ROGAN TAYLOR: STRICTLY STRATEGIC DANCING?

It gets more and more interesting as the ‘Winter World Cup’ proposal shuffles on down the road to Qatar 2022. Fifa President, Sepp Blatter, has been giving interviews which make plain Fifa’s right to shift the timing from summer to winter (or any other season for that matter), quoting the exact wording in the original bid document.

In an exclusive interview with insideworldfootball.com, Blatter referred to pertinent phrases in the ‘Bid Registration Agreement’ (which all who apply to hold a World Cup must sign); phrases like ‘scheduled to take place… (in June and/or July of 2022)….in principle’. He gave the specific references. It was almost as if the court case had already begun.

It also looks like the manoeuvring of the powers in European football – the big clubs and top leagues – is evolving too. The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) recently warned Fifa not to be too hasty about taking any final decision at their next Exco meeting in October. It emphasised how complicated any shift to European winter would be. And they’re right.

A winter World Cup is much more complex an issue than ‘simply’ persuading the whole of European football to stop playing in the middle of their season. And the exact timing of any ‘winter break’ has profound consequences for European football (where almost 80% of all football revenue in the world is generated on an annual basis).

A great deal of that money is of course generated by a host of media rights and sponsorship deals, both individually for clubs and collectively for leagues. How will a winter World Cup affect those values? Then there’s the question of salaries.

The clubs already think that Fifa has some cheek ‘borrowing’ the most talented of their employees for the best part of two months; using them in a competition which generates around £3billion quid for Fifa in the process, but not offering a penny towards the salaries of those players whilst they have them.

And what about all the other players left behind in 2022, who can’t play games because the leagues have all been suspended for the duration? Their salaries have to get paid too – whilst they’re doing nothing. Fifa may claim that the money it makes goes back into football (and thereby benefits the top of the professional game by feeding the roots) – the reality is that by no means all of the money finds its way to the ‘grass-roots’ (and there’s considerable corruption alleged in that process too).

The Fifa bosses collect very large salaries from this money too. So large in fact that the public is not allowed to know how much President Blatter gets paid for suffering the rigours of first class travel all over the world, and making a few speeches. Fifa may have some ‘charitable’ functions – but it isn’t a charity. If it were, it would be required to publish its own costs and salaries.

A winter World Cup in 2022 will have ricochet effects on other sports competitions too, not least the Winter Olympics and the Africa Nations Cup. The media and sponsorship values associated with them may suffer as well.

One of the most heavyweight opponents of moving the World Cup to winter time has been the Premier League of course. The CEO, Richard Scudamore, is nobody’s fool. He started out by vigorously opposing the idea; then appeared to accept that it was an unstoppable force and there was the little the PL could do about it.

But Scudamore (and a few other main players in European clubs and leagues) appear to be engaged in some kind of advanced judo. You let your opponent gain the initial advantage only to make him pay a much greater price later.

The discussions with Fifa about how a winter World Cup is going to work will provide European club football with considerable leverage around issues they have long championed; especially their requirement for much more direct representation at Fifa (currently of course only national associations have that), and perhaps most crucially, a proper resolution to the matter of financial compensation; firstly, for the disruption to their business, and secondly, for the use of their players by another organisation to make lots of money.

Fifa may find it a very expensive World Cup indeed.

Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.

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