* TheMailOnline is reporting that UEFA President Michel Platini is throwing his weight behind the Sunil-Gulati-initiated effort to stop a FIFA ExCo vote this week on moving World Cup 2022 to Winter dates. More below
So as 25 swanky Executive jets descend on Zurich airport from all corners of the globe and the ostensibly elected members of FIFA's Executive Committee make the long, weary slog to their limos to be whisked away to the finest palatial luxury that Switzerland and limitless money can provide in preparation for tomorrow's opening session of
The Liars Club FIFA's governing body, there's really only thing we know for sure about the potential outcome of their scheduled two days of deliberations:
They will not result in World Cup 2022 being removed from Qatar. Not now. Not ever. It's a done deal.
That does not mean that there is not a good deal to be optimistic about, particularly when it comes to the reelection prospects of Sepp Blatter, the 77 year old Swiss Snake Oil salesman.
As Forbes put it recently, our man Sepp may be facing what amounts to Death by a Thousand cuts over Qatar 2022, which is ironic considering that, reportedly, he really didn't want the thing there in the first place.
But before we go ny farther, let's dispense with the recent kerfuffle over the labor abuses or, if you'd prefer, modern slavery, with which Qatar is getting their projects built.
Yes, it's apparently true that as many as 44 Nepalese workers have died in the past month alone due to an egregious lack of the kind of safety precautions which civilized countries consider not only morally responsible but legally mandatory.
This came to light in an expose in The Guardian which estimated that as the projects ramp up and more workers are involved we can expect as many as 4,000 dead workers as a result of Qatar's blithe indifference to worker health and safety.
Equally as shocking is the way that workers have their passports confiscated, making it impossible for them to quit their jobs since a) they can't leave the country and b) they can't get another job. This, combined with the habitual withholding of pay from foreign construction workers and the appalling living conditions in so-called workers villages which bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Warsaw Ghetto, means that in a very real sense, tens of thousands of what can only be called slaves are building the glittering stadiums where FIFA will conduct their quadrennial extravaganza.
The noise over this story has reached the point where even Blatter has to respond, which he's done by putting the topic on the "mini-agenda" for the meetings this week where the concern will not be what a bunch of whiners in the media are saying but what the reaction is from among the sponsors, whose three-tier commercial program provides the majority of FIFA's annual revenue of $1.2 billion.
Outfits like Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and Budweiser are most likely unenthusiastic about having their names connected with slavery.
Some people are demanding that the Ethics Committee be tasked with looking into the whole deal, and that certainly seems as likely a way to ignore the issue as any other.
For their part, Qatar says that they are shocked - SHOCKED - that foreign workers are subjected to abuse in their fair nation, that they themselves are going to get to the bottom of this outrage and they promise to get back on us on it ASAP.
All of which is well and good, I guess, but it's also way too late.
Just like with the fact that, as Sepp himself has said, any gay people planning on attending WC 2022 had better climb into the closet and stay there because homosexual activity is against the law and can get your ass beaten up and thrown in jail, who the hell didn't know this stuff already?
Labor abuse is a well-known and well-documented problem all over the Middle East, where foreign workers are treated like dirt, abused, and tossed away like garbage when no longer useful. What's more, this virtual slavery extends to household help, sexual bondage and all sorts of ugly stuff in between.
Is all this news to someone? I mean, seriously?
But here's the thing, people:
This stuff didn't just start. Every single building in Qatar, a city chock-a-block full of enormous, gaudy monstrosities, was built pretty much the same way: using poor, third world workers, treating them like disposable crap and then chucking them out - or burying them - when they were no longer useful.
Forget FIFA; where was everybody else all this time? I'd like someone to explain to me why it is nobody gave a damn about any of this until their precious World Cup got involved.
Frankly, it's a little late to get all high-minded and compassionate about this issue, which didn't start when the stadiums started going up and won't end when they're done.
The fact is that FIFA knew - everybody did - and FIFA didn't care and it's disingenuous for them, and everyone else, to sit around tsk-tsking about it now.
If they had any shame left - assuming they had any in the first place - maybe we'd have something here. As it is, it's no different from anything else FIFA does.
They really just don't care. They didn't in 2012 when the vote was taken and they don't care now. Because the bottom line is, they don't have to.
The end result of it all will be that FIFA will commission a study, express it's great concern and reaffirm their deep commitment to human rights and labor dignity.
For their part, Qatar will promise to punish the evildoers, which they'll never quite get around to, Sepp Blatter will hold a media conference announcing the problem fixed and everyone will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
It's the FIFA way.
Besides, Sepp has a bigger problem today, and it's something which might - just might - carry some serious consequences for the Old Boy.
A month or two back, when Blatter announced that the ExCo would be voting on moving the 2022 World Cup to the Winter to avoid killing people, he confidently told reporters that there was no question how the vote would go. None at all.
Thing was, his plan was to hold the vote, get the decision behind him and THEN start looking at what the specific time frame would be and discuss the consequences to the various stakeholders.
A lot of people said at the time that this was exactly backwards, that normally people examine the facts, the consequences and the various scenarios BEFORE they make a decision, not afterwards.
Sepp was having none of it. The vote was going forward, and that was that.
But then - some would say shockingly - a voice was raised in the wilderness saying "Hold on a minute".
And that voice belonged to none other than our very own Sunil Gulati.
In a little-noticed interview with the Old Gray Lady, Sunil staked out a position:
“I don’t see at this stage, frankly, how I or any member of FIFA’s executive committee could make a sensible decision,” he said in an interview. “We don’t have enough information, and there are too many questions. I don’t see how anybody in a position of responsibility can take a position without some answers.”
"If the position I’m taking — which is that we need a lot more information — is rocking the boat,” he said, “then I’m going to be rocking the boat.”
Almost as surprisingly, the first person to publicly agree was CONCACAF President Jeff Webb, formerly notable only for his obsequious obedience to Blatter's every wish.
Others have climbed on board, and it's beginning to look like the issue Sepp wanted disposed of may very well NOT be decided by this weekend after all.
Furthermore, despite what you may have read and/or heard from normally reliable sources including such notables as Grant Wahl, USFA did not "approve moving the 2022 World Cup to the Winter."
Rather, as Keir Radnedge explains, all UEFAdid was say that they don't think the thing should be played in the Summer, a distinction which they insist is not quite the same thing:
“What has come out of this meeting, and what I think is sensible, is an agreement by the UEFA countries that the World Cup cannot be played in Qatar in the summer. Everyone was certainly in agreement about that."
The reason for this sudden desire to put on the brakes is obvious:
It's easy enough for Blatter to get the ExCo to vote to move the thing. Who in God's name is going to vote otherwise?
But it's the question of when that creates the problem.
Weeks ago, Blatter sat down with the IOC and promised that the thing will not begin in January, which would step all over the Winter Olympics, which is always scheduled for February.
(And you'll note that, unlike with soccer, the Winter Olympics has to be held then; it's the likeliest date for snow and cold. It can't be moved.)
If the IOC is so positive they have Sepp's promise, then the only available time is November/December.
Which of course means releasing players from the clubs no later than mid-October (or even earlier) and, for the best players, the need for a few weeks break in February.
Even worse, that means playing the WC over the holidays, a prospect which the broadcasters aren't keen on.
In particular, Fox and Telemundo in North America.
Collectively, they won the bid for 2018 and 2022 for a whopping $1 billion.
Now all of a sudden they're looking at soccer on Thanksgiving and on into December where it will compete with the NFL playoffs.
And unlike USSF, Fox and Telemundo can and will sue you. They signed a contract for a June/July product, not something to sell Santa Claus-themed toy ads during.
Just as an example.
So while Blatter knows he has no choice but to move it to November/December, he doesn't want to say so up front. He wants to establish the principle via the vote, and then assign a committee or commission or whatever to hold meetings for a year and then issue a Blue Ribbon report saying what everyone already knows it will say.
And Silent Sunil, astonishingly, seems to be leading a movement to stop him. It's not exactly leading a coup, to be sure, but who can argue with "The thing is still nine years out. Surely we can take the time to talk about it."
Not how Sepp wanted it to go at all.
And just to make sure, last week Qatar blithely reaffirmed their confidence in their plan for flying air conditioners:
“If the international football community asks us to move the timetable for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar we are able to do so, but the development and implementation of environmentally-friendly cooling technologies remains an important legacy issue for our nation, region and many countries with similar climates.”
Back to you, Sepp.
* Late last evening, Platini told reporters that "it would be impossible" to change the dates until there had been widespread consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
Between Platini's UEFA bloc and Jeff Webb's CONCACAF votes, all of a sudden Blatter is facing a very stiff headwind on this issue and may be forced to defer putting it to a vote rather than risk an embarrassing loss on the issue.