FIFA looking to bring forward World Cup start by one day

Published August 11, 2022
<p>DOHA: A view of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock on Wednesday.—AFP</p>

DOHA: A view of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock on Wednesday.—AFP

DOHA: The World Cup in Qatar could kick-off one day earlier than scheduled with FIFA looking at a plan to hold the opening ceremony and the host nation’s first match on Sunday Nov 20th, just over three months before the competition gets underway.

News agencies Reuters, AFP and The Associated Press all cited sources close to the discussions on Wednesday as saying that Qatar will now play Ecuador 24 hours earlier than planned, in a move that FIFA’s ruling bureau comprised of president Gianni Infantino and the heads of the six continental football bodies was expected to confirm soon.

The original plan was for the opening ceremony to be held before Qatar’s game on Nov 21 against Ecuador — which created the unusual situation of two matches being held before the ceremony.

Normally the ceremony is conducted before the kick-off of the first game of the tournament.

The Group ‘A’ match between Senegal and the Netherlands and the Group ‘B’ match between England and Iran were scheduled to take place before the ceremony on the Monday. The match schedule was finalised after the draw was made in Doha on April 1.

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

“There were discussions and agreement between the two respective teams and there was a request from CONMEBOL,” one World Cup source told AFP. “We wanted to follow the tradition that either the reigning champions or the host country be involved in the opening match.”

FIFA and the Qatari organising committee declined to comment on the change to the mega event that ends on December 18.

The switch to a Nov 20 opening ceremony and game would allow the Senegal-Netherlands match, scheduled for 1300 local time on Nov 21, to kick off later in the day. “It is a better slot for both teams for television and other areas,” said the source.

The Group ‘B’ matches on that day, which also include the United States v Wales, would be unaffected.

Another source close to the proposal said the switch could be confirmed as early as Thursday and that the plan was to ensure that fans did not have to pay for any changes to flights or accommodation.

“The financial impact to fans has been assessed and that any additional costs to fans will be absorbed by organisers, but it is unclear who will bear these costs, whether it is FIFA, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy or another entity,” the source told Reuters.

“There will be an assurance from organisers that any additional costs for fans to change travel bookings or accommodation won’t be borne by them and this will be assessed on a case-by case basis,” the source added.

It was not clear what the mechanism will be to manage any compensation for fans.

Companies with major deals linked to the World Cup expressed confidence that the unusual schedule change could be handled smoothly.

“It is something we will deal with,” said Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Hospitality, which has a deal with FIFA to organise hospitality packages for World Cup matches and has locked in 450,000 tickets for the tournament.

“It is really not — compared to the other challenges that we could have faced or have faced in the past — a particularly large problem,” Byrom told AFP.

“We have to focus on those customers who are most affected and I guess in this case we will be looking at our Ecuadorian customers who are travelling from overseas, and making sure that they are on time for the match.”

A Sunday start for the World Cup had been ruled out several years ago when a shorter, 28-day schedule requiring four games each day during the group stage was agreed to by FIFA after talks with influential leagues in Europe which will play club games through Nov 13.

However, a Qatar-Ecuador game involves few players who are with European clubs and would give the host nation an exclusive day to open its tournament.

The opening match is scheduled to be held at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt stadium, one of seven new venues purpose-built for the tournament since Qatar was controversially awarded the World Cup in 2010.

The wealthy Gulf state is preparing a spectacular opening ceremony in the stadium, whose structure was inspired by traditional Arab tents.

Moving forward the opening match will also mean changing the 100-day countdown that had been scheduled to start on Saturday, with special events across the tiny nation of 2.8 million people.

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.

FIFA finalised a decision in 2015 to avoid the searing heat in Qatar’s summer and move to November and December, despite opposition from most of European football unhappy at shutting down their domestic leagues for several peak weeks.

The Nov 21-Dec 18 tournament schedule was agreed to so that European clubs could play on the Nov 12-13 weekend before releasing their players to the 32 World Cup teams.

The final will be played on a Sunday that is Qatar’s National Day, allowing a full week for players to return to clubs before the Premier League plays its traditional Boxing Day games on Dec 26.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2022

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