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  12 Aug 2022, 16:58

Surprise date-change overshadows World Cup 100-day countdown

 DOHA, Aug 12, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - FIFA and Qatar organisers on Friday counted 
the cost of bringing forward the start of the World Cup by a day as they 
launched the 100-day countdown to the event.

Football's ruling body and the wealthy Gulf state both promised action to 
help fans, sponsors and broadcasters hit by the change, announced late 
Thursday, but did not give details.

The sudden move to bring forward Qatar's match against Ecuador by 24 hours -- 
to make it the gala opening match -- has only added to the public relations 
concerns as the conservative host country counters criticism of its rights 
record and fan worries about what to expect when they arrive.

"It is less than three months from the start. This has come out of the blue. 
It is not critical but it is a headache," said an executive for one World Cup 
broadcaster, speaking on condition of anonymity.

FIFA said its president Gianni Infantino and the six heads of the continental 
confederations had unanimously agreed to make Qatar's game and the official 
opening ceremony a "stand-alone" event. 

"The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking 
the start of the World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the 
first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions," FIFA said 
in a statement.

Under the old schedule, Qatar against Ecuador was to be the official 
inauguration match on the evening of November 21 but Senegal against 
Netherlands would have been the first match of the day, followed England 
against Iran.

- 'Case by case' help –

Under the new plan, the Group A game between Senegal and the Netherlands has 
been shifted from 1:00pm (1000 GMT) on November 21 to 7:00pm start.
FIFA said tickets for the affected matches "will remain valid irrespective of 
the new date/time."

It added: "In addition, FIFA will seek to address any issues arising from 
this change in a case-by-case basis."

Qatari organisers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event 
since winning hosting rights in 2010, welcomed FIFA's gesture for their 
"once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to host the event.
"The impact of this decision on fans was assessed by FIFA. We will work 
together to ensure a smooth tournament for the supporters affected by the 
change," organisers added in a statement, without giving details.

Some Ecuador fans may have to change flights to arrive in Qatar earlier and 
football sources said the date switch could force changes to World Cup 
commercial contracts.

Ricardo Fort, a sports industry consultant and former head of sports 
marketing for Coca Cola -- a major FIFA backer -- said the date change would 
be "a huge problem for sponsors".

"They invited and confirmed hospitality guests, booked flights and hotels, 
and contracted with all the necessary logistics. Imagine changing it all!" 
Fort wrote on Twitter.

But some companies linked to the tournament, the first World Cup in an Arab 
country, expressed confidence that any disruption would be overcome.
"It is something we will deal with," said Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match 
Hospitality, which has a contract with FIFA to organise hospitality packages 
for World Cup matches and has locked in 450,000 tickets for the tournament.

"It is really not -- compared to the other challenges that we could have 
faced or have faced in the past -- a particularly large problem," Byrom told 
AFP.

"In this case we will be looking at our Ecuadorian customers who are 
travelling from overseas, and making sure that they are on time for the 
match."

Official countdown clocks for the event were quickly changed and 100-day 
events were hastily moved from Saturday to Friday.

FIFA has already made significant accommodations to Qatar, moving the 
tournament to the winter months for the first time to avoid Qatar's searing 
heat.

The massive preparations have also put the spotlight on Qatar's treatment of 
migrant workers and rights for LGBTQ visitors. Homosexuality is illegal, 
while alcohol is severely restricted in the Muslim state. 

However, Infantino has insisted it will be the "best-ever" World Cup.

 


 

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