Sarkozy says IOC and Fifa should alter calendars
Nicolas Sarkozy, who forged close trade links with Qatar in his time as French president, has appealed to international sports governing bodies to change their calendar to allow more countries to host sporting events. The former French president was seen as playing a key role in delivering the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, although the Uefa president, Michel Platini, has always denied that he influenced his vote.
Sarkozy said that Fifa and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should be prepared to alter their calendar to accommodate countries that were too hot in the summer to stage their events. “I say this from my heart, I do believe the issue of scheduling events needs to be reconsidered. Sport is universal. Scheduling is a means to an end, not an end in itself. For that reason we need to adapt the schedule,” said Sarkozy.
He said he had “supported and applauded” the controversial decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar in December 2010. Ever since, a debate has raged over whether it should be moved to the winter to avoid searing summer temperatures that reach 41 degrees. Recently, the IOC gave permission for Doha to bid for the 2020 Olympics on the basis that they could be held later in the year, but it was omitted from the shortlist when it was announced in May. It is expected to bid again for 2024.
“The World Cup can’t be the prerogative of France, Italy or Britain only. Football is of such importance throughout the world it must be shared,” said Sarkozy, speaking at the Goals conference in Doha. “It can’t be the exclusive property of a few western nations. If you love football it must be shared.”
His views chime with those of Platini, who has angered some of the European leagues by repeatedly suggesting the 2022 World Cup should be played in the winter, which would cause significant disruption to their season.
“Is it essential that the Olympic Games be systematically held in the month of August? Where is it written that it must be in August? Would they be less interesting in June?” said Sarkozy. “As for the World Cup, which I have followed so passionately for so many years, must it absolutely be organised in July? Were the World Cup to take place in another time of the year, would it not be as enthralling?”
Qatar 2022 organisers have insisted they are planning for a summer World Cup, but will move it if asked by Fifa.
Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 organising committee chairman, said that he hoped to see the Middle East, Africa and India all host the Games one day. But he said the debate around the sporting calendar was not new and had to be considered by sport as a whole.
“If you want to build global capacity for sport, you are going to take it into places where there are challenges – be they environmental or technological or with their track record in delivering those events,” said Coe. “Part of that debate is the overall calendar.
“Whether or not sport collectively is able to engage in that debate is another issue. It’s not just simply about moving a World Cup or an Olympics a few weeks either way. There is a matrix of events, there are television contracts.”
Sarkozy also said that governing bodies should encourage several countries to host major events collectively, applauding Platini’s plan to spread the 2020 European Championships around 12 cities across the continent. The Uefa president has also previously encouraged the idea of hosting the World Cup across several states in the Middle East.
“Let’s think about what you are doing here in terms of culture and education, in terms of the tension and the risks. When shared with other countries in the same region they can act as stabilising forces,” said the former French president.
The Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who described progress made by Qatar 2022 as “impressive”, said that one of his goals as Fifa president had been to “abandon (the idea) that the World Cup shall only be played in the Americas and Europe”.
He said that when South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia appealed to him to bring it to the Middle East.
“We did it. We closed this circle. We have realised our goals and I’m sure we will find the best solutions for everybody, how to implement the decisions taken,” said Blatter, euphemistically referring to the row over whether the tournament should be moved to the winter, despite the fact that Qatar bid for it on the basis that it would be held in the summer.
If Fifa does decide to take on the European leagues and hold the tournament in the winter, it is also likely to spark protests from rival bidders including the USA and Australia.