Fifa made a mistake awarding the World Cup to Qatar and will put the health of players and fans at risk if the tournament is not moved from the summer, according to the man who led the official inspection of the bidding nations.
Speaking in his first British broadcast interview, Harold Mayne-Nicholls warns that playing in Qatar in summer will be “impossible” even with the cooling technology proposed by the organising committee.
Mr Mayne-Nicholls, the former chairman of the Chilean FA, said Qatar “was not the best option”, but revealed he was certain it would win the 2022 World Cup three days before the decisive Fifa vote in December 2010.
“Three days before the decision, I already had a great per cent (certainty) that it would be Qatar, too many people talking about Qatar at that time, so I was not surprised when it was given the World Cup,” he told Sky News.
Fifa’s decision to award the tournament to Qatar came despite a clear warning from Mr Mayne-Nicholls in his evaluation report.
In the executive summary, he wrote: “The fact that the competition is planned in June-July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the Fifa family and spectators, and requires precautions to be taken.”
Despite this, Qatar polled more votes than the USA to win the tournament and spark the greatest controversy Fifa has ever known.
Last week Fifa began a consultation into whether the tournament can be moved to a different time of the year. Mr Mayne-Nicholls said it is essential.
“We wrote that it is very risky to play the World Cup in June-July for the health of the players,” he said.
“We had no evidence that something would happen, but we said that even with the cooling system that they promised it would be very risky.”
Mr Mayne-Nichols, who now runs Ganamos Todos, a charitable sporting foundation in Chile, said his personal experience in Qatar convinced him that playing in summer, or even as late as September, was impractical.
“When we were walking on the street it was very, very warm, and it was not easy,” he said.
“You really suffered with the sun and that was no more than 100 metres, so when we put it in the report we knew it (was right).
“I cannot imagine top athletes running even 90 minutes even with the cooling system, because at certain times of day they will feel this climate.”
Intriguingly, Mr Mayne-Nicholls claimed that when Fifa members gathered in Zurich for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes it was clear very early that Qatar had gathered significant support.
His assertion that three days before the election he was certain that Qatar would win will raise eyebrows, but the administrator makes clear he has no evidence of wrongdoing.
“We were talking to ex-co members and we were surprised that they were going for Qatar,” he said.
“Normally they would go for others, but I have no reason to have any doubts about their decision.
“They decided for Qatar. It was one of the countries bidding so they had the right to get a vote. It was a surprise because it was not the best option, but it was an option.
“Rumours have been going on since the election but there is not a single piece of evidence, no one has been able to show us this is what happened. What I can say to myself, nobody, not Qatar or anybody, offered me anything. Nobody interfered, we were allowed to do our jobs.”
Mr Mayne-Nicholl’s revelations come as Michael Garcia, the independent attorney investigating the bidding process for Fifa’s ethics committee, confirmed that he is to visit all nine bidding nations.
He said he was examining allegations of breaches of Fifa’s ethics code, and will report sometime in the first half of 2014.