It’s hard not to be appalled when reading reports that some games in the 2022 World Cup, to be hosted by the notorious tiny and hot Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, might feature three thirty minute periods instead of the traditional two forty-five minute halves to allow players a rest if temperatures exceed thirty degrees Celsius.
On closer inspection however, it becomes clear the story is mere anger bait, meant to draw loud declarations of “You couldn’t make it up” from those outraged by corruption allegations surrounding how Qatar was awarded the World Cup, or those who have made up their mind the tournament will be a disaster because it’s going to be held in, well, Qatar.
After all, it’s entirely based on a bit of speculation from a representative (Michael Beavon) of a company responsible for World Cup planning (Arup Associates) at a conference (Qatar Infrastructure) in London, a possible contingency if stadium temperatures cannot be maintained by other means.
In fact, most newspapers include remarks from a FIFA spokesperson (featured at the end of the article of course), who says:
“This possibility has not been discussed. In any case, this would require a change in the Laws of the Game, and therefore would have to be analyzed and approved by the International Football Association Board in the first place.”
As The Fiver, the Guardian’s tea time football blog, cleverly summarizes,
“Considering how long it generally takes Fifa to tinker with the laws of the game, the chances of them instigating such a major change before Qatar 2022 kicks off are slimmer than a supermodel hosting a tape-worm infrastructure conference.”
FIFA’s hubris, desire for money, and disregard for fans and the sport seem boundless, but granting a three-period heat provision would be a PR disaster even they would be careful to avoid.
Still, the idea of three thirty minute periods is so radical, so unfamiliar to how we understand the game of football, that it leaves me intrigued. Two breaks, two opportunities to retool tactics, a fundamental shift in the narrative of a ninety minute match. It would be a different game altogether.
And nobody wants that. Soccer fans are a notoriously conservative bunch. In a world we’re constantly told is changing and changing fast, which is always characterized as either a) bad or b) a reason for people to get advanced degrees, it’s nice to know the game we watch on a Saturday is essentially the same one played one hundred years ago.
Except it’s not. Fitness levels are forever improving, and tactical formations are more streamlined and predictable across clubs and nationalities with each passing year. As Jonathan Wilson ominously wrote at the end of his magnum opus on the history of football tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, “As cross-pollination between different football cultures increases, so national styles become less distinct. We are not yet homogenized, and probably never will be, but the trend is in that direction.”
If a rule change, even a small one, would bring back some tactical dynamism back the sport, should we not consider it even in principle?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m definitely in the soccer-as-perfect-game camp. Like Hugo Sanchez once pretentiously said, “Whoever invented football should be worshipped as a God” (which would make the Freemasons Tavern in London, the site of the codification of association rules, football’s Mecca).
But it may not be the worst thing in the world to check our knee-jerk reaction to the possibility of any and all changes to the laws of the game, as long as any changes are considered very, very carefully, with broad consent among players and fans. Unfortunately, as long as FIFA is involved, there can be no guarantee that will happen. And that’s the real story here, and the thing worth getting angry about.