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Saturday, December 4, 2021

AFC open to FIFA’s biennial World Cup plans as FIFPRO criticises ‘flawed process’

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FIFA’s proposal for a biennial World Cup tournament remains a contentious topic among football giants. 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been pushing plans for the World Cup to become biennial, meaning it will be played every two years not four, sparking controversy among senior figures.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) released a statement on Tuesday to clarify its stance on the International Match Calendar for the upcoming years.

The AFC said it “welcomes the extensive consultation process initiated and led by FIFA in examining the options to optimise the new International Match Calendar by looking into the feasibility of a FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup every two years instead of the current four-year interval, as mandated by the Member Associations, which include the AFC’s Members at the 71st FIFA Congress on 21 May 2021.

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“The AFC, as outlined in its Vision and Mission, has emphasised its clear ambitions to ensure Asia’s teams and players continue to shine on the world’s biggest stages through world-class competitions and in delivering tailor-made programmes to further enhance the development of its Member Associations,” it noted. 

Meanwhile, Global players’ union FIFPRO said on Tuesday that FIFA’s feasibility study to look into a biennial event is “inadequate” and does not address concerns over the need to stop expanding players’ workload. 

“Any plans to change the men’s or women’s International Match Calendar must address the players’ concerns such as an expanding workload at the top of the game, the need to protect and improve jobs for the majority of our members around the world and protecting the promising advancement of the women’s professional game,” it stated.

“Proposals isolating further expansions such as a biennial World Cup – as well as other competition reforms under discussion – are inadequate in the absence of solutions for existing problems,” FIFPRO said.

While AFC welcomed the examination process, FIFPRO deemed it “flawed” over its perceived lacks of proper impact assessment and commitment to improve both men’s and women’s games.

“Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy. The current debate once again follows a flawed process and approach.”

FIFPRO General Secretary, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann stressed “Players have natural physiological limits and an inherent interest in the sustainable advancement of the game: the success of the sport depends on their physical and mental well-being.”

He said that the decision will directly impact footballers, urging officials to consider their opinion. 

“The lack of genuine dialogue and trust between institutions in football blocks the game’s ability to build more resilience after a painful pandemic, but rather we keep reverting to the same old habits of conflict,” he added. 

“It is also once more frustrating that the specific and fundamental impact on the women’s game is debated as a side-product rather than its own legitimate process with unique needs and opportunities.”

FIFPRO made it clear that it will only consider proposals for new competitions on the basis where the improvement of professional football’s competitiveness, diversity and equality are ensured.

“On this basis we are engaging in dialogue with all entities in the game and will meet with FIFA about its reform proposals in the near future,” it stated.

‘Self-interest’

FIFA’s proposal to hold the men’s and women’s World Cups every two years instead of four was not only objected by FIFPRO, but also UEFA and the European Club Association, along with several high-ranking officials.

Previously, President of the Union of European Football Associations Aleksander Ceferin argued the plan would jeopardise the game’s “jewel” and said the idea will “dilute” the tournament.

Moreover, ECA president and chief executive of Paris Saint-Germain, Nasser Al-Khelaifi also took aim at the idea, warning that changes to the international sporting event calendar need “honest engagement, not unilateral and self-interested decisions.”

“Over-scheduled and disrupted matches put the players’ health and wellbeing at risk – and the clubs bear all the risk,” Al-Khelaifi said.

“International competition cannot suffocate fans’ and players’ connections to clubs, without which international competition wouldn’t exist.”

The debate is being led by former Arsenal boss and FIFA’s chief of global football development, Arsène Wenger.

Earlier this month, Wenger proposed holding the World Cup or European Championship every summer. He also suggested running the qualifiers throughout the month of October, instead of an 18-month period, and said he hoped that decisions will be finalised by December.

Read also: Global football industry locks horns as FIFA pushes for a biennial World Cup 

However, UEFA and most clubs still strongly reject the idea, with Ceferin also criticising FIFA for failing to properly consult officials.

England’s Manager Gareth Southgate earlier confirmed he met Wenger to discuss the proposal. He said he is “open minded” to the idea, but football “can’t keep adding on to the workload of the players.

“I’m not massively pro or negative to the concept, but I think it needs a lot more thought,” he stated. 

“As a traditionalist it feels you could lose some of the allure of the World Cup because the scarcity of it makes it more important. But I also get it that, if you are a player who has an injury for the World Cup, you might get only one opportunity every eight years, and that is really tough.”

In May, Wenger said he wanted to see the two major tournaments, the World Cup and European Championship played every two years and “kick all the rest out.”

Infantino said that a “fundamental” rethink around the international calendar is needed and with “no taboo topics.”

“We should not take it as any sort of challenge and fight,” he said of Wenger’s consultation. “It is a way to make global football strong. We have to give to fans even more reason to enjoy our sport.

“The door of FIFA is open to any idea to any proposal.”

The idea first emerged after the Saudi football federation requested FIFA to undergo a feasibility study in May.

Some countries from Asia have agreed to holding a biennial tournament.

“Four-year gaps between FIFA World Cup is too great – and the window of opportunity too small – to preclude whole generations of talent,” said minnows Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka in a joint statement.

“Less than a quarter of current AFC member associations have been represented in almost a century of FIFA World Cup finals in a situation where these tournaments are the real drivers of development.”

The football governing body is insisting that it is a consultation process with “no predetermined objectives”, and Wenger stressed there is no financial incentive behind it.

Infantino previously pushed to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48, and succeeded. The reform was officially signed off almost five years ago and will take effect from 2026.

The men’s World Cup has been held every four years since the inaugural event in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 because of World War Two.

The women’s tournament has also been running every four years since it started in 1991.


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