The 54 member associations of Uefa, European soccer's governing body, today backed a controversial plan to switch the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar to the northern hemisphere winter because of concerns over summer temperatures in the tiny Gulf state.
The executive committee of soccer's world governing body Fifa will make the final decision on Qatar 2022, but it is expected to agree in principle to move the World Cup to the winter at its own meeting in Zurich on October 3 and 4.
Uefa said it does not want Fifa to rush the decision, but added that it is under no illusions over the need to alter the international soccer calendar. It has suggested a January tournament, while Fifa president Sepp Blatter recently suggested that the World Cup will likely be played in November-December 2022.
The increased support for a move is significant because European associations represent more than one-third of the 25-member Fifa executive committee.
Following a meeting of the Uefa executive committee in Dubrovnik, Croatia today, Jim Boyce, the UK's Fifa vice-president, said: "What has come out of this meeting is that the World Cup cannot be played in Qatar in the summer. Everyone was certainly in agreement about that."
He continued: "There is still nine years to go and people feel Fifa should sit down with all the major stakeholders and come up with a solution that would cause the minimum disruption to football.
"There is plenty of time to do that in my opinion, and hopefully football will be the winner."
Uefa's stance is in direct contrast with that of some of the continent's top leagues, which are opposed to a winter World Cup. Richard Scudamore, chief executive of England's Premier League, said last month he was adamant the tournament could go ahead in the summer using the innovative stadia cooling technology that formed a key part of Qatar's 2022 bid.
But earlier this week, Michel D'Hooghe, the chairman of Fifa’s medical committee, said the risks posed to supporters by extreme heat were too great for the tournament to be played in its traditional months of June and July.
D’Hooghe said: “I am sure the Qataris have the technical skill to organise a tournament where teams could play and train in a stable, acceptable temperature, but it's about the fans. They will need to travel from venue to venue and I think it's not a good idea for them to do that in temperatures of 47C or more.”
Football Federation Australia, which mounted an unsuccessful bid for the 2022 World Cup, said this week that it would seek compensation if the tournament was moved to the northern hemisphere winter, as it had applied on the basis that it would be held in June and July.
Fifa responded by stating that the FFA, and all other losing bidders, had accepted as part of the bidding process that, while the competition was expected to take place in June and/or July, the final decision on scheduling was at the discretion of the Fifa organising committee.