By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - The 2022 Winter Olympics may have to move from its traditional January and February dates to accommodate the World Cup finals being staged in Qatar, leading European soccer clubs' official Umberto Gandini said on Wednesday.
Gandini, vice-chairman of the European Club Association of Europe's top 200-plus clubs and Director of Sport at AC Milan, told delegates at the Leaders In Sport summit at Stamford Bridge that the World Cup should take precedence over the Winter Games.
"Not to be controversial, but the World Cup is one of the major events in the sports landscape with the Summer Olympics," he said. "But the Winter Olympics, with all due respect, are not up there," said Gandini.
"When you have such a huge event like the World Cup, and you have to move it from its summer window, don’t tell me it’s not possible to find a solution and move the Winter Olympics a bit so they don't clash -- especially now where the Winter Olympics are still under the bidding process and there are only two candidates (Beijing and Almaty).
"With wisdom and debate it is possible to achieve a solution which will satisfy the majority."
FIFA awarded the 2022 finals to Qatar in 2010 and since then the question of when they would be played has been an issue for debate. FIFA agreed in principle earlier this year that matches could not be played in the searing heat of the Gulf summer.
World soccer's governing body, whose president Sepp Blatter is also on the International Olympic Committee, has set up a task force under Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Shaikh Salman of Bahrain and FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke, which met for the first time last month.
Gandini, on a panel at the Leaders summit with ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said 76 percent of players at the last two World Cups were contracted to ECA clubs and whatever decision is eventually taken about the 2022 World Cup would "need the goodwill of the ECA".
Rummenigge, the chief executive of German champions Bayern Munich, added: "The first thing we must recognize is that FIFA's decision was based on holding the World Cup in the summer of 2022.
"If there is now a strong wish for the stakeholders, FIFA, UEFA, FIFPro, and so on, to want to change, we are ready to discuss under one condition -- that there is no damage for club football (soccer), because if we change from summer to November or January then it will affect our business, our calendar.
"And we are not ready to pay such a bill. That cost cannot be paid for by the clubs. We are not ready to pay it and it has to be made clear to FIFA that they need the goodwill of the clubs or we are not ready to talk or discuss it."
On Tuesday Sebastian Coe, vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and chairman of the British Olympic Association, suggested governing bodies must have more contact to avoid conflicting schedules. "We are going to have to have a global conversation that looks at the global sporting calendar," Coe told delegates at a sports security conference in London.
"You cannot be left by powerhouse sporting organizations who say that under no circumstances can you stage your sporting event at this time of this year. "It may be better to be more flexible around the bidding process and say we don’t want to stop countries that have climatic challenges in the summer months from staging sport. "That way you give the rest of the world of sport some notice in order to change their schedule."
(Editing by Steve Tongue)