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'Slavery' allegations, timing issues ensnare 2022 World Cup

Dogged by allegations of corruption from the start, Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup is once again under fire, this time from politicians, human rights groups, international labor organizations and even the U.N.

A report in the U.K.'s The Guardian alleging deadly worker abuse akin "to modern day slavery" during construction of World Cup facilities has led the international community—and FIFA, soccer's international sanctioning body—to take another look at the Gulf State's plans.

Demonstrators outside FIFA's headquarters in Zurich after a newspaper report said Nepalese construction workers treated like "slaves" have died working on World Cup projects in Qatar.
Fabric Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
Demonstrators outside FIFA's headquarters in Zurich after a newspaper report said Nepalese construction workers treated like "slaves" have died working on World Cup projects in Qatar.

It comes as many, including the body's president, are already questioning the feasibility of holding the World Cup in a country where summer temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Farenheit.

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While the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf States is well-publicized, their swollen numbers part of massive infrastructure projects mandated by Gulf governments, many critics charge that FIFA made a mistake in turning a blind eye to the realities on the ground in the first place.

But as the organization's governing body meets for two days in Zurich, more than just the safety of Qatar's immigrant workforce is on the table.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is now recommending a date change for the 2022 World Cup, one that would see the event fall during Europe's winter months. In a statement, the office of Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Secretary General Chairman Hassan al-ThawadI told CNBC News:

"We bid for the FIFA World Cup in summer because we saw the opportunity to present solutions for players and fans in our country, and others with similar climates, to enjoy the outdoors in cool, safe and comfortable conditions in the summer months. … If the international football community reaches a consensus to move the event to an alternate date, we are able to accommodate that change. This would not affect our planning and preparation."

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Change is not so easy

Some European football clubs are already up in arms over the idea of a change, which they say would force leagues and competitions to overhaul their calendars to accommodate.

In addition, FIFA, which derives millions from the sale of broadcast rights, marketing and sponsorship, could run into trouble with its core source of revenue.

Ticket sales represent a small percentage of FIFA's income. Sixty percent to 65 percent of its revenue comes from the sale of broadcast rights. Marketing and sponsorships generate most of the rest.

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A date change could upset U.S. networks in particular, as it might conflict with the NFL calendar. Between 2014 and 2022, CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN are expected to pay a total of more than $39 billion for the rights to the NFL season.

Add to that concerns that a new calendar slot might force the World Cup to compete for airtime with the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Broadcasters aren't the only ones FIFA needs to worry about. Other countries that bid for the 2022 World Cup, such as the U.S. and Australia, will demand compensation for the bidding costs incurred during the tender process.

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Under the structure of that tender, the 2022 World Cup was to be a summer event. And while FIFA officials say bidding documents hold a provision for a date change, it's by no means certain their case is water-tight.

While Qatar already expects to spend up to $162 billion on infrastructure for the World Cup, there's no indication that Qatar would be willing to divert that money to compensate broadcasters and sponsors for a date change.

And that could leave FIFA to foot the bill.

—By CNBC's Hadley Gamble

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