FIFA Confederations Delay World Cup Qualifiers over Pandemic

Of six regional federations, three have postponed qualifying rounds that were scheduled for summer

Sporting events worldwide have been impacted by the coronavirus ever since the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic on March 11. One of the largest events, the 2020 Summer Olympics, was scheduled to take place from July 24 to August 9 and has now been rescheduled for July 23 to August 8 next year.

Most domestic sporting leagues worldwide have been shut down, although there have been re-openings without fan attendance, for example, the Bundesliga football league in Germany and K League 1 in South Korea. International sporting competitions, however, continue to encounter significant postponements. They include qualifying rounds for the 2022 World Cup.

The next World Cup, scheduled to take place in Qatar between November 21 and December 18, 2022, will be a series of firsts, including the first Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority host. It will also be the first not to be played during the months of May, June or July.

FIFA, the international governing body for soccer (or football, as it is more popularly known around the world), operates a qualification system to determine the 32 teams that play in the World Cup. All six regional confederations – which are Asia (AFC), Africa (CAF), North America/Central America/Caribbean (CONCACAF), South America (CONMEBOL), Oceania (OFC) and Europe (UEFA) – host their own tournaments to determine which teams represent them.

CONMEBOL, AFC and CAF have already had to delay qualifying matches for the next World Cup.

CAF has rescheduled matches from March 23-31 and June 1-9 to October 5-13 and November 9-17, respectively. CONMEBOL has yet to announce when it plans to reschedule games that were scheduled for March 23-31, and AFC must reschedule matches from March and June.

OFC has yet to set dates for its qualifying matches.

UEFA has not rescheduled any of its qualifying matches, which were set to begin next March. A spokesperson reiterated that “no decisions have been taken at this stage.”

With respect to other UEFA competitions, most have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic. The UEFA European Football Championship, scheduled for June and July, has been postponed until the summer months of 2021. The UEFA Champions League on March 23 halted play during the Round of 16 until further notice.

Meanwhile, the last remaining regional confederation, CONCACAF, has yet to reschedule any of its World Cup qualifying games. They are part of a multi-pronged tournament set so far to take place in September, October and November, and continue in March and September of 2021.

Despite having created something of a ripple by announcing on March 18 the formation of a working group to address the coronavirus pandemic, a FIFA spokesperson asserted that the 2022 World Cup was still on schedule, adding that “infrastructure projects in Qatar are on track” as well.

“FIFA created a working group to monitor the evolving situation, work closely together and agree on a coordinated approach addressing the consequences of this pandemic also in relation to the international match calendar,” the spokesperson explained.

“The world football community,” the spokesperson continued, “has been showing a great spirit of cooperation, solidarity and unity through which FIFA is confident that, in collaboration with the confederations and other key stakeholders, solutions will be found to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on football.”

Philip Rapaport is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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