Colin Smith Interview

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1. Exactly two years ago, France were crowned world champions. Today, FIFA and Qatar have unveiled the match schedule for Qatar 2022. How does it feel?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already two years since Hugo Lloris lifted this amazing trophy in Luzhniki, Moscow, after what was simply an outstanding tournament in Russia.  We had great crowds, great atmosphere, all the host cities really embraced the spirit of the World Cup. And of course, the performances on the pitch were second to none. So here we are, just under two and a half years to go to Qatar, on 21 November (2022) we will kick off the next World Cup. and today’s launch of the match schedule really marks a milestone along that journey.

2.  Could you talk us through the process behind developing the match schedule?

First and foremost. the match schedule is designed around sporting criteria. As football fans,  we all want the best players in the world, the best teams in the world to perform at the highest level. One of the key factors to ensure that is the amount of rest that the players get between matches. So with this match schedule, 61 out of the 64 matches, the teams have equal rest: they have three days’ rest between matches, which is optimum for sporting performance. In the round of 16, there are two matches where the teams will have two days‘ rest, and then the third-place play-off match there is one team that will have two days, and one will have three days, which is not uncommon for that particular match. So for the 28 days which we have for this World Cup. which is slightly shorter than previous World Cups, this would entail a 12-day group phase and a 16-day knockout phase, with four matches a day during the group phase. In terms of process, once we look at the sporting criteria, discuss it with Qatar, we then submit it to our Organising Committee for Competitions. When they are happy with it, it goes to the FIFA Council for final approval.

3.  Why will the group-phase matches only be assigned to kick-off times and stadiums later on?

There is a number of factors which give us this additional flexibility than we would normally have. Firstly, the compact nature of Qatar: all the stadiums are within a compact radius, meaning travel for fans and teams is obviously very easy, there are no flights to be taken. there are no long travels to be undertaken. Also, the climate is perfect at that time of year in Qatar, whether it is an early kick-off or a late kick-off. So there are no technical aspects which affect this. But the assignment of matches after the draw allows us to, once the pairings are known, have a look at those, and to see whether we can provide a more beneficial kick-off time for audiences at home, for example, for their fans, or indeed for fans in Qatar with regards to the stadium allocation. It is not obliviously going to work in all cases, but that additional flexibility is possible with this World Cup in Qatar. 

4.  When will the final draw be held, and how long will take it to conclude the final match assignment after the draw?

We haven’t announced the specific date for the final draw yet, but it will take place after the March window, so we are looking at the very end of March or the beginning of April, but we will announce that very soon. With regards to the assignments, we will be doing those immediately after the draw as we know the world is waiting to find out who is playing whom and in which stadium will that match be taking place.

5.  What kina of opportunities will this match schedule offer fans from an experience point of view?

The World Cup is always a festival of football, a real celebration for the fans who come on-site and watch. In Qatar, with the compact nature, this is going to be amplified even more with 32 teams and 32 sets of supporters all in and around Doha, with Qatar fully embracing the experience of hosting the World Cup. The four matches a day during the group phase, the two matches during the round of 16 and the quarters, also provides much greater access and opportunities for fans to see not only their favourite teams but also other best teams in the world, be that in the stadium or at the FIFA Fan Fest taking place in Doha.

6. And when will fans be able to book their seats at Qatar 2022?

All the details on ticketing will be available on FIFA.com, so I’d encourage all fans to keep an eye on that and on our social media channels, and we will certainly keep everyone informed so they can also be part of this exciting World Cup.