A World Cup in January? Now that’s an idea worth pursuing

For the last three weeks, postponements have been the norm in the Scottish Premier League, while the region struggled with bitter cold, frozen pitches and mountains of snow.

This weekend, all but three of the English Premier League’s scheduled matches — including the Chelsea-Manchester United throwdown — were wiped out by blizzards that covered the United Kingdom in a puffy white blanket. With the U.K. forecasters predicting something that resembles a Canadian winter well into January, the heavy Christmas-New Year’s schedule could be disrupted… badly. Most teams are supposed to play four matches in an 11-day period beginning on Boxing Day.

These should come as stark reminders to those in MLS who want to see the league switch to the so-called “international calendar,” a trial balloon that was floated by commissioner Don Garber when the U.S. still thought it had a shot at getting the 2022 World Cup.

At that press conference, from the members of the media who I chatted with after Garber made the announcement, there wasn’t one who didn’t think this was a carrot that was being dangled in front of FIFA ahead of the World Cup vote. There wasn’t a man or woman who believed that MLS would be playing games February.

But, if there are any owners or league execs out there who dream of an MLS schedule that parallels what we see in Spain, Italy, Germany and England, look to the havoc weather has played with scheduled games throughout the U.K. And, make no mistake, with so many FA Cup dates and Champions League weeks, it’s very difficult to find holes to make up two Manchester United games which have already been postponed.

While the rotten smell left behind by the voting process for the 2018 and, especially, the 2022 World Cups is still strong in FIFA’s Swiss headquarters, there is one bit of good coming out of the Qatar bid.

And that’s the continuing rumblings that the tournament will have to be held in January — to give the players and fans a reprieve from the Qatari summers, where temperatures regularly soar past 40 C.

Because, once and for all, it would smash the notion of the “international calendar,” a large truck of snake oil that has been pushed onto the world’s footballing community by rich, European clubs.

Last week, Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, told the international media “why not?” when asked if the organization would move the World Cup to the winter.

(Winter, that is, in that part of the world).

The international calendar (and you should cringe every time you use that word) is basically the EPL, Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga calendar. Most international dates are planned to impact those leagues as lightly as possible. Meanwhile, leagues that play in the European summer months, whether it be Argentina, Brazil, Scandinavia, Mexico, Australia or MLS, are always forced to juggle. Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Australia, like MLS, are often forced to schedule league games head-to-head against international games.

But, arrogantly, we have come to accept that, because most of Europe says so, an “international calendar” really means “a calendar that inconveniences Manchester United and Inter Milan as little as possible.”

If FIFA really wanted to be proactive, it would limit the amount of friendlies a national team can play in a season — an olive branch offered to the clubs — and then offer a great international compromise. That is, no matter where the World Cup is held, it would be held in January every eight years. For example, Russia 2018 in July, Qatar 2022 in January, the 2026 tournament in July, the 2030 mundial in January, and so on.

That way, the pain of the international calendar would be fairly spread to all leagues in the world. It will end the notion that Europe can dictate when international matches are to be played.

And, with some January World Cups in the rotation, MLS will easily be able to abandon any notion of league games in Denver, Salt Lake City or Toronto in February.


About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.