FIFA puts new tournaments on hold due to European opposition
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — A $25 billion overhaul of world soccer competitions was put on on hold after mounting disapproval from European leaders and clubs saw FIFA President Gianni Infantino backtrack on Friday and accept more consultation was necessary to avert a crisis.
A vote was abandoned hours before the council meeting where Infantino hoped to secure approval from his council on the principle of revamping the Club World Cup and establishing a Global Nations League.
“I am happy to have contributed to peace in the world today,” Infantino said. “We will work to see whether we can find something that suits everyone.”
Infantino will lead a task force featuring the regional confederation presidents to explore the merits of the formats that are being strongly resisted by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.
A threat by Ceferin to walk out of the council meeting rather than vote on the competitions contributed to thwarting Infantino’s plans.
“Common sense prevailed,” Ceferin said after leaving the meeting.
Ceferin arrived at the meeting in Kigali with letters of complaints from European clubs and leagues about the FIFA process. They included concerns about the increased demands on players, the lack of consultation by FIFA and, within leagues, the potential for the big clubs to get even richer.
Infantino had tried to divide Europe by meeting some clubs in May and gaining public backing for the new competitions from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But the Spanish clubs have since backed away from FIFA. Those teams were among 15 members of the European Club Association who wrote a letter to Ceferin to take into the meeting warning of an “institutional crisis with potentially severe and far reaching consequences” if the new competitions were approved on Friday without a thorough examination of the impact on the congested match calendar, which had already been agreed to through 2024.
“The successful development of international football competitions is dependent and based entirely on clubs’ participation and/or on their assets,” the ECA wrote, highlighting how most of the world’s leading players are based in Europe.
The ECA letter, which was also signed by officials from Manchester United, Bayern Munich Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, said FIFA failed to adequately consult with the clubs. That was the same complaint in a letter to Infantino from leading domestic leagues, which featured the heads of the Premier League, Bundesliga and the Mexican league among the signatories.
Imposing new competitions or expanding existing ones “would only further overload the calendar, endanger players’ health, and jeopardize the economy of football globally,” the World Leagues Forum wrote. “We do not understand the urgency and recklessness with which FIFA is acting on these competition and calendar issues.”
But Infantino is not backing down, having first tried to rush the council into accepting the new competitions by May.
“There will be fights and there will be disagreements,” he said. “There are some who will always oppose on anything. I think leadership is not just trying to get nothing done in order to keep everyone happy. It’s to assume responsibility as well and to take decisions.”
But Infantino is keeping members of his own council in the dark about the specifics of an offer from a global financial consortium, including Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, to make the biggest change to soccer competitions in years.
In briefing documents for the meeting, FIFA assured council members that government-issued funds won’t be allowed to be part of any joint-venture consortium involved in the new tournaments.
“This investor was — and still is — keen to partner with FIFA in connection with these two competitions, assuming that we take the sporting decision to go ahead with their development,” Infantino wrote to European members of the council on Thursday in a private letter obtained by The Associated Press.
That decision will now not happen until at least March, when the council meets in Miami.
Two options for a new Club World Cup from 2021 were floated to council members.
The first would see a tournament staged every four years over a maximum of 18 days in the June slot currently used by the Confederations Cup, which serves as the warm-up event a year before the World Cup. FIFA earlier this year proposed 24 teams but is now leaving that competition field open.
The second proposal would keep an annual Club World Cup but shift it from December to the July-August window currently used by European teams for often-lucrative preseason friendlies in the United States and Asia.
The Nations League was first conceived by UEFA when Infantino was general secretary of European soccer’s governing body before being elected president of FIFA in 2016. It debuted in Europe last month. Infantino wants the format to involve all six confederations with eight-team finals serving as mini World Cups in every odd-numbered year.