by rob harris ap sports writer
Messi or Ronaldo? Winter or summer?
Those are two of the most talked about topics in soccer these days, keeping fans chattering and fixated on the world's biggest sport. One question will be decided, at least somewhat officially, next week when FIFA chooses its player of the year, while the other looks to be a never-ending saga that seems to be spiraling out of control.
Rather than ending the ongoing confusion about exactly which month the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be held, attempts by FIFA to clarify the issue — and they come regularly — only tend to muddy the picture.
One minute a consultation process is being established to talk to leagues and federations. The next a FIFA executive is blurting out his beliefs, sending the media into chaos anew.
"I think it will be played between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 at the latest," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke told France-Inter radio on Wednesday, adamantly saying that the World Cup "will not be June and July."
Major update to the debate, or more hot air?
FIFA seems to think the latter.
"The precise event date is still subject to an ongoing consultation process," FIFA said in a statement released a short time after Valcke's comments were splashed around the world. "As the event will not be played until 8 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 has become widely accepted, except maybe in Qatar, that holding football's biggest tournament in the desert Gulf nation during the searing summer months poses a potential health risk. Even FIFA's inspection team ahead of the vote highlighted possible dangers to fans and officials who travel around the tiny country away from air-conditioned stadiums.
Shortly after his first appearance on the radio on Wednesday, Valcke went back on the French airwaves — on RMC Radio — to state that it's "nonsense" to play football in Qatari summer.
Only in the last year has FIFA really started to listen to critics and accept that a World Cup in the usual June-July time frame isn't feasible.
So, after Sepp Blatter insisted in 2011 that "everything is settled for summer," the FIFA president performed a U-turn.
"In summer you cannot play there," Blatter said in August 2013.
Qatar's organizing committee, as it has always said, is getting ready for anything.
"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," organizers said Wednesday. "We await the outcome of this consultation period. We will be ready to host the World Cup regardless of the outcome."
The sticking point to a move to cooler months remains the major European leagues, who seem to be less amenable to a decision that will disrupt their regular August-May seasons.
One possibility could be a Nov. 18-Dec. 18 tournament, ending on Qatar National Day and allowing the all-powerful English Premier League to resume in time for its traditional packed holiday program from Boxing Day on Dec. 26.
In the United States, a World Cup during the college football and NFL seasons would cause complications for Fox, which holds U.S. rights to the 2022 tournament. Fox spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said the network had no comment on Valcke's remarks.
Until something is decided, probably sometime early in 2015, according to Valcke, the debate will rage on. And some in FIFA hope the buildup to this year's World Cup in Brazil will take some of the heat off the Qatar debate.
"At the moment there has been more than enough talk on this particular subject," FIFA vice president Jim Boyce told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Now we should have the World Cup in Brazil and this Qatar issue should be put to bed until the stakeholders have their final meeting and give their views.
"There should be no more talk about the situation until that happens ... rather than have knee jerk reactions."
At least one debate will be settled on Monday when voters decide who gets the Ballon d'Or — Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Franck Ribery. Settling the Qatari issue won't be so easy.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.
Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris