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Is a winter World Cup feasible?

A typical World Cup is held in the summer between the previous season and the upcoming one. Instead of having months on end to lounge about an expensive, far away tropical paradise, the best of the best players jet off on a plane set to play for their country in the biggest tournament in the football world. This system works. The complex football calendar manages to fit domestic and international club cups as well as the top tier leagues allowing the World Cup to cause minimal disturbance.

That’s not the case for this year.

Hosted in Qatar, this year’s World Cup has been pushed to the winter. Why? Because the average Qatar summer sees temperatures of 40-50 degrees celsius. If this year’s World Cup had been hosted in Qatar, then all the players would have had the unforgettable experience of being roasted to a crisp. Not very interesting football might I say.

So, the World Cup had to be pushed to the wintertime, allowing the players and spectators to have a much more pleasant experience during the tournament. But the story doesn’t end there— the inability of Qatar to host a World Cup in November has had an enormous impact on the football year. All top tier domestic and international club tournaments have had to be suspended for the World Cup to go ahead because that is the only way players could compete.

This sounds like a simple enough solution, except in practice we are seeing that maybe winter World Cups haven’t happened before for a reason. In order to make way for this tournament, in the UK, the off season had to be cut short to make way for an earlier start of the premier league. Not only this but more midweek games needed to be hosted to make up for the month or so that the World Cup occupies mid-season. For clubs competing in European competitions like the Champions, Europa or Conference League they have found themselves playing a greater volume of matches in this shorter time to ensure the group stages are finished before the World Cup begins.

What this has meant is that players are finding themselves playing more games than usual before one of the most important competitions in their career. Not only is this a lot of effort, it’s also a fool-proof recipe for injury. Typically, players are accused of phoning it in in the run up to an international competition but this year there has been no room to do so because the system is rigged to overwork all the players.

Kante, Pogba, James, Chilwell, Fofana, Jota. Listing the players that have been ruled out of the World Cup due to injury, you can’t help but feel bad for those who have missed out. While injury is inevitable whether or not the World Cup is in winter, the system felt rigged against players, who, had the tournament been in summer, may have been able to compete.

However, some suggest criticism towards a winter tournament is wrong because it suggests that certain countries should be excluded from the World Cup. If winter World Cups are never repeated, then essentially all countries with extremely hot summers would never host large football tournaments. Countries like Kuwait, UAE, or Pakistan would be prevented from hosting it. For a sport that is labelled as being global, excluding certain countries seems counter-intuitive and unfair.

But surely arguing that excluding certain countries from hosting is unfair is actually unrealistic. Certain countries can’t host sporting events due to their environment and that’s been the way it is. Spain couldn’t host a winter Olympics, Greenland probably couldn’t host a summer one. Location and environments must be a dividing factor between hosting or not hosting. Perhaps if the hosting of football events was chosen on the basis of feasibility this winter’s wounded player situation could be avoided.

Image Credit: SpesBona/ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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