December 11 - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy added his voice to the growing calls to switch the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup to the winter when he made his first public speaking appearance since May today by addressing the conference here.
Sarkozy (pictured top), beaten by François Hollande in the race for the Presidency earlier this year, was one of the first of several star-studded speakers as he helped inaugurate the three-day forum aimed at using sport as a tool for change in the development of the Gulf state and its neighbours.
UEFA President Michel Platini, who has consistently denied being pressured by Sarkozy into voting for Qatar two years ago in order to boost commercial links with France, has been championing the idea of a November and December tournament.
Even some of Qatar's ambassadors were in agreement with Platini during its 2022 campaign, but major Western European leagues are fiercely opposed, and Qatar itself has no intention of making a change unless requested by FIFA to do so.
"I supported the choice of Qatar for 2022 because it took us right into the 21st for a Muslim country to organise for the very first time an event of this magnitude," Sarkozy told delegates here at the giant state-of-the-art sports arena.
"Football is of such crucial importance around the world that it must be shared and cannot be the exclusive property of a few western nations."
Directing his next comment partly towards FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who followed him on the podium, Sarkozy continued: "Must the World Cup always take place in June and July?
"Would a slide of a few weeks shake the pillars of the temple?
"I say this because there are many countries with summer temperatures that are unbearable.
"I do believe the scheduling needs to be re-considered and adapted."
He adopted the same stance for Qatar's continuing interest in hosting the Summer Olympics and Paralympics having failed with two previous bids partly because it wanted to move to a late autumn date.
"Is it indispensable that the Olympic Games, which take place every four years, must be fixed systemically in the month of August?" asked Sarkozy.
"Would it be any less passionate and dramatic an event if it took place, for example, in June?"
Speaking up for Qatar's efforts to create lasting sporting partnerships, Sarkozy said an "absolutely decisive" change was taking place in the oil-rich state, which already hosts elite golf and tennis events and a host of other top-ranked tournaments.
Those changes, he said, centred on how to reconcile national identity and cultural traditions with the openness of the 21st century.
Sport, he said, was exactly the right way to bring this about since it was the "antidote" to political differences.
"Sport is often the empty chair at the table of international diplomacy," Sarkozy explained.
"This is a mistake.
"My deeply held belief is that sport should play, in this 21st century of ours, a key role in solving diplomatic issues."
The inaugural Doha Goals forum, which brings together a string of past and present athletes, ambassadors and decision-makers from across the world, is organised by the current husband of Sarkozy's ex-wife Cecilia.
She was present to hear him lend passionate and emotional support to what Qatar, often much maligned because of its unlimited wealth, is trying to achieve.
"With sport, differences bow out, regionalisms disappear," said Sarkozy.
"It is thanks to sport that we can overcome these ethnic divides, these religious, territorial and social divides.
"On your success will hinge the balance of the world."
When he came to speak, Blatter conveniently did not touch on the calendar issue, which has aroused major debate within world football, merely saying that Sarkozy had given him a "challenge" before addressing delegates in cautious, philosophical tones about the importance of sport.
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November 2012: Gullit calls for Qatar to host winter World Cup in 2022
November 2012: Winter World Cup plans would have to be finalised within next two years, says Qatar 2022 leader