U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati will likely approve of FIFA's decision to study a winter World Cup before voting. (Alexander Hassenstein/FIFA via Getty Images)
Under siege by critics and under pressure from a variety of stakeholders with competing interests, FIFA appears to have decided it needs a little more time to dig its way out of its Qatar-shaped hole. Or, if recent history is any indication, to dig a deeper one.
According to a Thursday report in the London Evening Standard, the all-powerful FIFA Executive Committee – meeting this week in Zurich – has opted to form a “task force” to investigate the possibility and ramifications of playing the 2022 World Cup over the preceding winter.
A move would save the players, spectators and “FIFA family” from having to endure the oven that is Qatar in the summer. It would also infuriate broadcast partners, including Fox, leagues around the world and bidders that lost the 2022 vote -- including the U.S.
“It was always media hype to expect the executive to come to such a decision this week without looking at all the consequences. The World Cup is nine years away and there is no need to rush to make a decision," a FIFA source told the Evening Standard.
“Indeed the agenda for the meeting merely says we should ‘discuss’ the Qatar World Cup not whether we should move it," the source continued. "Indeed it is at the moment such low priority that it is item 25 in a 27-point agenda. So it is not even likely to be discussed today.”
The task force will include representatives from European leagues, which play through the winter, and broadcasters, according to the report.
Fox, which spent $425 million for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, released a statement last month confirming it signed with FIFA “with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”
The Evening Standard report may surprise Qatari World Cup organizers, who released a statement Thursday via the Qatar Football Association anticipating an Executive Committee decision, or at least a discussion, on Friday.
"We bid for the FIFA World Cup in summer because we saw the opportunity to present solutions for players and fans in our country, and others with similar climates, to enjoy the outdoors in cool, safe and comfortable conditions in the summer months,” the statement read. “We committed significant time and resources toward proving that we could host the tournament in summer in cool, comfortable and safe conditions. If the international football community reaches a consensus to move the event to an alternate date, we are able to accommodate that change. This would not affect our planning and preparation.”
Eleven of the 24 members of the current Executive Committee, which doesn’t include FIFA president Sepp Blatter, have taken their seats since the controversial December 2010 vote that awarded the World Cup to Qatar. Among them is U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati.
Gulati likely will be pleased by Thursday’s news.
“I don’t see at this stage, frankly, how I or any member of FIFA’s executive committee could make a sensible decision,” Gulati told The New York Times last month. “We don’t have enough information and there are too many questions. I don’t see how anybody in a position of responsibility can take a position without some answers.”
He added he did not know whether Qatari organizers were prepared to cover FIFA in case of lawsuits by defeated bidders, TV networks or corporate sponsors expecting a summer competition.
It’s also unknown whether any task force will address the horrifying reports of rampant abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. There’s little evidence to suggest FIFA is capable of fairness, transparency and good judgment, but a task force that includes legitimate external representation at least opens up the possibility.
2022 World Cup head 'confident' Qatar will keep event