FIFA intensifies push to stage World Cup every two years

Published September 17, 2021
FIFA's logo is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland on August 5, 2020. — Reuters/File
FIFA's logo is seen in front of its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland on August 5, 2020. — Reuters/File

ZURICH: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from football fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.

The latest public relations tactic came in the form on an online survey commissioned by FIFA.

The FIFA statement did not provide data, details of the polling methodology or questions asked, but claimed its findings showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets.”

European football body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.

The governing bodies of the six continental football federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European events revenue stream.

FIFA’s controversial proposal of a biennial World Cup, first floated in the 1990s, was revived by FIFA’s head of Global Football Development, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

FIFA’s congress in May voted by a large majority to conduct a feasibility study into the potential of holding the World Cup every two years instead of every four years.

FIFA said it used polling company YouGov and that the 15,000 respondents “were identified as expressing an interest in football and the FIFA World Cup, from a broader market research survey involving 23,000 people in 23 countries, across the organisation’s six confederations.”

It said the majority of fans would like to see a more frequent men’s World Cup and of those respondents, a majority preferred a biennial competition.

The most favourable towards this increased frequency are the “younger generations in all regions” and “developing markets”, while older football lovers remain attached to the tradition of a four-yearly tournament which has been in place since the first World Cup in 1930.

The organisation said that it would publish full details of the survey and added that an expanded survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries was currently underway.

FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.

The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.

Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.

European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semi-final slots. The other three semi-finalists from 2006-18 were from South America.

The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international football, and club and national teams.

Global players union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested football schedule.

However, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said it welcomes the consultation process and CONCACAF, which organises the game in North and Central America and the Caribbean, says it is studying the plans.

Wenger says that the status quo causes too much disruption and forces players to make too many long trips around the world for qualifiers and friendly matches. He says his system would streamline the process while still keeping the balance of 80% club football and 20% national team football.

Any final decision on the proposal would have to be made by a FIFA Congress, which usually takes place in May.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021

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