Johannesburg: The Premier League was close to an agreement, it emerged on Tuesday night, for the 2022 World Cup to be switched to November and December, according to Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke.
Valcke, who is leading the review into whether the tournament in Qatar should be moved to the winter, confirmed that — barring unforeseen circumstances — it would be played at the end of 2022. And he revealed that his review had begun with a meeting with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore and Football Association general secretary Alex Horne last month. “I can tell you that, with the Premier League, we are close to an understanding,” said Valcke, who insisted that a spring World Cup was “impossible” after Fifa president Sepp Blatter also ruled out a January-February tournament.
Valcke revealed that the FA and Premier League were determined to preserve English football’s traditional Christmas programme. He told The Daily Telegraph: “That was part of the discussion, that we have to protect your specific period, which is Boxing Day and these very specific 10 days, which are part of the history of English football.”
Valcke also explained for the first time the process involved in his review, which will see him visit all Fifa’s major stakeholders affected by any switch. Only once these visits are complete will those involved meet, probably around September, to thrash out the international calendar. “There are a number of things still to work on but the final goal is to try to have either in December 2014 or, at the latest, in March 2015, a final decision,” he said.
Valcke admitted that one of his biggest headaches would be the 2023 African Cup of Nations, which would normally begin in January of that year. “Does it make sense to have the African Cup of Nations three weeks after the World Cup? Is it not too much with regards of the release of players?”
He also highlighted the problem of winning over US networks, which have signed broadcast deals for the 2022 World Cup. A November-December tournament could also be problematic for the BBC and ITV, who usually schedule their flagship entertainment programmes during that period. ITV could also lose out on additional advertising revenue it would normally expect in a World Cup summer.
Fifa, meanwhile, said last night that it would “welcome” a BT bid for 2018 and 2022 World Cup rights following the broadcaster’s £900 million (Dh5.26 billion) Champions League acquisition.
Sports rights holders have been licking their lips since BT blew BSkyB and ITV out of the water to secure exclusive coverage of European club football between 2015-18 on Saturday. Unlike Sky, BT has shown a serious appetite to showcase some of its football content on freeview since entering the market, a policy it will continue with the Champions League and Europa League. Because the World Cup is a listed event, it would have to make a similar commitment for any matches it acquired at the expense of the BBC and ITV. And it would need to do so almost immediately, with Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke revealing negotiations with English broadcasters over the 2018 and 2022 tournaments would take place between now and next summer.
Asked if he would welcome a bid from BT, he told the Telegraph: “We will have a tender process for the UK market and we will talk with the different broadcasters who have the potential to acquire from Fifa the rights. “It will be open and whoever reaches the requirements and obligation based on these 64 games being listed in England, welcome.”
Valcke admitted that more bidders for the tournament would increase the value of the rights. “In a country where you have more than one player, the value of your rights just goes up because you have competition between people who have the same wish, to get this content to bring value to their channels. What has happened with the Champions League and BT, I’m sure was well appreciated by UEFA, definitely well-appreciated by the clubs, because it means more money for the clubs.”
Fifa has repeatedly failed to repeal UK legislation banning the World Cup being shown on pay-TV. BT Sport, which is looking to fill a void in its summer schedule, declined to comment on whether a World Cup bid would make business sense for the new network.