FIFA was pressed from the north – Kommersant newspaper No. 192 (7154) dated 21.10.2021

National football federations representing northern Europe have opposed the plans of the International Football Federation (FIFA) to move from a four-year cycle of world championships to a two-year one. In a statement signed by representatives of the six federations, it is said that if FIFA’s plans are implemented, they will have to “consider scenarios that are closer to the core values ​​than those offered by FIFA.” Moreover, more than a dozen European football federations are allegedly even ready to leave FIFA. The severity of the situation is given by the reports of the French publications Le Monde and L’Equipe, referring to a study commissioned by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Its authors came to the conclusion that if FIFA implements its plans, the European federations will lose up to € 3 billion in four years. In turn, FIFA President Gianni Infantino believes that without reforms, football will lose a young audience.

FIFA’s intention to abandon the traditional four-year World Cup cycle and move to a biennial championship mode on Wednesday ran into two further major hurdles. A number of Northern European football federations have expressed a wary attitude towards FIFA’s plans. A statement signed by representatives of the national federations of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands hints that they do not intend to blindly follow the decisions of FIFA. “If a majority of FIFA members decide to vote for a two-year World Cup cycle, then the Northern Football Federations will be forced to consider next steps and scenarios in line with our fundamental values, different from those promoted by the current FIFA proposals,” the federations said in a statement. Moreover, according to AP, 12 European federations are immediately considering the possibility of abandoning their membership in FIFA.

The statement by the Northern European football federations is in line with UEFA’s policy of rejection of the reform proposed by FIFA. UEFA President Alexander Čeferin has repeatedly stated that the implementation of the plan promoted by the head of FIFA Gianni Infantino will harm the entire football industry. On Wednesday, UEFA was able to base its rejection of the FIFA idea by citing research data. One of them, commissioned by UEFA itself, as follows from the reports of the French publications Le Monde and L’Equipe, showed that the transition to a two-year cycle of the world championships will lead to the fact that the European national federations will lose over a four-year cycle from € 2.5 billion up to € 3 billion. In addition, the authors of the study believe that the implementation of FIFA’s intentions will lead to the fact that UEFA will have to cancel the draw of the League of Nations. The study notes that UEFA will have to sacrifice this tournament, as otherwise the European Football Confederation will not be able to squeeze into the new international calendar. Its implementation is a key part of the reform implemented by FIFA. Moreover, UEFA itself will be forced to switch to a two-year cycle of holding the European Championships.

Note that in addition to UEFA, the South American confederation – CONMEBOL – also opposes the FIFA plan. The cooperation of the two most powerful confederations has recently reached a new level. At the end of September, they even opened a joint office in London and intend next year to hold a match between the winners of the America’s Cup and the European Championship – the teams of Argentina and Italy – and make the meetings of the champions of the two confederations traditional. At the same time, the representatives of UEFA and the leaders of CONMEBOL, justifying their opposition to the FIFA project, say that the transition to a two-year cycle will lead to the devaluation of the world champion title and, as a result, will damage the status of regional championships.

Neither party mentions financial aspects. And they boil down to the fact that FIFA will earn about $ 6.5 billion over the current four-year cycle. UEFA will receive more than $ 14 billion over the same period, primarily from the Champions League. Obviously, for FIFA, the transition to a two-year cycle is a way to cope with a situation in which it receives almost all the income during the years of the World Championships, and in the pauses between them it is forced to be content with ten times less income. So, in 2020, FIFA earned only $ 266.5 million, and in 2022, when the World Cup is held in Qatar, its revenues will exceed $ 5 billion.

However, FIFA’s commitment to reform is not limited to short-term revenue growth, as Mr Infantino says. On Tuesday, as reported by the AP agency, Gianni Infantino, during a meeting closed to the media with representatives of the European national federations, said that football as an industry was in a difficult situation. The FIFA President drew attention to the fact that the main problem of football is that it is losing the competition with other forms of entertainment that “take the attention of boys and girls.” “We need to see how we can get them back together,” said Gianni Infantino. Earlier, Arsene Wenger, the head of the FIFA global football development department, who is leading the project for the transition to a two-year cycle of holding the world championships, said that in order to retain a young audience, football needs to get rid of passing matches and give viewers more top-end games.

Recall that the essence of the reform proposed by FIFA boils down to the fact that the entire international calendar will be revised. At the same time, the number of qualifying games will be reduced due to the fact that they will be grouped into compact mini-tournaments and instead of the current ten games for each national team in qualifying there will be six. At the same time, the number of windows in the calendar for national team games will be reduced from four to two: in October and March. It is assumed that at the end of each season there will be World Championships (in even years) or Confederation Championships (in odd years).

The decision to switch to a two-year cycle of the world championships can be made at the December FIFA Congress. Earlier, sources at UEFA and CONMEBOL stated that they are ready to oppose the project, not only in words, but also in deeds. Up to, if necessary, “blocking” the new scheme of the World Cup. But these two confederations, it seems, will remain in the minority at the Congress. Indeed, in favor of the FIFA project, the representative of Asia AFC, which oversees football in the countries of North America and the Caribbean, CONCACAF, and the African CAF have previously spoken out. Together they have twice as many votes as UEFA and CONMEBOL are able to collect.

Alexander Petrov

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