UEFA threatens boycott as FIFA drums biennial World Cup plan

Published September 10, 2021
FORMER Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of Global Football Development, is fronting the proposals  to double the number of World Cups by holding the tournament every two years.—Reuters
FORMER Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of Global Football Development, is fronting the proposals to double the number of World Cups by holding the tournament every two years.—Reuters

LONDON: UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has warned of a potential European boycott of the World Cup if FIFA’s plans to stage the tournament every two years go ahead.

World football’s governing body is carrying out a review of the international match calendar, led by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who is proposing a major tournament every year.

Under the proposals the World Cup would rotate with continental tournaments such as the European Championship and be played every second year instead of every fourth.

“We can decide not to play in it,” Ceferin, head of European football’s governing body, told The Times newspaper. “As far as I know, the South Americans are on the same page. So good luck with a World Cup like that.

“I think it will never happen as it is so much against the basic principles of football. To play every summer a one-month tournament, for the players it’s a killer. If it’s every two years it clashes with the women’s World Cup, with the Olympic football tournament.

“The value is precisely because it is every four years, you wait for it, it’s like the Olympic Games, it’s a huge event. I don’t see our federations supporting that.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who publicly seems to prioritise introducing more and bigger competitions rather than more pressing matters such as new strategies to tackle racism in the game, has already managed to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2026.

FIFA argues it is acting purely in the interests of what is best for world football.

But the process that led to the addition of 16 teams at the World Cup shows that isn’t exactly the case. FIFA’s own feasibility study in 2016, months into Infantino’s first term as Sepp Blatter’s successor, found that the highest absolute quality would be achieved under the current format.

That was ignored.

Giving more countries the chance of competing in the World Cup, and promises of more cash handouts, panders to more of the 211 national federations whose re-election votes he requires. There is rarely dissent at a FIFA Congress. 166 nations voted in favor of a feasibility study on biennial World Cups.

The FIFA delegates were told the proposal for the feasibility study came from Saudi Arabia’s federation. Officially, a sponsor was required to get it on the congress agenda.

But the plan had been in the works long before May, with Infantino talking up the merits of biennial World Cups in advance of the Saudi proposal existing.

Infantino has shown little hesitation for meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, overlooking concerns about Saudi human rights violations and piracy of FIFA’s own broadcasts linked to the kingdom.

FIFA’s head of Global Football Development Wenger, the man fronting the proposals for a biennial World Cup, said on Thursday that FIFA’s plan has received a “very positive response”.

The former Arsenal manager has been pushing the idea for several weeks before holding a consultation with a group of around 80 former players and coaches in Doha, Qatar, this week.

Former Brazil World Cup winner Ronaldo appeared on a virtual press conference with Wenger and expressed his support for the idea with ex-Australia international Tim Cahill and former Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel also backing the process.

Schmeichel said that none of the players who had attended the discussion had been against the idea of moving to a two-year cycle rather than the current four-year gap.

“Overall, I think I have got a very positive response, but this decision is a democratic decision and will be made certainly by the 211 countries who are affiliated to FIFA. I think that we continue to consult people,” said Wenger.

Alongside UEFA, the body representing professional competitions in Europe, European Leagues, and the World Leagues Forum, which represents the main domestic club competitions, have opposed Wenger’s plans.

Asked about that opposition and the risk of major conflict within the game, Wenger said he was just carrying out the role of developing a solution for the game.

“I’m not hesitant at all. I’m 100% convinced that what I propose is the right solution for the modern way to organise football. If people have better ideas, I’m open to it and I welcome every idea that is better than mine,” he said.

“I will not vote. I just make a proposal that I think will improve things and make life better for everybody, but especially make football better,” he said.

“That is my main target is not guided by anything else,” he said, adding his role was, however, to convince people of the merits of his proposal.

“What we do today is part of it, but as well I will respect football’s decision and I’m convinced as well that we can get everybody to accept that this is the best solution,” he said.

Wenger said a decision on the next steps for the proposal could be taken by FIFA as early as December.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2021

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