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AP Interview: 2022 World Cup head says summer games off agenda, no risk of Qatar losing event

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DOHA, Qatar — With FIFA taking a 2022 summer World Cup off the table, Qatar's tournament head now agrees that a winter tournament would be ideal.

And although FIFA's investigators are preparing to release the findings of a World Cup corruption probe, Hassan Al Thawadi dismissed any chance of Qatar losing the showpiece event.

"It's definitely never been raised (by FIFA)," the 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee secretary general said in an interview with The Associated Press. "That matter has never even been implied."

Any attempt to strip Qatar of hosting rights would be poorly received across the region, Al Thawadi cautioned.

"I don't think it would go down very well," he said. "This is the first Arab World Cup. This is the first World Cup in the Middle East. This is the opportunity for a region that is passionate about the game."

Although the Gulf nation still insists it could deliver on the bid pledge to stage the World Cup in its traditional June-July slot — by cooling stadiums against the fierce summer heat— that was not an option at last week's FIFA meeting to find a solution.

"The question of actually hosting it in the summer was not on the table," Al Thawadi said. "Amongst all those different recommendations that we were provided, I expressed my preference that the winter is the ideal time."

Looking out from his Doha office, Al Thawadi noted that November's cooler temperatures are "fantastic — it's a nice period of time."

The European Club Association proposed an April 28-May 29 timeframe as less disruptive to the domestic campaigns. But that is "just too close" to the month of Ramadan fasting, which starts in early April 2022, Al Thawadi said.

UEFA President Michel Platini champions a January-February tournament and FIFA President Sepp Blatter now backs playing in November-December tournament, which would avoid a clash with the Winter Olympics.

The final choice by FIFA's executive committee is expected in 2015, and Al Thawadi said that "whatever happens we will always submit to the football community's decision."

Before then, FIFA's ethics chairman Joachim Eckert is expected within days to release findings into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests following an investigation by prosecutor Michael Garcia into widespread allegations of vote buying.

Qatar has repeatedly insisted that it broke no bidding rules, and Al Thawadi said: "I have never had a meeting where I thought the World Cup was threatened in any way."

The bid has been questioned over the role of Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari who was Asian Football Confederation president at the time of the 2010 vote. Expelled from world football twice — over financial wrongdoing linked to his FIFA presidential campaign and his AFC leadership — Bin Hammam was accused of buying influence for the Qatar bid. Qatar has denied corruption allegations while insisting Bin Hammam played no role in its bid committee.


Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and John Leicester at http://www.twitter.com/JohnLeicester

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