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Sports

Blatter yields to call for winter World Cup in Qatar

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will only be possible if it is played in the winter. Blatter had previously been skeptical about rescheduling the traditional summer tournament.

The FIFA president said on Wednesday that he would ask FIFA's executive committee to change the timing of the tournament to winter. Blatter cited the sweltering heat in Qatar, a point brought up at length when the tiny country controversially won the rights to the competition in 2010, as the reason for the switch.

"The World Cup can only take place in the winter;" said Blatter at a press conference in Austria. Ahead of being awarded the tournament, Qatar said it would be able to stage football matches in air conditioned stadiums.

However, Blatter said FIFA had not taken into account the broader picture, adding that the organization also had a duty of care to those outside the stadiums.

"If this World Cup is to become a party for the people, you can't play football in the summer. You can cool down the stadiums but you can't cool down the whole country and you can't simply cool down the ambience of a World Cup."

Room for maneuver

Temperatures in the summer in Qatar can hover as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

While Blatter admitted that moving the tournament forward would pose a scheduling headache for Europe's major leagues, he said it was not too late to adapt. He said he would raise the matter with the executive committee when it next meets in October.

"We still have enough time. I will talk about it with the executive committee," he said. "The committee will most certainly follow my proposal," he said.

European club teams, where the majority of World Cup participants ply their trade, are not likely to be impressed. Most European leagues play through the winter and, despite the presence of a short break around Christmas in several countries, no leagues stop for the minimum of six weeks required to allow international teams to prepare for and play in a World Cup.

Change of heart

In making the statement, Blatter was signaling for the first time that he would personally take steps to have the tournament rescheduled. Despite originally stating he was opposed to such a change, he has more recently voiced doubts that a summer tournament would be possible.

In May, Blatter told a French newspaper it would not be "rational and reasonable to" stage the first World Cup ever in the Middle East during the summer. However, he also stopped short of advocating a winter tournament.

Blatter has previously insisted that the tournament should take place in June and July 2022. However, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said that the executive committee might move the dates on the grounds of medical advice.

UEFA President Michel Platini - seen as a potential successor to Blatter - has long been an advocate of the Qatar World Cup being staged in winter.

rc/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)