A top FIFA executive committee official expressed belief this week that Qatar “will not host” the 2022 World Cup thanks to the country’s sweltering summer conditions that could threaten the health and safety of fans and players at the event.
“I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar,” Theo Zwanziger, the former head of the German football association and current member of FIFA’s executive committee, told the German newspaper Bild. “Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions.”
“Fans from around the world will be coming and travelling in this heat and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor,” Zwanziger continued. “That is not something that Fifa Exco members want to answer for.”
Concerns over the summer heat have caused FIFA to explore whether the World Cup could be played in the winter months, and though that idea now has the backing of European federations, Australia, which finished fifth in bidding on the 2022 Cup, has considered legal action if the Cup is moved to winter.
Along with the heat, the Qatar’s World Cup has faced criticism over allegations that FIFA officials accepted bribes to vote in the country’s favor. FIFA has launched an internal investigation into the allegations.
International labor organizations have also slammed the nation’s labor policies, which they liken to “modern-day slavery.” The International Trade Union Confederation, in a report released earlier this year, estimated that as many as 4,000 workers could die on World Cup-related projects due to Qatar’s heat and lack of labor protections. The country has since announced reforms to its labor system and laws, though international groups remain skeptical. Qatar has also drawn opposition over anti-gay laws and other human rights concerns.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has admitted that giving the World Cup to Qatar was “a mistake,” and British members of Parliament and U.S. senators have called for boycotts and a relocation of the tournament. But despite the criticism, concerns, and Zwanziger’s personal opinion, there remains little indication that the organization is exploring a move away from Qatar. The investigation into bribery and corruption allegations around both Qatar and Russia, the 2018 host, will not be made public, and both FIFA and U.S. Soccer have refuted reports that it asked the United States and other countries involved in 2022 bidding to prepare new bids in case it decides to abandon Qatar. Zwanziger’s opinion, meanwhile, is not backed by the German federation or FIFA’s full executive committee, and FIFA gave it little credence.
“He is expressing a personal opinion and he explicitly says so,” a FIFA spokesperson said. “We will not comment on a personal opinion.”
So for now, at least, it seems Qatar still has a firm grasp on the 2022 World Cup, which it plans to spend as much as $200 billion to host. Still, even if Zwanziger’s opinion doesn’t mark a major sea change at FIFA, the heat, human rights issues, and corruption allegations will remain focal points of opposition that won’t go away any time soon.