FIFA agrees to change the start date of the World Cup

In a glittering ceremony on 21 November last year, some of Qatar’s most senior officials, including the Gulf country’s prime minister, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, joined top football officials and invited guests for the ceremony. They gathered on the wide promenade hugging the city’s shimmering waterfront to unveil an ornate countdown clock and mark a milestone: the day they were celebrating was just a year before the 2022 World Cup opening .

Infantino, who now lives in Qatar, received much praise from his hosts. He said that his preparation for the event – an investment of nearly $200 billion since Qatar was awarded the tournament in 2010 – was beyond comparison: so good, in fact, that Infantino, a veteran football administrator, declared that He had “never seen anything like this. It’s happening here.”

Infantino’s bullish language can now better describe something that has been seen before in football: the state of uncertainty and the growing anxiety that surrounds many of the tournament’s elements, affecting fans, sponsors and broadcasters. Not the least of them? That they agreed to change the day on which the World Cup would actually start.

The organizers of the World Cup made an unprecedented and surprising request to reschedule the tournament’s start date to allow Qatar a place in the opening match as hosts. The request was approved unanimously on Thursday, just months before the tournament and a series of 100-day events leading up to kickoff begin.

Moving the date of the opening game, and moving the kickoff time of the second match to the next day, would disrupt plans made by teams, fans, sponsors and broadcasters, and even the tournament’s marketing staff, which cost millions of dollars. Bought advertising space. The world has now moved forward – a day – to mark the 100-day countdown to the World Cup – in signage wrapping buses and taxis in major capital cities around the world. All those campaigns, as of Thursday, now have the wrong start date for the tournament.

“This change ensures the continuation of a long tradition of marking the start of the FIFA World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match, involving the hosts or defending champions,” FIFA said in a statement. It had not planned for any events during any of the 12 years since Qatar was first awarded the hosting rights.

The late schedule change, however, is only the latest high-profile question adding to a growing air of uncertainty, inside and outside Qatar’s World Cup organization, about the small Gulf nation’s ability – to host the World Cup now – The shortest till – to draw a tournament.

Three months before the tournament, for example, Qatar has yet to reveal concrete plans about what kind of experience fans can expect during their visits, including what they need to enter the country. Is; Where will they stay when they arrive; how the police will deal with violations of Qatari laws regarding public behavior; And where and how fans will be able to consume alcoholic beverages in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country where the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated and where its public consumption is almost non-existent.

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How the tournament – with over a million spectators expected – will be secured is still unclear. Qatar has signed policing agreements with several countries, notably Turkey, which in January said it would provide more than 3,000 security personnel, including riot police, for a tournament that would feature fans from 32 competing nations – among them. Some bitter rival – will rub. Shoulder for weeks in an area smaller than the state of Connecticut.

Unofficially, Qatari officials have said that imported security officials will not be in direct contact with the fans. But so far – and unlike previous World Cups – very few details on that matter, and many others, are publicly available.

There are also concerns about accommodation, with fans reporting a lack of availability on a portal reserved for ticket holders and delays in releasing rooms for fans, who are expected to be the only foreigners allowed to enter Qatar. will be given. Month-long World Cup.

Those who have managed to find accommodation that can only be booked after the tickets have been paid for by the fans have also complained about high prices in the rare cases where they have found availability.

Ronan Evenn, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization of fan groups, said the number of official fan groups traveling to Qatar to support European teams would be significantly less than in the previous World Cup, which was held in Russia. it was done. , Defending World Cup champions France, in one instance, expects only 100 fans to participate as part of their official supporter group.

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Other fan groups, Ewen said, are considering flying in and out of Qatar for matches as they have concluded it will be cheaper and easier to do so than to stay in Qatar. The German fan club has already said that he will be coming for the games from Dubai. “I don’t think they realize how problematic their housing situation is,” Ewen said. “The whole system of booking accommodation is so vague that ticket holders are reluctant to book.”

Qatari officials acknowledged there were fan concerns about the accommodation and would continue talks with supporter groups to resolve them.

Also, representatives of some participating teams are finding that finding places for players to socialize outside their hotels has been an issue in such a small geographic area. “I don’t know if they walk out of the hotel, they will be surrounded by thousands of fans,” said Croatia team manager Eva Oliveri.

“I can’t tell you exactly what we’re facing,” she said. “We’ll have to deal with it when we get there.”

For FIFA’s partners, continued uncertainty has been a constant challenge. According to Coca-Cola’s former longtime head of sports marketing, Ricardo Forte, the last-ditch change to the tournament start date is expected to create chaos for plans drawn up months ago by sponsors.

“They invited and confirmed hospitality guests, booked flights and hotels, and contracted with all necessary logistics,” wrote Forte a twitter post, “Imagine changing it all!”

Qatar’s organizing committee officials have by now gotten used to such last-minute and sometimes inexplicable revisions to plans that were months in the making. In 2019, for example, staff members who had drawn up a detailed marketing and communication plan to announce the opening of Al-Wakra Stadium were stunned to learn – just minutes after the country’s emir had opened the venue First – that he took to social media to say that it would be called Al-Janoub Stadium instead.

At other times, Qatar and its ambassadors have been their own worst enemies. Asked on a call with reporters last year how many migrant workers have died on construction projects, a question that organizers have faced since work on World Cup projects first began nearly a decade ago, the organizing committee The chief executive officer of Nasser al-Khatar, appeared to be guessing the numbers before being corrected by a staff member. In April, World Cup officials had to clarify when a senior security official told a reporter that rainbow flags, symbols of gay rights, could be confiscated from fans for their own safety.

To help tell its story, Qatar also – at great expense – enlisted a group of former football players, most prominent among them being former England captain David Beckham. But despite receiving millions of dollars to bless Qatar’s World Cup project with his fame, Beckham has proven to be a reluctant advocate, preferring to attend events only when the news media is not present. Beckham has never publicly explained why she signed up to support the tournament, and her spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

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This week brought a new crisis on the start date of the tournament. In a letter sent by FIFA’s secretary general to top football leaders agreeing to a change in date, FIFA assessed the commercial and legal implications of moving Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador to one day and “determined whether Any risk is substantially greater than the value and benefits of the offer.”

However, some fans will be disappointed. In addition to moving the game to Qatar, FIFA moved the timing of a game between the Netherlands and Senegal from its original afternoon start on the original opening day, 21 November, to the evening kickoff.

New Yorker Martin Bauza said it would mean he could no longer use tickets he bought for the Netherlands game, as he also has tickets to the United States-Wales match which starts an hour after it ends. And he probably won’t be the only one to grumble.

“I think it will cause some headaches for broadcasters,” said Graham Fry, chairman of IMG’s production unit.

“They would have planned the programming for that day, the scheduled previews for the World Cup,” he said, adding that such decisions often have to be made months in advance.

Qatari officials said they would “work with FIFA to ensure a smooth tournament for supporters affected by the change.”

Another issue of direct interest to many fans – the plan to serve alcohol at the World Cup – is still unclear, despite months of discussion and even though one of FIFA’s biggest partners is Budweiser, which sells its products. Hoping to be available to supporters. World Cup Site.

The most recent proposal, yet to be made public, is for beer to be sold outside stadiums after security checks, but not inside stadiums. Fans will also be able to drink at Fan Parks, but for the time being this privilege will only be available at certain times of the day. At what time? World Cup organizers have not said yet.

As months shrink to weeks and then days, insiders know, Qatar’s scrutiny will only increase. But for now they have another immediate problem: they need to find someone to replace all the clocks.