“The most inclusive and in-depth consultation process the football world has ever seen internationally. “ President Gianni Infantino does not hesitate to praise it, this vast program that his International Football Federation (Fifa) has just launched to collect the opinions of all players in the round ball on the reform of international match schedules, and in particular on its flagship measure: a World Cup every two years.
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On September 30, at a four-hour online summit bringing together FIFA member associations, Gianni Infantino made sure not to anger anyone, ensuring that “Everyone must come out a winner from this process”, but hammering that his vision “Is to make football truly global”. Between the lines, it is all the stake of the weeks to come which can be read. Because a battle is well underway.
Major hostility to reform
This World Cup every two years is not a new idea. Gianni Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, had suggested it in the late 1990s. But no one had dared to touch the legendary competition. Nearly a quarter of a century later, at least one consensus is emerging: the need to change an international calendar that no longer satisfies anyone. Too many appointments, too many periods in the year forcing players to join their national team, generating fatigue and risk of injury at home, and discontent among club managers forced to let them go.
The solution ? Director of development for Fifa since the end of 2019, ex-Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has been exposing it for a few weeks: more than one or two international breaks (against five today), a World Cup every two years, alternating with a continental competition, such as the Euro for example, which would also become biennial. Just like the Women’s World Cup which would follow the same path.
Since the announcement of the project, a few players have shown major hostility. The continental bodies of Europe (UEFA) and South America (Conmebol), the world union of players (Fifpro), associations of supporters. Individually, voices are raised against the change, from coach Didier Deschamps to his Belgian counterpart Roberto Martinez, including former players like Thierry Henry.
For them, a World Cup every two years would dilute the interest of the event, and a major annual international event would exhaust the players. “Have the current players been asked what they think? They are not in favor ”, recently assured the former Bleu on an English channel. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin did not hesitate to wave the threat of a boycott if the reform were to be carried out. Between pro and anti, war is declared.
Playing the rich against the poor
For FIFA, it is first and foremost a matter of communication: convincing that it wants above all a universal development of the game, by responding in particular to the needs of Africa and Asia whose competitions obviously do not have the influence and value of those played by Europeans and South Americans. The bottom line is also largely financial. With a biennial World Cup, Fifa hopes to increase its income, dangling an interesting runoff to neglected continents.
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A logic that UEFA can afford to denigrate: with its annual European cups, it generates twice as much income as Fifa: $ 12.5 billion from 2017 to 2020, a period that does not even take into account the Euro postponed to 2021, against 6.4 billion for Fifa. Fifa can suddenly play the institution’s card, defending the rest of the world against the interests of the richest.
A vote must finally settle the debates (read opposite). To win, Fifa must convince 106 associations of its 211 members. The African Confederation, whose new president (elected in March 2021), lawyer and billionaire businessman, is known to be very close to Gianni Infantino, declared itself rather favorable last July. She represents 54 votes at the Fifa Congress. The Caribbean Football Union, with its 27 votes, is also won over. The Asian Confederation is still on the reserve, but some of its 47 federations are already applauding with both hands (Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka). The coming weeks indeed promise a lot of backstage turmoil.
A world summit by the end of the year
At the same time as the launch of the consultation process, Fifa announced a calendar on September 30. The current consultation phase also concerns supporters, Fifa promising an international survey of a sample of more than 100,000 people.
Next November, ” a full report“ on the process will be published and discussed during a ” world summit “That Fifa must organize” by the end of the year “. Will a vote then be decided to effect a change? The vagueness remains on the subject. Even if Fifa would like to go fast, it still has a little time to impose an upheaval that would come into force in 2028.