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Commentary: 2022 Qatar World Cup decision raises questions about FIFA leadership

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke (right) shows Germany's name during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw Dec. 6 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil. Courtesy of MCT

FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke (right) shows Germany’s name during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw Dec. 6 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.
Courtesy of MCT

Still weathering the blowback of its 2010 decision to select Qatar as the host nation of 2022’s World Cup, FIFA’s Executive Committee is off to a rocky start once again this year.

Secretary General Jerome Valcke said in a France Info radio interview Wednesday the FIFA World Cup would not take place during the summer months of 2022.

This appeared at first to simply corroborate — but also expand upon — a September 2013 statement by President Sepp Blatter that cited the danger that extremely hot temperatures in the Middle East in June and July would pose to player and fan safety alike.

The only difference was that Blatter said the Executive Committee would wait until the completion of this year’s World Cup in Brazil before formally adjudicating the logistics of 2022’s event.

Widely regarded as Blatter’s de facto second-in-command, Valcke has managed with one passing comment to call into question his boss’ ability to lead and control the Committee. Contradicting his superior now gives shape to the perception that the 26-member team doesn’t know how to tightly regulate its public relations activities.

More to the point, the situation makes one wonder how capable the organization, as a whole, really is.

One of seven vice-presidents on the Committee, Jim Boyce said he was “completely shocked” in a statement to Sky Sports News after hearing of Valcke’s commentary, a clear indication the members are not on the same page.

How can FIFA be expected to properly organize and run a quadrennial international soccer competition worth billions of dollars in revenue when its own leaders can’t even agree in the spotlight?

The miscommunication might not seem like a big deal upon initial consideration. Since FIFA has publicly stated it won’t be changing the host country to mollify critics of the 2010 decision, the only real option involves the formality of voting to move the tournament dates to the wintertime.

But Valcke’s conversational delivery of the comments could prove more damaging than the actual content of what he said. Operating in an official capacity on record, he should have refused to discuss the tentative date changes on-air in order to show consistency with his boss’ decree that a ruling would wait until after a champion is crowned in Brazil.

Valcke’s undisciplined statement reflects poorly on the interpersonal communication (or lack thereof) taking place within FIFA and between its top personnel.

Undermining Blatter’s authority like this proclamation does — a proclamation that was neither sanctioned nor collectively agreed upon by the Committee that has yet to deliberate on the matter — makes FIFA look like it has a long way to go before any sort of positive reputation is restored.

The World Cup in Qatar is still eight years away. But building the facilities and infrastructure to support a colossal sporting and cultural event takes time. So does working out deals with corporate partners and figuring out scheduling breaks in seasons of professional soccer leagues worldwide to allow players to compete for their countries.

For an event of this magnitude, it seems jarringly reactive of the Executive Committee to not have anticipated all the logistical difficulties that could come with holding the 2022 World Cup during a less traditional time of year.

FIFA’s leadership should be able to make these sorts of judgment calls long before mishandling their dissemination like Valcke did today.

It’s an understatement that this is not exactly the professional impression soccer fans might hope to get from the brass of a federation responsible for managing the affairs of the world’s most lucrative and popular sport.

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