The whole business of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and when it should be held, has again emphasised why sport, more than any other business, must make sure that it arrives at its decisions after very careful deliberation. Now you may say surely that is true of everything we do. Yes. But sport faces a problem no other business, indeed activity, does. This is that by its very nature people who follow sport tend to make instinctive judgements.
That is wholly understandable for a spectator. After all a fan who does not rejoice when his team wins, or feels devastated when it loses, is missing out on much of the magic and wonder of sport. You could say he is not much of a fan. One of the joys of sport, particularly team sport, is that you instantly become part of a wider family when you are watching that particular sport. You may never send fellow supporters a Christmas card, or even know their names, but during a match you can high five them, even hug them when your team wins or communally hang your heads in shame, even shed tears, when your team loses.
And love of sport can override political arguments in a way nothing else does. Witness what happened in the Ryder Cup. You do not have to be a devoted listener of the Today programme, or follow every news broadcast, to know that Britain’s membership of Europe is the most contentious issue in our politics. But as Europe faced up to the US in Gleneagles even Nigel Farage, who cannot think of a good word to say about Europe, declared that he would support Europe.
While my support for Tottenham Hotspur and Surrey cricket club predates attachments to buying my socks, shirts, trousers and underwear from Marks and Spenser and food from Tesco’s my support for these retail outlets also goes back a long time. But in recent times as the service provided by M & S and Tesco’s has deteriorated I have happily shopped at other stores without any qualms. Indeed as far as Tesco is concerned I have recently switched back to Sainsbury’s which I used to frequent when I was a student.
And in all these years the various changes in the management level of these companies has never made me want to protest outside their head offices declaring my love for a sacked chief executive or chairman. In sharp contrast that is something I have been tempted to do when Tottenham have sacked a manager or transferred a player I held in high esteem. Early in our marriage my wife suggested that given the struggles of Tottenham I should switch to Arsenal and I had to tell her it was easier to change partners then football clubs.
Against this background those who run sport have a special responsibility. This is to make sure that when they make decisions they have exercised judgement that can withstand the emotion and instinctive reactions that sport generates. So for instance this season it is clear that the West Ham board were wise to ignore insistent fan demands that Sam Allardyce be sacked. The classic case of such board judgment was back in 1989 when Martin Edwards, then Manchester United chairman and his board, resisted strong pressure to sack Alex Ferguson. I have a vivid memory of some fans trying to invade the United board room and assault Edwards on the night Tottenham beat United 3-0 in the League Cup. Edwards withstood the pressure. He could have become instantly popular had he sacked Ferguson and how football history would have been rewritten. No Sir Alex, no United dominating the Premier League for twenty years and no Ferguson in demand in corporate boardrooms to teach management skills to the bosses of our major businesses.
But such cool judgements are rare in sport and this brings me back to Qatar 2022, which like a bad penny, keeps bouncing back. It still remains astonishing that when in 2010 the FIFA executive took this decision they did not consider the implications of such a momentous step. I am not talking of the numerous allegations that have been made about how Qatar won. Qatar insist they did everything above board and we have had no evidence they did not.
What is revealing is that one of the men who voted for Qatar, UEFA President Michel Platini, actually told Qatar even before the vote that they will have to host the competition in winter. They why did he vote for a summer World Cup? And now Franz Beckenbaeur who was also then an executive member and took part in the vote, although he will not tell us how he voted, has said the Qatar World Cup should be held in winter.
Not everyone in Europe agrees and the latest rumpus has come because the European Club Association have said a winter world cup will cause too much turmoil in European club football and the 2022 Qatar World Cup should be held in April-May. But that is bang in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. This has a dramatic effect on the devout, no eating, drinking or smoking during the daylight hours, then eating at night. This tends to mean that many sleep during the day. In Qatar this will also affect the non-Muslims as they will have to be discreet when in public they want to eat or drink. And a World Cup will see many non-Muslims come to Qatar. How will they cope? How will English fans manage to survive without being able to drink publicly? How will teams train?
People who know the Middle East well say that during Ramadan the whole place basically just shuts down and nothing sensible can be transacted. It is as if the region is jet lagged. The journalist Nigel Dudley, who has reported on the Middle East, for 35 years says; “During this period it is well known that you avoid the region. In essence what happens is people fast during the day and party at night and then Ramadan is followed by the festival of Eid, the first day of which is a big religious festival, and again a period when the process of business is much slower.” A football World Cup requires tremendous organisation so how can it be done during this period?
Now the ECA say they are aware of Ramadan but they have put forward the proposal and will wait to see what the Qatari and others say. But this seems a daft way of doing business. In business you carefully study how a proposal will work before suggesting it. Otherwise you are behaving like a fan who reacts to every event instinctively aware that should the situation change his reaction will change. You cannot run a business like that. Football administrators’ failure to realise that has landed us in the mess that Qatar 2022 is proving to be. The way ECA has gone about its proposal has only added to the mess not solved anything.