The football World Cup will not be played in the summer months in Qatar in 2022, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said on Wednesday.
'The dates of the World Cup will not be in June or July.... I think it will be played between November 15 and January 15 the latest,' he told France Inter Radio.
'If you play between November 15 and the end of December that's the time when the weather conditions are best, when you can play in temperatures equivalent to a warm spring season in Europe, averaging 25 degrees.
'That would be perfect for playing football.'
The shock announcement, which came out of a casual radio appearance rather than an international press conference, comes after months of speculation that the tournament would have to be moved because of Qatar's sweltering summer temperatures.
However, FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce quickly told reporters he was 'surprised' by Valcke's comments, and hinted a U-turn could be announced.
'I am surprised... as far as I was concerned a working party was being set up by FIFA, all major stakeholders, sponsors, TV companies and leagues,' he said.
'Meetings could be held between now and the Brazil World Cup [in summer 2014] and no decision would be made on the World Cup in Qatar until after a report came back to the executive committee. '
Then, shortly after these comments Fifa released a statement claiming Valcke was expressing his own view, but that no decision had been taken yet.
'Jérôme Valcke explained today in the Radio France interview – as he had already mentioned previously – that in his view the 2022 Fifa World Cup must take place in winter and the best possible time frame would be 15 November to 15 January,' it said.
'However, the precise event date is still subject to an ongoing consultation process which involves all main event stakeholders. As the event will not be played until eight years' time the consultation process will not be rushed and will be given the necessary time to consider all of the elements relevant for a decision.'
It said no final decision will be made before this summers World Cup in Brazil.
Assuming Valcke's words stand then, the unprecedented move of a winter World Cup is likely to enrage many traditional football fans.
It would also be likely to cause widespread disruption to domestic leagues around the world, with players called mid-season to represent their nation abroad.
In October Fifa delayed making a decision on whether to play the tournament in the winter.
Valcke's surprise announcement comes more than three years after Qatar was originally awarded the tournament in December 2010, despite concerns that temperatures can reach more 45 degrees in summer months.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which has previously indicated it would be happy to switch to a winter World Cup, released a statement late on Wednesday, which read:
'During the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in October it was agreed that FIFA would enter a period of consultation on the ideal time of year to host the World Cup in Qatar – with a recommendation expected after the World Cup in Brazil.
'We await the outcome of this consultation period. We will be ready to host the World Cup regardless of the outcome.'
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