Fifa has been in secret talks that could mean it surrenders millions of pounds in broadcast revenue if the dates for the 2022 World Cup are shifted — as seems increasingly likely.
Despite secretary general Jerome Valcke recently insisting “compensation is a word you should never use” when addressing the prospect of Fifa taking a financial hit if the tournament is rescheduled, The Daily Telegraph has learnt discussions with the likes of American network Fox have taken place in an attempt to stave off the threat of legal action.
Fox and broadcasters from several other countries bought the rights to the event in Qatar long before Fifa president Sepp Blatter announced he would take steps to move it from June and July due to the extreme heat in the Middle East country during the summer months.
Fox, which paid $425 million (Dh1.5 billion) for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, last week made it clear it opposed any switch to the winter because it would clash with NFL games. The network pointed out it had “bought the World Cup rights with the understanding that they would be in the summer, as they have been since the 1930s”.
However, talks are understood to have taken place that could ultimately mean Fox would pay less if the tournament moves. Fox declined to comment on the latest developments.
Other international broadcasters which agreed deals worth a total of £2 billion in 2011, may be appeased in similar fashion, with contracts having been signed by networks in Brazil, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean.
The precise level of any discounts could depend on when exactly in 2022 the World Cup is played, with Fifa refusing to rule out April-May despite previous assumptions it would have to be held in the winter.
Next week’s Fifa executive committee meeting is set to ratify calls for it to be moved from the summer with an in-principle decision. That will be followed by up to eight months of consultation with the game’s stakeholders to determine the precise date and decide how to tackle the multitude of issues that will arise from the switch.
Talks with broadcasters are among several secret meetings Fifa has instigated in an effort to quell opposition to any move, which also included Valcke inviting Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore and Football Association general secretary Alex Horne to dinner in Zurich.
Fifa remains adamant no compensation will be paid to the countries which lost out to Qatar in the battle to host the tournament, or to leagues whose moneymaking ability may be affected by a rescheduling of the football calendar.
Football Federation Australia had written to Blatter to suggest Fifa should pay back some of the £25 million it ploughed into its failed 2022 bid on the basis it did so with a summer World Cup in mind. It is also understood there is no prospect of the entire bidding process being rerun, despite Fifa’s independent investigator having uncovered evidence of political interference before the original vote.
Suggestions that some exco members were encouraged to back the Gulf state by politicians — openly acknowledged by Blatter and Uefa president Michel Platini — are not thought to be enough grounds to strip it of the event.
The fallout from doing so would reverberate far beyond football and leave Fifa open to legal action from Qatar, which has already denied any wrongdoing in the build-up to the 2010 vote.
However, should hard evidence of corruption emerge during American lawyer Michael J. Garcia’s probe, or during the next nine years, all bets would be off.
That could also be the case if Qatar fails to address the deaths and abuse of labourers that has sparked accusations of slavery during the country’s World Cup preparations.
Revelations on Thursday that dozens of Nepalese workers had lost their lives and thousands more were the victims of serious abuse while building the infrastructure prompted calls for Fifa to strip it of the event unless action was taken.
Labour’s shadow sports minister, Clive Efford, said: “It is obscene, the idea of multimillionaire footballers playing in a country that has been built on these sorts of human rights records.” Conservative MP Damian Collins urged the FA to consider boycotting the World Cup if Fifa failed to act, while Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce demanded the organisation “fully investigate” the scandal, adding he was “appalled and very disturbed” by the allegations. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, accused Fifa of being “blind or stupid” if they had failed to previously notice such abuses in Qatar.