Thursday, January 16, 2014

FIFA, Qatar, and the 2022 World Cup: Legal Troubles Ahead?

Here’s a question for all you soccer/sports law fans:

Will the 2022 Qatar World Cup
be a winter Cup?

If FIFA moves the 2022 Qatar games to November or December, instead of holding it in its traditional months of June and July, who could sue and on what grounds?

The background: Qatar submitted a bid to hold the World Cup back in 2010. One of FIFA’s significant concerns when it was evaluating the bid (see page 34 of the linked PDF) was the weather in Qatar in June and July, which can reach temperatures in excess of 120°F. Qatar apparently assuaged those concerns by proposing an innovative cooling system that would encompass stadiums, training sites, and fan zones; by grouping stadiums close together; and by developing an extensive transportation network that would both minimize the time spent outside and ensure that all outdoor sidewalks were shaded. FIFA awarded the bid to Qatar in late 2010 and Qatar moved forward with preparations.
The proposed Doha Port Stadium 
Back in September of 2013, FIFA president Sepp Blatter indicated that FIFA was considering moving the 2022 World Cup to November or December so as to avoid the potentially dangerous summertime heat in Qatar. In October, FIFA’s executive committee met, allegedly to vote on whether to switch the World Cup to the winter. The only result of the meeting, however, was the news that a decision would likely not be made until after the 2014 World Cup.

The controversy appeared to have died until Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, reignited it when he told French radio last week that the Cup would be moved to November or December. FIFA immediately issued a statement that the views were Valcke alone; and FIFA’s vice-president emphatically stated that FIFA had yet to make a final decision regarding the dates of the Cup.

So who could sue if FIFA does decide to go through with changing the dates of the 2022 Cup?

Fox Sports (Fox's 24 hour sport channel)
CEO David Hill
Fox:  Fox spent a significant sum of money for the broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup; figures range up to $1 billion, with a solid $425 million tossed around as a figure for the U.S. rights alone. Fox has asserted that its contract with FIFA is for the broadcast rights to a summer 2022 World Cup and that its price would have been significantly different had it known that the Cup was going to be held in the winter.  Consider the timing in the United States: November and December is prime time for college sports, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, etc. June and July have a relative dearth of sports to distract viewers from the World Cup. Neither Fox nor FIFA have released the details of the broadcasting contract, which would dictate whether Fox could sue FIFA and/or Qatar for breach of contract. Fox may also try to renegotiate the contract price, claiming reduction in expected revenues from a winter Cup as opposed to a summer Cup.

Soccer players:  
Will players prefer a winter Cup?
Most soccer league seasons (with the exception of the United States) start in the fall and end in the spring. Holding a World Cup in November or December would disrupt those schedules, could mess with the timing of player contracts, and may wreak havoc on leagues that could take years to sort out. Wilder predictions of the consequences of a winter 2022 World Cup include the end of international soccer, the creation of a super league outside the auspices of FIFA, or the only chance for England to actually win a World Cup. As far as getting any traction on a legal claim, it is doubtful that any of the players have a significant enough interest in the timing of the Cup to overcome a 12(b)(6) motion or its foreign equivalent.

Countries that lost the bid for the 2022 Cup: The group of countries that bid for the 2022 World Cup (which includes the United States, Russia, and South Korea) and lost to Qatar may also have a claim against Qatar or FIFA. The losing bidders protest the change on the grounds that they submitted their bids on the premise that the Cup would be held in the summer. Australia in particular has vocalized its concerns about the legal and financial consequences of moving the Cup to the winter, 
Australia's bid loss was a great disappointment.
even to the point of asking FIFA to compensate Australia for the costs of its bid and threatening to sue if FIFA does not do so. While Australia may have a legitimate legal argument, this fact only raises additional questions: what court has jurisdiction -- an international court or a domestic court?  Which international/domestic court? What law would Australia cite – FIFA regulations, international law, domestic law?  Would any court in which Australia sues accept the case? 

Other countries: Other countries that did not submit a bid have also expressed anger with the proposed change: had they known that there was a possibility that the Cup could have been held in the winter, they would have submitted a bid.  Middle Eastern countries and countries in which June and July are the middle of winter in particular indicated an interest in submitting a bid for a winter Cup. 

Ultimately, it is unlikely that legal action will result, regardless of FIFA moving the Cup to the winter: international diplomacy and interest in preserving long-term relationships will likely mean Fox and FIFA will find a solution. But it is interesting to think about the potential legal consequences of FIFA's decision, however remote they might be.  

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