2022 WCup debate heats up, as Euro 2020 succeeds
While the 2022 World Cup in Qatar promises to embroil Michel Platini in many heated debates, the UEFA president's pet plan to host the 2020 European Championship across the continent appears a major popular success.
UEFA announced Friday that 32 of Platini's 54 member countries have proposed a total of 39 cities to stage the continental tournament. Just 13 countries will be chosen by the UEFA executive committee on Sept. 25, 2014.
Europe's soccer nations have clearly rallied behind what had appeared a radical plan when Platini announced it on the eve of the Euro 2012 final as a possible solution to spiralling costs for host nations and travelling fans.
They also gave unanimous backing this week for a Platini-led UEFA delegation to attend FIFA on Oct. 3-4 and support President Sepp Blatter's suggestion that his board should decide ''in principle'' that the World Cup cannot be played in the Qatari summer.
Still, that tournament is proving harder to unite European soccer more than eight years out from kickoff in the tiny desert emirate.
Taking a cautious approach Friday after a four-day gathering of European soccer leaders and power brokers, Platini said his UEFA member associations have not fully committed to moving the tournament dates in Qatar.
''In terms of the specifics, we don't know what's going to happen,'' Platini said, through a translator, of the FIFA meeting which has become the focus of an intensifying debate since Qatar's stunning World Cup success in December 2010. ''We haven't said that we agreed fully. What will happen, that's more complicated and it's hard to discuss.''
Platini, who opted for Qatar in the December 2010 vote, favors playing in winter and prefers a January slot.
Still, he acknowledged Friday that ''maybe it won't be possible down the line'' to change from summer.
Opinion in Europe is divided with Platini having to weigh opposition from the influential European clubs, leagues and players' unions.
They refused Thursday to agree any potential changes in Qatar's World Cup hosting plan before being included in detailed consultation with FIFA.
On Friday, Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said FIFA ''has to stand up'' for its original decision.
''They decided at the time of the vote that it would be Qatar and that they know as well we know that the World Cup is in the summer,'' Wenger said.
Amid growing uncertainty and confusion in Europe about FIFA and Blatter's intentions, organizers in Qatar still maintains their consistent stance they can host a successful tournament in June and July using air-cooling technology to create comfortable conditions for players.
It's the fate of everyone else outside stadiums that concerned European football leaders this week.
''It's a complicated discussion, let's let Mr. Blatter carry out that discussion,'' said Platini, insisting the whole issue was ''FIFA's problem.''
Platini appeared to show some frustration with Blatter, who this week repeated an old claim that his former protege was influenced by French political and trade interests to support Qatar, which defeated the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea to secure the 2022 tournament.
''With the extraordinary experience Mr. Blatter has, he has only all of a sudden realized there are economic and political influences when we decide who is going to host Olympic Games and so forth,'' Platini said. ''It's better late than never, I guess.''
Their public sparring has increased ahead of the next FIFA presidential election in May 2015.
Platini addressed his expected candidacy Tuesday, telling UEFA members he would wait until the World Cup in Brazil. Blatter could use the eve-of-tournament FIFA Congress to announce if he will seek a fifth term. He would be 79 on election day.
''It really doesn't worry me,'' Platini said. ''I feel very relaxed and happy with UEFA. I feel very much at home here, and I'm seeing how things develop slowly. There's a lot of time.''
Seven years from Euro 2020, the response from Platini's European voters exceeded expectations.
Spain put forward four cities, including Barcelona and Madrid, though only two can be included in a formal bid next April. Italy, Poland, Portugal and Ukraine proposed two cities though UEFA will select only one per country.
One city will host the final and both semifinals, with Istanbul the likely favorite after Turkey was edged by Platini's France to host Euro 2016. Twelve cities will each host three group matches and one knockout match.
UEFA has said the project should include new hosts, and applicants include Armenia (Yerevan), Azerbaijan (Baku), Belarus (Minsk) and Israel (Jersualem) alongside expected bidders England and Germany.
''It's an excellent piece of news and this shows that the idea was a good one,'' Platini said.
Judgment on Qatar could take longer.