By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - At least 50 soccer leagues around the world would be adversely affected if the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was held in November and December, the official who originally warned against holding the World Cup there has told Reuters.
The leagues would be slightly less disrupted if it was held in January and February but other complications make that difficult, says Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of FIFA's technical investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which ranked Qatar the highest risk for 2022.
Mayne-Nicholls, a former president of the Chilean FA, says another possible window to stage the tournament exists in May and June 2022 but warns there are problems whatever date is finally chosen by FIFA.
He informed FIFA of the dangers of holding the World Cup in Qatar because of the intense summer heat in the Gulf which can be as high as 50C in June and July, the traditional staging dates.
He has since done further analysis on the dilemma facing FIFA, whose secretary-general Jerome Valcke said in November that a winter World Cup in either January and February 2022 or November and December was FIFA's preferred option.
"Given that FIFA's Medical Commission has already determined it is unsafe to play in the traditional window of June and July, there are three alternatives," he says now.
"Hosting the tournament in November and December but, since Christmas is generally celebrated across much of the globe, it is logical that World Cup must be concluded no later than Thursday, December 22.
"As the tournament lasts 31 days, this means it should start on Tuesday, November 22.
"And taking into consideration a minimum of 15 days for the preparation of the participating teams, it means that leagues across the world must stop their activity on November 6 so players can be released to prepare and then play with their national teams.
"This presents a dilemma. At the last two World Cup finals, players from 52 different leagues participated in South Africa and 51 different leagues in Brazil. Of these, only Canada does not play any matches in November.
"Obviously, to opt for these dates will have an adverse affect and disrupt at least 50 leagues."
Mayne-Nicholls says the second option of playing in January and February would affect countries like England, Spain, Italy and some countries in the southern hemisphere.
The European Club Association and the Association of European Professional Football Leagues have both suggested playing either in April/May or May/June.
Yet Mayne-Nicholls points out that April is unworkable because the holy Muslim month of Ramadan falls in April and early May in 2022 when eating and drinking in daylight hours in public are banned in Qatar. The heat is also a major problem at that time.
FIFA is set to make a final decision in March, with Mayne-Nicholls pointing out that even a winter World Cup will be far from problem-free.
"The tradition of playing over the festive period in England, for example, is deeply embedded in their soccer culture.
The British tradition of playing on Boxing Day (Sunday December 26, 2021) and on New Year's Day (Saturday 2022) could see an exception made to the rule regarding the release of playing on the eve of a major tournament.
"A solution, allowing the British to keep alive a popular tradition, would be for players from British clubs who have been selected for the World Cup to be allowed to stay at their clubs until January 2 before joining up with their national squads for a World Cup beginning on January 13.
"England, if they qualify, obviously should not play in the first five days.
"But around this time there are also other timing difficulties like a clash with the Olympic Winter Games (set for February and March 2022) and the Super Bowl (February) in the United States.
"The third alternative is to start the World Cup finals on May 5, 2022 -- it is impossible to be held in April because of Ramadan -- and end on June 5.
"To do this, there would need to be adjustment and proper planning of the schedules of the many leagues that would be affected for the seasons 2020-21 and 2021-22. European leagues would have to end early in 2022, by April 17.
"In this alternative the problem is still the high temperatures. Last year, during the same dates, the minimum was 25C on May 7 and maximum of 48C on May 28.
"If FIFA decide to play in May and June, the Qataris must ensure their stadiums, pitch and grandstands, are refrigerated, as they promised, without using fossil fuels.
"With time and proper planning, a solution can be found, but after four years, FIFA have yet to figure out a plan."
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ian Chadband)