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FIFA President Sepp Blatter expects his executive committee to decide soon on a switch that will shift the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to another season to avoid the searing summer heat.
Blatter told The Associated Press on Sunday that an Oct. 3-4 meeting in Zurich should approve the change, and begin consultation on the best time for Qatar to host the tournament.
“I would be very much surprised, more than surprised, if the ExCo will not accept the principle you cannot play in summer in Qatar,” Blatter said in an interview on the sidelines of the annual charity soccer tournament in his home village. “What will be following, this would be then decided later.”
Blatter said consultations would involve leagues, clubs, national associations and players, through their international union FIFPro, but he set no timetable.
Qatar’s suitability in June and July, when temperatures routinely rise above 104 degrees, was questioned even before FIFA’s board awarded it the tournament in December 2010. Qatar defeated bids from the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
However, the 2022 World Cup organizing committee has stated its confidence in developing stadium air-cooling technology, intended to reduce field-level temperatures to 81 degrees. Qatari officials also repeatedly said they will change plans if FIFA requested it.
Blatter and soccer’s governing body have gradually shifted their position from insisting that Qatar must ask for a change — a scenario interpreted as protecting FIFA against potential legal challenges. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told reporters in March that the governing body would not have prompted discussion about change without being sure of its legal position.
Now, some of the same FIFA board members who helped choose Qatar — in a decisive 14-8 vote over the U.S. — are set to switch the tournament calendar.
“Those that have taken the decision at the time, they knew there is problems with the heat. They knew it, because it was in the (technical) report,” Blatter said. “It was wrong to say, ‘Now we have to play in summer,’ because in summer you cannot play there.”
“Therefore the ExCo now shall take the decision — and they will take it — that in summer you can’t play in Qatar.”
Blatter has previously suggested November as a possible start for the monthlong tournament while recent speculation has focused on May. A January-February slot is unlikely because of a clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“What will be the ongoing situation with such a decision, we have to look on the international calendar,” Blatter said. “We have to look if and how it is possible, when we don’t play in summer, when is the best time to play in winter?”
The calendar is currently set through 2018, and the next round of discussions will look to the 2019-2022 cycle of seasons.
Wealthy European clubs and leagues, including the Premier League and Bundesliga, will likely be the biggest critics of any threat to schedule the 2022 World Cup during their traditional August-May season.
Blatter met Sunday with Michel Platini, the president of European soccer’s governing body. He will discuss FIFA business with his 54 member federations during mid-September meetings in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“He asked me to give him some items to be discussed there,” Blatter said of the “long” session with Platini, his one-time protege and potential rival for the FIFA presidency in 2015. Platini has confirmed he voted for Qatar, but supports a switch from summer.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati helped lead the American bid in 2010 and will now contribute to key decisions on Qatar’s hosting as a member of the FIFA executive committee since May.