The country of Qatar has been preparing for the World Cup for a whole decade. Now, with the first games of the tournament just over 100 days away, and the intricate match schedule having been announced months ago, the tournament’s organisers have requested changes that would make the event start a day earlier so that the host nation can have a featured place in the opening game.
In previous years, the country that will be hosting the World Cup has made an appearance in the first match of the competition and has been the main attraction in the grandiose opening ceremony for the month-long event. But this year, in a departure with that tradition, the organisers took the unprecedented step of placing Qatar’s opening game as the third of four matches on a busy first day of competition on November 21. This was a busy day of competition for the first day of the tournament.
Now, the most senior officials of FIFA, the worldwide governing body of soccer as well as the organisation that is in charge of the World Cup, have been presented with a request to reschedule Qatar’s game to November 20. It will be up to those authorities, a body that comprises the presidents of soccer’s six global confederations as well as Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, to determine whether or not to provide their blessing.
It is not apparent why the event’s organisers and FIFA did not initially intend for Qatar to participate in the tournament’s opening game, which is a stage that has been designated for every tournament host since the World Cup was played in Germany in 2006. Prior to that time, it was traditional practise to provide the reigning champion the opportunity to start the competition first.
The proposed adjustment would affect not only the date of Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador, but also another match scheduled for the opening day of the tournament: Senegal’s game against the Netherlands, which would be moved out of its afternoon time slot and into an evening window. In addition, the proposed adjustment would change the date of Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador.
The planning for the World Cup in Qatar has been fraught with difficulties. In the end, FIFA was forced to move the event to the winter in the Northern Hemisphere because the searing summer temperatures in the Gulf were deemed to pose a potential health risk to players, officials, and the hundreds of thousands of fans who were expected to attend the tournament. This was a requirement placed on FIFA as a condition for awarding the hosting rights to Qatar.
Because of the transition, the soccer calendar has been thrown off, which has resulted in an unprecedented midseason break for the European league season as well as other contests throughout the globe. As a result of negotiations with clubs, who were furious about the disruptions to their league schedules and television contracts that lasted for several weeks, the tournament was played in fewer days (28) than any other event since it was expanded to 32 teams in 1998. This is a record for the tournament.
Concerns over Qatar’s preparedness to host the World Cup have been compounded by a surprise movement to move the first game to a another date. Already, spectators are expressing dissatisfaction with the limited availability of lodging options and the murky rules regarding the use of alcoholic beverages during the competition.
Should the request to move the opening match be granted, overseas ticket-holders who had planned to attend would be faced with the potential challenge of changing their travel plans and rebooking hotel rooms. Additionally, any players competing in European leagues — Ecuador sometimes has more than a dozen — would have one less day to travel and prepare for the match.
The idea has already raised concerns among those who have purchased tickets because of the modifications that are suggested, which would make it almost difficult for guests to attend certain combinations of games. Location in New York Martn Bauzá revealed to The Times that he had successfully purchased tickets for both the match between Senegal and the Netherlands and the United States opener against Wales. The fact that FIFA has moved Senegal’s game to a later time slot means that he will not be able to attend both games, since the second game will begin exactly one hour after the conclusion of the first.
Before making the suggestion, World Cup organisers said that they had conferred with Qatar as well as the soccer organisations of the two teams who would be negatively impacted by the move. The letter gave the impression that neither national team had an issue with the move.
Separately, a FIFA appeals committee is reviewing whether or not to grant Chile’s request to exclude Ecuador from the World Cup on allegations that Ecuador fielded an ineligible player. Chile’s request was made in response to charges that Ecuador had fielded an ineligible player. There are many Ecuadorean players that are located in Europe, and they will only have six days to prepare for the competition, which is less days than any other player in the World Cup.