Qatar had 12 years to plan for the World Cup. Now, with the first games of the tournament just over 100 days away and the complicated match schedule announced months agoorganizers asked for changes that would have made the event start a day earlier so that the host nation could have a prominent place in the opening game.
In recent years, the host nation of the World Cup has appeared in the first match of the tournament, as a headliner in the elaborate opening ceremony of the month-long event. But this year, in a break with that tradition, organizers have taken the unusual step of scheduling Qatar’s first match as the third of four matches on a busy first day of competition on November 21.
Now a proposal to move the Qatar game to November 20 has been sent to the most senior officials of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body and the organizer of the World Cup. Those officials, a group that includes the leaders of the six global soccer confederations and the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, will decide whether to approve it.
It is unclear why organizers – and FIFA – did not originally plan for Qatar to play in the opening game of the tournament, a stage reserved for every tournament host since the World Cup was staged in Germany in 2006. Before then, the defending champion was usually conceded. the honor of opening the tournament.
“It is a long-standing tradition to mark the start of the FIFA World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match with the hosts or the defending champions, a factor that is considered to be of great value from a ceremonial, cultural and commercial point of view,” FIFA wrote in a letter to members of the bureau, which was reviewed by The New York Times.
In addition to changing the date of Qatar’s opening match against Ecuador, the proposed adjustment would affect another match set for the opening day of the tournament: Senegal’s game against the Netherlands, which would be moved out of its afternoon time slot into an evening window.
Planning for the Qatar World Cup was inconsistent. Awarding the hosting rights to Qatar later required FIFA to move the event to the Northern Hemisphere winter as the scorching summer temperatures in the Gulf were deemed a potential health risk to players, officials and the hundreds of thousands of fans expected at the tournament.
The switch overturned the football calendar, leading to an unprecedented mid-season disruption to the Europa League season and other competitions around the world. Negotiations with clubs – furious about the weekly disruptions to their league schedules and television contracts – have resulted in the tournament being played in fewer days (28) than any other event since it was expanded to 32 teams in 1998.
“As the tournament approaches, the FIFA administration is now fully aware of the various sporting, operational, commercial and legal implications of this uniquely compressed schedule,” FIFA wrote in its letter.
FIFA told officials it would like them to approve the change by Thursday evening European time.
The sudden push to change the date of the opening game only added to concerns about Qatar’s readiness to stage the World Cup. Already fans are complaining about a lack of accommodation and a lack of clarity about the consumption of alcohol during the tournament.
If the change from the opening match is approved, foreign ticket holders who planned to attend would face the potential challenge of changing their travel plans and rebooking hotel rooms, and any players competing in European leagues – Ecuador sometimes has more than a dozen. – would have one less day to travel and prepare.
The plan has already caused concern among ticket holders, with the proposed changes making some combinations of games almost impossible for visitors to attend. New York-based Martín Bauzá told The Times that he had secured tickets for the game between Senegal and the Netherlands and the US opener with Wales later that day. FIFA moving Senegal’s game to the later slot means he would not be able to attend both games, with the second leg kicking off an hour after the first ends.
“I bought Senegal/Netherlands specifically because of the time difference between matches and according to the regular FIFA tickets which require 4 hours between matches (ie cannot buy tickets for back to back matches) which is now the scenario I will have to . to deal with,” Bauzá said in a message.
World Cup organizers said they consulted with Qatar and the football associations of the two affected teams before proposing the change. Its letter suggested that neither national team objected to the change.
Separately, a FIFA appeals committee is considering an appeal by Chile to throw Ecuador out of the World Cup over allegations that Ecuador fielded an ineligible player. Several Ecuadorian players based in Europe would have only six days to prepare for the tournament, less than some others involved in the World Cup.
“The FIFA administration has assessed the commercial and legal implications of the proposal – including the impact on contractual obligations across media rights, sponsorship and ticketing and hospitality – as well as the impact on traveling fans, and has determined that any risk is sufficiently outweighed. by the value and benefits of the proposals,” FIFA said in the letter.