FIFA’s proposal for a biennial World Cup may be flawed, but it would address inequality between footballing nations

FIFA's proposal for a biennial World Cup may be flawed, but it would address inequality between footballing nations

“It’s all for the money.” Surely you’ve heard critics make this claim about FIFA’s proposal to host a World Cup every two years, and guess what? To a large extent it is. And, from FIFA’s point of view, there is nothing wrong with that. His main mission is literally “develop the game, touch the world, build a better future”.

All of these things require money, or at least they are much easier to do with money. FIFA funds – especially the Forward Program – are practically the only source of income for most of the world’s federations, and since the World Cup is basically the only source of income for FIFA to finance its member associations Why wouldn’t they want to have twice as many World Cups every four years?

I have a colleague who likes to say “FIFA is going to be FIFA”, and he’s right. Complaining that FIFA wants to create more competitions to generate more income and thus be able to distribute more money among its members is a bit like complaining that a union seeks better wages and working conditions, or that a private investment fund squeezes an asset to maximize profits on behalf of your clients. You can call it greed or lust for power or whatever you want, but it falls squarely within its scope. And frankly, it aligns very well with the interests of its member associations.

Around two-thirds of FIFA member countries do not have a men’s professional league, and much of the other third that do have a professional league offer facilities, salaries and working conditions that are closer to English League Two than to the Premier League or LaLiga. These countries feel they cannot count on organic growth in club soccer – the roadmap that soccer built in Europe and South America – because they are too far behind. In a globalized world, many sponsors and broadcasters would rather spend money on established products than on what has their own door.

The next time you watch a Premier League game, see how many sponsors come from outside, not just from England, but from Western Europe. Or consider the fact that even in the world’s largest economy, the United States, the broadcasting rights of the main local professional league (Major League Soccer) are worth less than those of the Premier League, Spanish LaLiga and Italian Serie A. What these federations see is that money from their own countries is filtered through sponsors and broadcasters into the big European leagues, and they wonder: how can they compete if even their local companies prefer to invest in already rich leagues on the other side of the world. world?

This is where you might be tempted to say, “It’s a global economy, shut up and accept it.” It’s fair, but don’t be surprised if FIFA, whose power derives from its 211 members, decides to serve what most of its member associations want: more opportunities to play competitive matches and earn money for the football of their own countries.

It is a good time to point out that I do not support the biennial World Cup plan proposed by Arsene Wenger. I think it has some good elements, such as the reduction from five to three international windows a year (or even two, in the most radical version), the reduction in the number of World Cup qualifying matches, and the introduction of rest periods. Mandatory after summer competitions. There are also some things that I don’t like as much, such as the fact that they suddenly become imprecise about what makes an expanded Club World Cup and where it would sit on the calendar, and the fact that a major international tournament each year could cannibalize. sponsors and the care of women’s football, and that even with the rest period, we run the risk of overloading the small group of top players.

As we are, I don’t like the way it was done either: commissioning (at the request of Saudi Arabia) a feasibility study with very few details, and sending Wenger out to preach the gospel of the biennial World Cup around the world without having consulted before with other stakeholders such as confederations, leagues and players. It seems like a power game, and it’s probably not surprising that UEFA, CONMEBOL, FIFPro (the global players’ union), the World Leagues Forum, the European Club Association and a host of other bodies have come out against it.

Imagine your spouse tells you that they made plans to sell your house and move into an RV without prior notice: “Honey, I made plans to sign the papers next week, but don’t worry, I really care what you think. In fact, you can help me choose the motorhome we will live in for the rest of our lives. ” It is not surprising, then, given the way it was presented and in the face of what appeared to be a fait accompli – Wenger went so far as to say that he expected all of this to be approved in December – that UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has raised plans to boycott the biennial World Cup.

As is often the case, this appears to be an arm wrestling, and you may end up with some kind of last-minute deal. However, the clock is ticking, because the international match schedule – the global memorandum of understanding between clubs, leagues, associations, confederations and FIFA that determines when matches are played – expires in 2024 and to prevent havoc ( and economic losses, since it is necessary to sign sponsorship contracts and press rights), there should be an agreement closed no later than next year at this time.

However, the thing to remember is that each stakeholder looks out for the interests of its members. FIFA is pushing this forward given the interests of the majority of FIFA nations (majority in number, not majority in terms of the money they generate). This is demonstrated by the fact that CONCACAF and the Asian Football Confederation have declared themselves “open” to the proposal. So did the African confederation, while from what I see the Oceania Football Confederation – and its 11 full members of FIFA – are happy to chat.

UEFA and CONMEBOL, who control most of the desirable (and lucrative) product, act in the best interests of their shareholders. FIFPro and the national leagues are doing the same, which, if you think about it, is how it should be: each one stands up for their own thing.

But the main problem will not go away. Soccer is very popular around the world, but money flows mainly to two continents and, within them, to a handful of countries on those two continents (and, within them, to a handful of clubs, all of them in Europe. western). And it’s not just income inequality; it is an inequality of opportunities, of development, of growth paths.

Depending on your political stance, you may or may not see this as a problem. That’s fine, but FIFA is not to blame for broaching the issue and mounting the “have-haves versus have-nots” narrative. Although their plan may be flawed, even if the way they are pushing it is wrong, and perhaps their ultimate interest is not purely altruistic (in football, as in politics, if you control the money, you control the world, and if FIFA President Gianni Infantino manages to control an even bigger pot of money, becomes even more powerful), they are responding to what they think the majority of their members want – in particular, the poorer and less developed members who they say they are suffering as a result of the status quo.

So, yes, FIFA is going to be FIFA, and although few of the governing bodies of football have a good reputation – the last three permanent presidents of CONMEBOL (Nicolás Leoz, Eugenio Figuereido and Juan Ángel Napout) were accused of corruption and expelled In football, the last four CONCACAF presidents (Jack Warner, Lisle Austin, Alfredo Hawit, Jeffrey Webb) were charged or disqualified, as were the last two CAF presidents (Issa Hayatou and Ahmad Ahmad), from Oceania (Reynald Temarii, David Chung) and the last presidents of the AFC (Mohamed bin Hammam) and UEFA (Michel Platini) – the name of FIFA, as Infantino himself recognizes, is still “toxic” for many, which is what It happens when six years ago you were about to be designated as a “criminal organization” by the US Department of Justice.

But that does not mean that, by defending its poorest members – who are the majority – they are not doing their job. And that defense alone cannot be the reason to oppose their plans.

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