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Infantino warns of World Cup ban for players in breakaway league

Updated November 08, 2018

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Football’s biggest names would be banned from the World Cup if they played in a breakaway European Super League, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday.  — AFP/File photo
Football’s biggest names would be banned from the World Cup if they played in a breakaway European Super League, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday. — AFP/File photo

ZURICH: Football’s biggest names would be banned from the World Cup if they played in a breakaway European Super League, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday.

Infantino, speaking to a small group of reporters at FIFA headquarters, said the governing body would punish players at clubs like Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich if they left football’s organized structure to form a privately-owned league.

“Either you are in or you are out,” Infantino said, listing the World Cup, European Cham­pionship and national leagues as competitions that players from breakaway teams could be excluded from. “This includes everything.”

Talk of a long-threatened Super League was revived on Friday when German magazine Der Spiegel published confidential documents and emails from clubs and soccer bodies in its “Football Leaks” series.

Real Madrid were revealed to be working with consultants on a 16-team Super League to kick off in 2021 effectively replacing the Champions League and outside the control of UEFA.

The plan called for 11 storied clubs from Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France to get ownership stakes and risk-free Super League membership for 20 years, with five more clubs from those countries invited to play.

The breakaway from football’s historic hierarchy FIFA, the six continental bodies and 211 national federations would allow officials to ban players from major competitions, including the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“The idea is if you break away, you break away. You don’t keep one foot in and one foot out,” FIFA legal director Alasdair Bell. “That would be the general approach we would follow, but of course lawyers can debate this for a long time.”

Both Infantino and Bell were long-time staffers at UEFA, which has steadily changed Champions League prize money and entry rules to favour elite clubs and stall breakaway threats.

“This is the history of the last 20 years,” said Infantino, who has clashed this year with European football officials and club leaders over FIFA’s proposed Club World Cup project, which is funded by Japanese investor SoftBank.

Infantino said his plan potentially featuring at least 12 European clubs in a 24-team lineup, and worth a promised $3 billion every four years was a good alternative to a private closed league.

“The Club World Cup is the answer to any attempt to think even about any sort of breakaway leagues,” he said.

Infantino insisted while the plan would be lucrative for clubs taking part, it also kept money in the football family. FIFA would use 25 percent of revenue to share globally.

“If the price to pay is to give proper revenues to a club participating in a Club World Cup but this allows us to ... give $1 million to Haiti who has nothing, or to Mongolia who has three time zones but only two football pitches, well then we should be I think doing that,” he said.

A FIFA task force will assess a revamp of competitions, including a new event for all national teams played every two years. Infantino said he expects a decision in March when he chairs a FIFA Council meeting in Miami.

He also believes the latest breakaway threat will calm. “People are still quite reasonable,” Infantino said. “I trust certainly the club owners and presidents to be able to have a discussion.”

Infantino all but wrote off the chances of an expanded 48-team competition at the 2022 World Cup.

Last month, Infantino had told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur that increasing the number of teams from the 32 that made up the tournament in Russia this year was “feasible”.

“I haven’t changed my mind,” said Infantino. “I was positive about it from the beginning because I think if we can increase the number of teams it is good for football. That is why we are going to do it for the 2026 World Cup. Can we do it for 2022? It is a difficult challenge.”

Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar’s task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert state in 2010.

“We are in discussion with Qatar,” said Infantino, who said the tournament would need to spread to neighbouring countries. “It will be a very, very difficult challenge to do it only in Qatar. So personally, as president of FIFA, I would be very happy if some matches could be shared with some countries in the region.”

The question of regional cooperation has been complicated by Qatar’s stand-off with neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.

“In the light of current circumstances in the region I would be even happier if it could happen,” he said. “Football unites, builds bridges, that could be a concrete result. What are the chances? Certainly small but what is wrong in discussing it?”

A final decision on that will be made in March at the FIFA Council in Miami before the draws for qualifying are made.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018

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