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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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

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FIFA’s proposal for a biennial World Cup tournament sparks controversy among football giants. 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has continued to push plans for the World Cup to become biennial, meaning it will be played every two years not four, despite senior figures rejecting the idea altogether.

The footballing body is conducting a feasibility study to look into a biennial event for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, though President of the Union of European Football Associations Aleksander Ceferin argued this would jeopardise the game’s “jewel” and said the idea will “dilute” the tournament.

“We think that the jewel of the World Cup has value precisely because of its rarity. Holding it every two years will lead to less legitimacy, and it will unfortunately dilute the World Cup itself,” UEFA’s president said at a meeting of the European Club Association in Geneva.

“Our players don’t need to see more of their summers spent at tournaments rather than devoted to relaxation and recuperation,” he noted in front of 160 club representatives.

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.”

Read also: FIFA mulls disciplinary action after suspension of Brazil-Argentina’s World Cup qualifier

“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.

On Friday, 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.

Meanwhile, UEFA and most clubs have strongly rejected 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.”

Speaking on Monday, Al-Khelaifi also addressed the controversial Super League campaign that was shut down earlier this year.

“I will not spend much time talking about the 18th of April, and the ‘not-so-Super League’ because I do not like to focus on fabulists and failures,” he told the first major gathering of clubs since the pandemic,” he said.

“While the three rebel clubs waste energies, twist narratives and continue to shout at the sky, the rest of us are moving forward and focusing every energy on building a better future for European football – together as one.”

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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