For the first time in its history, the FIFA World Cup is set to be held in a country in the Middle East; the 2022 tournament will be held in Qatar. The federation’s awarding the bid to Qatar was seen by many as bold and forward-thinking– as Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, pointed out, “It was time to go to the Arabic world”, as soccer is a game played “not only in Europe, but around the world.” If we’re operating under the idea that soccer is the true lingua franca, we should act like it. But symbolic changes bring with them technical ones as well; there are distinct differences between a global tournament being held in Qatar and one held in Switzerland, the most glaring (sorry) of which would be the heat. The summertime temperatures in Qatar often reach 120 degrees; it poses a very real safety risk to the players to force them to play through such conditions. And so a number of a FIFA officials, headed by Blatter, have floated the idea of a November-December Cup, when the weather would be all but ideal with a range between the mid 60’s and 80’s.
Yet Blatter is facing substantial opposition, primarily from critics who object to the scheduling conflicts such a move would create. Shifting the Cup from the summer to the early winter would mean changed TV schedules, professional schedules; in other words, a shift could threaten profits for the television networks (namely Fox and Telemundo, who’ve paid a combined 1 billion USD for the rights), the clubs, and the players as well. All for a competition which, for all the bragging rights winning confers, is not as financially profitable as typical club play. There’s mumbling about contradicting tradition as well, but that argument has less ultimate validity when you juxtapose it with the image of strikers fainting like schoolgirls on the pitch.
And yet in all the objections raised, it seems the wellbeing of the players has been completely lost in the shuffle. Sports is a business like any other– but like any other business, neglecting workers is both morally reprehensible and ultimately counterproductive. Assuring that a club’s best players are only barely recovered from heatstroke before beginning their regularly scheduled season doesn’t much help their bottom line.
This is hardly a problem unique to soccer; you need only look to the NFL’s most recent settled class action on the TBI’s of thousands of its players, or Joe Nocera’s columns on the abuse of NCAA athletes , to know that treating players like chattel is a sports-wide problem, an odd contrast with the immense monetary value our society tends to accord them. Hopefully, in this small instance at least, the incidental fact that soccer players happen to be human won’t be forgotten.