup Qualifiers in Mindelo.

Victor Osimhen’s strike and Kenny Rocha Santos’ own goal helped Nigeria come from behind to beat Cape Verde in their qualifying game.

Two defensive blunders from the hosts secured maximum points for the Super Eagles as they clinched back-to-back wins in Group C, thus helping the three-time African champions grab a crucial win on the road as they stretched their dominance in the group.

However, a 75th-minute own goal by Cape Verde earned the Eagles the victory, a result that propelled the Super Eagles’ leadership of the pool as they await a home-and-away fixture against Central African Republic next month.

Dylan dos Santos steered the home team in front after 19 minutes of an intense back-and-forth by both sides, when he slipped behind the Eagles’ rearguard and slammed a rocket of a shot past goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.

Tuesday’s win in two games has pushed the Eagles three points clear at the top of Group C ahead of Liberia, Central African Republic and Cape Verde.

READ ALSO: Brazil Legend Pele Recovering After Tumor Operation

The Blue Sharks drew first blood in the 19th minute after Dylan Dos Santos beat an offside trap to fire his left-footed shot past goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.

Five minutes later, Ryan Mendes tried to test the Super Eagles shot-stopper with another shot but it went off target.

Osimhen and Ejuke linked up a few minutes later as Nigeria kept pushing for an equaliser and the CSKA Moscow winger forced Cape Verde’s Vozinha to parry his long-range shot for a corner-kick.

Their push finally paid off as Osimhen capitalised on a defensive error to draw both teams level in the 29th minute.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare has commended the Super Eagles on their second consecutive win of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

He also hailed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for ensuring that the team travelled in comfort.

“Congratulations to Nigeria, congratulations to all Nigerians and the Super Eagles. The team has made us proud once again,” Dare said.

“I salute everyone for the roles they played. The NFF ensured the team travelled in comfort and the coaches had to overcome a lot of setbacks owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the game we had to dress only 19 players as against the 23 allowed by FIFA for World Cup qualifiers, added to this, we had to fight from a goal down to snatch all three points at stake.

“In spite of this victory, I will like to charge everyone that the journey to Qatar is still a long one. We must keep fighting and working hard until the World Cup ticket is firmly in our hands.”

World Cup Qualifier: Super Eagles Arrive In Mindelo Ahead Of Cape Verde Clash

File photo of the Super Eagles.

 

 

The Super Eagles have landed on the island of Mindelo for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying match with the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde.

21 players touched down in Cape Verde on Monday, following the departure of UK-based players who returned after the unchanged stance of UK authorities concerning protocols and guidelines that must be observed by anyone returning to the country after visiting a country on their COVID-19 red list.

The match will take place on Tuesday evening at the 5,000 capacity Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena, provides an opportunity for other players who didn’t feature in last week’s Friday’s 2-0 win over Liberia in Lagos.

The absence of Olaoluwa Aina, William Ekong and Leon Balogun will give a chance for Italy–based Tyronne Ebuehi, Chidozie Awaziem of FC Boavista in Portugal and Kenneth Omeruo to start against the Blue Sharks.

The departures of Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi also open the door for perhaps Terem Moffi and Henry Onyekuru. But it is in the midfield that Coach Gernot Rohr would have to empanel entirely unaccustomed partners and charge them to deliver.

READ ALSO: Egypt Sack Coach After World Cup Qualifier Draw With Gabon

Oghenekaro Etebo, Wilfred Ndidi and Joseph Ayodele-Aribo have all returned to the UK. Coach Rohr may opt to deploy the versatile Abdullahi Shehu to midfield as he has done a couple of times, most recently in Sierra Leone against the Leone Stars in a 2021 AFCON qualifier. Russia–based Chidera Ejuke, Italy–based former junior international Kingsley Michael and new face Innocent Bonke from Sweden are all available.

Captain Ahmed Musa is likely to earn his 100th cap for Nigeria, 11 years after he won his first cap against Madagascar in Calabar, if he takes any part in Tuesday’s encounter.

Three points will consolidate Nigeria’s leadership of Group C, confirmed after the victory over Liberia that followed the draw between Cape Verde and Central African Republic in Douala. A win will guarantee Nigeria a minimum three points ahead of any other team in the pool, even if Liberia’s Lone Star are victorious against Central African Republic in Monrovia.

SUPER EAGLES PLAYERS IN CAPE VERDE

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Valentine Ozornwafor (Sporting Charleroi, Belgium); Tyronne Ebuehi (Venezia FC, Italy);

Midfielders: Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Innocent Bonke (Malmo FF, Sweden); Kingsley Michael (Bologna FC, Italy); Adekunele Adeleke (Abia Warriors);

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Samuel Kalu (FC Bordeaux, France); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Terem Moffi (FC Lorient, France); Henry Onyekuru (Olympiacos FC, Greece).

Wenger Calls For World Cup Every Two Years

In this file photo, ex-Arsenal French manager Arsene Wenger gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on April 29, 2018.  Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has called for the World Cup to be held every two years in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe published on Friday. 

The 71-year-old Frenchman, who is now director of development at FIFA, also called for a single annual period of international qualifiers in a global football calendar.

“The principle would be a grouping of qualifiers every year, and at the end of the season a major competition, World Cup or continental championship,” said Wenger.

“Between the two qualifying windows, the player would stay in his club all year round.

“There must be less of a mix in the calendar between the periods of club football and periods of international football, and therefore fewer transcontinental trips for the players, for example.”

READ ALSO: Arsenal’s Steady Demise Hits Rock Bottom

Wenger said he would like to see a single international window, perhaps in October, with fewer qualifying matches.

“For the players, there will be no more matches, and there will be compulsory rest after the final stages, at least 25 days,” said Wenger who sees his proposed new format coming into action in 2028, two years after the 2026 World Cup in North America and Mexico.

“What people want today are high-stakes, easy-to-understand competitions,” he said, insisting there is “no financial intention behind it”.

“It’s a global project, for men’s football, but also for women’s football and youth competitions,” he added.

AFP

Qatar 2022 Qualifier: Rohr Invites 30 Super Eagles Players For Liberia, Cape Verde

A file photo of Super Eagles players.

 

Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr has called up 30 players for next month’s opening rounds of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign.

The Franco-German Rohr has stuck largely with his regulars as Nigeria host Liberia in Lagos on Friday, 3rd September (Day 1) and take on Cape Verde in Mindelo on Tuesday, 7th September (Day 2) in the race to Qatar.

Goalkeepers Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho, defenders William Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu, Chidozie Awaziem and Leon Balogun, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo, and forwards Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon and Victor Osimhen are on the roster.

The situation with UK-based players, who may not be heading to Cape Verde (which is on the red list of the British Government with regards to the global coronavirus pandemic) has enlarged the roster, and should the situation remain unchanged, the eight UK-based players on the list would head back to base after the clash with Liberia at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on Friday.

There is a return for Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, defenders Kenneth Omeruo and Kevin Akpoguma and Greece-based forward Henry Onyekuru. Former junior international Kingsley Michael is also called, as Innocent Bonke from Sweden joins the Nigerian camp for the first time.

READ ALSO: Chelsea’s Jorginho Wins UEFA Player Of Year

The Super Eagles, who have featured in six of the past seven FIFA World Cup finals, will host the Lone Star of Liberia at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on Friday, 3rd September (kickoff is 5pm) and then travel to the island of Mindelo to tango with the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde on Day 2 of the series on Tuesday, 7th September.

Central African Republic is the other team in the group, and they will honour home-and-away encounters with the Super Eagles in October.

THE FULL LIST

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Kevin Akpoguma (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany)

Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Watford FC, England); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Samuel Kalu (FC Bordeaux, France); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium)

SEVEN OTHERS: Terem Moffi (FC Lorient, France); Henry Onyekuru (Olympiacos FC, Greece); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Innocent Bonke (Malmo FF, Sweden); Valentine Ozornwafor (Sporting Charleroi, Belgium); Tyronne Ebuehi (Venezia FC, Italy); Kingsley Michael (Bologna FC, Italy).

Post-Olympics: Spotlight Shifts To Qatar 2022 World Cup

The official logo of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is unveiled on a giant screen in Madrid on September 3, 2019. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

The focus of the sporting world shifts to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar following the Tokyo Olympics, with lingering questions over Covid safety and human rights.

Unlike the Games, which played out to a backdrop of surging case numbers in Tokyo and without spectators to limit viral transmission, organisers of the November 18-December 21, 2022, football tournament insist it will be played in full stadiums.

Qatar 2022 might be the first truly global sporting event with fans since coronavirus emerged at the start of 2020, if the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics goes ahead behind closed doors as an International Olympic Committee official has suggested.

Such is the commitment of the tiny, super-wealthy host emirate to stage a “normal” tournament that Doha has pledged to vaccinate travelling fans from countries where the rollout of jabs has been slower.

“Whatever happens I expect we’ll have fans, including foreigners, in the stadiums,” said Danyel Reiche, an associate professor at Georgetown University in Qatar.

“Qatar was a pioneer in developing concepts for sports during the pandemic and has staged many events.”

Qatar, the first Middle Eastern host of the World Cup, was, along with Rwanda, an Olympics vaccine hub for athletes heading to Tokyo. It also hosted the refugee team.

– Vaccines for fans –

Qatar has pledged to obtain one million doses of Covid vaccine for unvaccinated fans travelling to the Arabian desert peninsula country.

Details of its tournament jab programme have yet to be published, though 2022 organisers went to Tokyo to observe the precautions taken during the Games.

“Tokyo has been a qualified success with… little overall dissent amongst those present about the restrictions in place,” said Simon Chadwick, director of the Eurasian sports centre at France’s Emlyon Business School.

“Qatar would do well to follow and fine-tune the processes and procedures that have been in place during the Olympics. The big difference of course is the presence of spectators.”

READ ALSO: Tourists Told To Leave As COVID-19 Cases Rise In French Overseas Territories

With less than 16 months left, the Gulf state is speckled with construction sites and roadworks.

The country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has acknowledged that the pandemic had caused “a delay” to some infrastructure projects “but it was a very limited delay”.

“Preparations… will all be complete in the coming months,” he said of the tournament which officials hope will contribute around $20 billion to Qatar’s economy.

Three of the eight World Cup stadiums, all airconditioned despite the tournament having been moved to the cooler winter months, are still under construction.

Qatar’s multi-billion-dollar football infrastructure, much of it still untested, will undergo a trial when it hosts the Arab Cup from November 30 to December 18.

As well as promises that infrastructure will be ready for the tournament, Qatar has repeatedly given assurances on its human and labour rights record.

In May, secret police arrested a Kenyan security guard who had published articles on the plight of migrant workers in the country which is dependent on expat labour.

He was charged with receiving money from a foreign agent prompting an outcry from rights groups.

While campaigners have accused employers of exploitation, Qatar insists it has done more than any country in the region to improve the welfare of workers.

“The speed of change will not be enough to convince some critics,” said Chadwick.

“There is (also) considerable dissent amongst conservatives within the Qatari government and society that the country has already been forced to change too much.”

– Rights and wrongs –

In February, Qatar fiercely denied reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper of excessive worker fatalities, insisting the figure was unreliable but refusing to publish the actual number.

Some fans and commentators fear that Doha may not offer visitors the same experience as past tournaments.

“I’ve been to many DJs on beaches with thousands of people in Doha already in 2005 and 2006,” said 2022 ambassador and former Netherlands international Ronald De Boer, who lived in Doha for five years.

“Doha will be ready for this amount of fans, they can really hold big events. And don’t worry that you can’t drink a beer.”

While beer will be available in fan zones, restaurants and hotels, it is likely that ordinary ticket-holders will be unable to drink inside stadiums, with alcohol confined to outside areas.

A decision has yet to be made officially.

Those in premium hospitality suites will however be able to access fully-stocked bars within sight of the pitch.

AFP