Long seen as inevitable, a 2022 World Cup in November and December is now practically a done deal.
A FIFA task force on Tuesday recommended playing the tournament in Qatar at the end of the year in 2022 to avoid the summer heat. Temperatures in the Gulf emirate routinely top 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) when the World Cup traditionally kicks off in June.
A Dec. 23 final in Doha is possible as FIFA aims to shorten the tournament from the current 32-day schedule to ease disruption for players, clubs and leagues worldwide.
The plan should be approved by the FIFA executive committee, chaired by President Sepp Blatter, at a March 19-20 meeting in Zurich.
Blatter, who is an IOC member, has long favoured November-December to avoid clashing with the Winter Olympics, scheduled for February 2022.
FIFA said its task force chose the "most viable period" over other proposals to play in January, April or May, dates favoured mostly by European soccer officials.
"Given that the two bidding cities for the 2022 Winter Olympics — Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing (China) — pledged recently to host the winter games from Feb. 4-20, 2022; that the month of Ramadan begins on April 2 in 2022; and that consistently hot conditions prevail from May to September in Qatar, the only remaining effective option is the November-December window," FIFA said in a statement.
European clubs and leagues oppose FIFA's proposal, which shuts them down for several weeks in midseason.
Compensation deals must now be agreed upon with the influential European Club Association and European Professional Football Leagues groups.
Still, UEFA — which organizes the lucrative Champions League — finally fell into line with FIFA on Tuesday.
UEFA accepted the apparently inevitable conclusion despite its longstanding preference for a January-February tournament, when the Champions League takes a break, some northern European leagues are in their off-season, and others have a midwinter break.
"UEFA sees no major issues in rescheduling its competitions for the 2022-23 season," the European soccer body said in a statement, adding that a World Cup "may be shortened and thus the release period of players be reduced."
The FIFA executive committee chose Qatar as host in December 2010, when the gas-rich emirate won a five-nation bidding contest to host the tournament in the traditional June-July slot.
Tuesday's recommendation comes 17 months after the FIFA board — minus several members who have left since the hosting vote after being implicated in corruption — ordered a consultation on finding the best dates in Qatar.
The process was widely seen to have been pre-judged by Blatter, who insisted on November-December as the only realistic choice.
Blatter also reversed his position on the winter World Cup debate. After the December 2010 vote, he said the tournament would be played in the summer and the dates could only be changed at Qatar's request.
Two months ago, Qatar was confirmed as host when a FIFA ethics committee investigation into the 2018 and 2022 bidding contests was closed, concluding that wrongdoing did not influence the results. Russia was chosen as 2018 host.
The FIFA task force will have further meetings to study extending the World Cup qualifying program into early 2022.
FIFA said it is also looking to stage the 2021 Confederations Cup in the usual June-July slot in a different Asian country. Three Asian Football Confederation members — Australia, Japan and South Korea — were losing candidates in the 2022 contest, which also included the United States.
The FIFA-organized Club World Cup, which is traditionally played in December, could be staged in Qatar in 2021 as a World Cup test event, FIFA said.
FIFA claimed consensus among its six confederations Tuesday for the November 2022 kickoff.
A potential legal obstacle to the winter switch was removed this month when FIFA reached an agreement with its U.S. broadcast partners Fox and Telemundo for rights to the 2026 World Cup.
In 2011, Fox had bought the 2018-2022 English-language rights for $425 million in the belief both tournaments would be in summer and not clash with its NFL and college football plans.
The latest accord appeared designed to head off any legal action against FIFA. It was announced with little fanfare, no financial details and surprised rival broadcasters who had no idea talks were opened.