UEFA nations to back 2022 World Cup winter switch

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Europe's 54 football nations are prepared to support switching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the summer heat, and would prefer playing in January.

European football leaders told The Associated Press they gave UEFA President Michel Platini a mandate on Wednesday for change, which FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggests his ruling board should agree to in principle next month.

Estonia Football Association President Aivar Pohlak said UEFA had “quite clear” support for agreeing the switch as a one-time option for football's signature tournament

“As an exception and that is it. As a one-time problem it can be handled, in my view,” Pohlak said.

Platini will announce UEFA's position in the winter debate after further meetings with his strategy council and executive committee end Friday. The strategy panel includes representatives of Europe's top leagues, which have been the fiercest critics of altering the traditional August-to-May football season.

Nearly three years after Qatar was awarded 2022 hosting rights by the much-criticized FIFA board - several of whom have since left football while facing corruption allegations - the momentum for changing the World Cup plan appears unstoppable.

“It seems the 2022 World Cup can't be played in the months of June and July,” Belgium football federation president Francois de Keersmaecker told The AP.

De Keersmaecker said much work needed to be done to agree which months were suitable, a process Blatter has said should involve a broad consultation across world football.

Veteran FIFA board member Michel D'Hooghe, who chairs its medical committee, opposes staging a World Cup in minimum 40-degree (104 Fahrenheit) temperatures as a health risk to fans, workers and officials. D'Hooghe has stated support for Qatar's promise to develop air-cooling systems that will lower temperatures for players in stadiums and training areas.

“There is a belief that playing it in summer would not be proper for players, for spectators and for broadcasters and media partners,” Scotland FA chief executive Stewart Regan said after the UEFA consultation.

“The mood of the meeting was very much supportive of pulling it forward to the beginning of 2022,” Regan said, adding that member countries would “have discussions with their respective league bodies.”

A World Cup in January 2022 would have less impact on European countries, including Germany, which take mid-season breaks at that time of the year. It would have little effect on Scandinavian and Baltic countries, where leagues play March-November.

Blatter has suggested a November kickoff to avoid a clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics, but which would clash with half of the current group stage fixtures in UEFA's popular and lucrative Champions League.

“I don't see the logic of November-December,” Pohlak said. “From my personal point of view I see only that it is possible to play in January.”

The Estonian official said he supported Qatar's right to host the World Cup and believed it could stage matches in the Gulf summer.

“But this is not the key issue. The key issue is the spectators, the fans,” Pohlak said. “It's an event, it's a football party, which means that the people have to feel also comfortable outside of the stadiums.”