Fifa has been working since the beginning of September on a reform of the international calendar and the transition to a biennial World Cup. UEFA and fan groups lead the slingshot.
The year 2021, the year of all attempts to reform football ? After the Super league now Fifa is pushing for a revolution in the organization of the international calendar with as a symbol the organization of its queen competition, the World Cup, every two years. A proposal that arouses an outcry, with in chief opposing UEFA, which demanded, Wednesday 22 September, a real consultation.
A comprehensive reform of the calendar
In the front row to defend the initiative is former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, now director of development within Fifa. The 71-year-old Frenchman lit the first wick.
In a long interview with the Team in early September, he explained and justified the reform at length. The central idea is to have a final phase every summer from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments such as the Euro, CAN or Copa America, while grouping the qualifications for these tournaments on a single international break.
The idea has been in Fifa’s head for a while. At the end of May, the world body initiated a” feasibility study ” suggested by the Saudi federation, close to Fifa President Gianni Infantino. And the Italian-Swiss leader said he was open to” everything ” to reform the calendar, posing as the only bulwark against inequalities in football.
International Match Calendar-New consultation phase
FIFA has reached out to its member associations and other stakeholders (representatives of the players, clubs, leagues, confederations) marking the beginning of a new phase of consultation.
– FIFA Media (@fifamedia) September 20, 2021
Politically, this is the main argument of Fifa because, according to the body, a World Cup every two years allows to redistribute more income in particular to the African, Asian or South American federations, more dependent on this windfall than the prosperous European football.
Near unanimity against reform
Not surprisingly, UEFA quickly opposed this reform. Through the voice of its president, Aleksander Ceferin, the European body categorically rejected such an idea, “impossible” in view of the already overloaded schedule, and which would “dilute” the “jewel” of world football, all the more precious because it is rare.
Wednesday 22 September, UEFA demanded that a real consultation be undertaken on the subject : “The future of the international calendar should be the subject of a real consultation and exchange between Fifa, the confederations and the main stakeholders of the competitions”, believes in a statement the European body.
This is especially the method that makes one cringe. While Fifa is pushing through the press, it has never formally entered into dialogue with confederations, leagues, supporters ‘ representatives and clubs.
UEFA has received reinforcement from another confederation, Conmebol, the governing body of South American football, which believes that the reform has “no sporting justification”.
It also has the support of fan organizations around the world who have affirmed their opposition in a joint statement.
“The overwhelming majority of fans oppose the organization of a World Cup every two years,” assure in a statement about fifty fan groups from six different Confederations, including French, English, Italian or Brazilian organizations. “Such a decision threatens to destroy the already fragile balance between local, national, continental and international competitions, as well as an already overloaded calendar”, they develop, indicating that they like the World Cup “precisely because it is an extraordinary event”.
Fifa does not want, however, to lose the battle of opinion. It promptly released the results of an online poll showing a slight majority of football fans supporting the idea of a “more frequent”World Cup.
According to this IRIS/YouGov study of 15,000 people “with an interest in football” – a very broad definition of “supporterism” – 55% want to see the queen of Fifa competition more often than every four years.
Of the respondents, the survey details, 30 % would like the World Cup to be held every two years, 11% every year and 14% every three years, a pace very unusual in international sport. The most favorable to this increased frequency are ” younger generations “and” developing markets”, when long-time football lovers remain committed to tradition.
This is (very) interesting when you look at and dissect the FIFA poll.
The formula “Every 4 years” is the most cited but FIFA shows a preference for change because the sum of the other 3 outweighs “Every 4 years”#Thread to read ⬇️ https://t.co/Kxoix2sSHj
— Pierre Rondeau (@PierreR0ndeau) September 17, 2021
Many observers scoffed at a biased presentation of the results since the four-year formula remains the one with the most votes on its own.
“It is legitimate for Fifa to do market research, since it has something to sell. But if it wants to consult representative organizations, it knows where to find us, ” Ronan Evain, coordinator of the Football Supporters Europe (FSE) network, criticized AFP.
See you on September 30th
Continuation of the debate ? Thursday 30 September. Fifa is holding an “online summit” on this day to consult its member federations on its reform of the international calendar.
The international federation wants to “launch a new phase of consultation around the international women’s and men’s calendars, which expire at the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively,” it wrote in a statement.
“Following the invitations sent at the beginning of September to stakeholders, including all confederations, discussions will be organized in the coming weeks,” continues the body.
“Fifa has also invited its member associations to a first online summit on 30 September 2021. This will be one of many opportunities for an open and constructive global and regional debate over the coming months,” she said.
Fifa President Gianni Infantino promised that decisions would be made by the end of the year.