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The Libero - Winter World Cup looms large

Published: 22 Dec 2010 - 09:33:36

The freezing temperatures which caused the postponement of virtually the entire Premier League programme last weekend proved exactly how little football is suited to extreme temperatures. With snow covering pitches up and down the country, it was too much even for the sophisticated under-soil heating systems of clubs like Chelsea, and all but three games were called off.

But it works both ways, and the chaos-inducing cold snap also served to highlight once again just how preposterous FIFA's decision to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was. Qatar is a country at the other end of the spectrum, one that experiences 50 degrees Celsius heat in the summer.

That's the time of year when 32 of the world's finest teams will be expected to play football. Of course, Qatar will be well prepared for the adverse weather, given that it comes along without fail every year (much like the couple of icy weeks that brings England to a standstill year in, year out - but a football blog is no place for a rant at a nation's total inability to prepare adequately for such almost inevitable eventualities).

Games in the Arab state will be played in sterile, air-conditioned, ultra-modern venues and no doubt the players will be whisked from hotel to training ground to stadium with barely a burning whiff of the searing heat at all. But that's not football.

Football has always been played outdoors where it is fair game for the elements. There was no rush indoors last weekend, into perfectly heated atmospheres and onto pseudo-turfed pitches. Football isn't supposed to be played indoors. It's supposed to be played outdoors. And when the elements are too harsh for the game to go ahead, it's called off.

It's safe to say that the elements at the height of summer in the desert would be inhospitable enough to call off a game if it were played outside, so why send the greatest tournament in the world there? Even Qataris desert their country during the summer months in search of cooler climes and tourists are urged to pay a visit at different times of the year.

So exactly how is - in environmental terms - Qatar conducive to playing host to a World Cup? Only FIFA know. Yet the small Gulf country was chosen to host the 2012 World Cup.

With the decision now set in stone, FIFPro, the players' union, is already looking at how best to limit the damage both to their members and the game itself. The organisation yesterday called for the tournament to be rescheduled for the winter months, which in theory seems like a sensible idea - far more sensible than giving the World Cup to Qatar in the first place.

With most European countries already taking a scheduled winter break, and the recent weather in England enforcing one of sorts, there is already space for an international tournament. The domestic season will have to be slightly elongated at either end, but nothing that will rock the boat too much. And the players are likely to find they are far fitter mid-season than at the end of a long, hard campaign.

The swathe of big-name withdrawals from last summer's tournament in South Africa was testament to the strain put on players' bodies by playing a World Cup at the end of the domestic season. Yet, it all still smacks of damage limitation; damage that could easily have been avoided.

There can be no doubt that FIFPro's proposal is the best way forward a this time, but whether Sepp Blatter and his cronies agree is quite another matter - FIFA's track record hardly inspires confidence that they will, finally, make the right decision.

FOLLOW THE LIBERO ON TWITTER @mike_hytner
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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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