LONDON (AP) — European clubs joined forces on Friday to slam FIFA for trying to advance plans for biennial World Cups, warning of a destructive impact on world football.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has infuriated the European Club Association, which accuses the world governing body of breaching its legal obligations by rushing to radically overhaul the sport and gain more control.
FIFA has pushed internal media interviews with retired players and former managers as it races to garner support from national associations for the plan to double the frequency of all four men’s World Cups years to two.
UEFA have already expressed their concerns on FIFA’s behavior and this was echoed by the ECA, which represents 247 clubs.
The ECA said it would support a more balanced approach to club and international football by reducing the five windows typically in the year for players to be released for national team games to reduce the burden on players . It is FIFA’s apparent lack of commitment to the new International Match Calendar (IMC) required from 2024 that worries clubs.
“The ECA has therefore followed with deep concern and concern FIFA’s launch of active public relations campaigns and much pretense,” the club body said in a statement to The Associated Press. , “apparently seeking to advance IMC reforms, in particular the introduction of a biennial. World Cup.”
All 211 FIFA member federations were invited to online discussions on the new BMI on Thursday.
Plans resurfaced in May when the Saudi FA proposed at the May congress that FIFA explore biennial World Cups. The Saudis have become one of the closest allies of Infantino, who has made trips this year to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He is the former manager of Arsenal Arsene Wenger who was deployed to sell the case for World Cups every two years in his role as FIFA’s Head of Global Football Development. He has made media presentations to bodies such as UEFA on his vision for the post-2024 match schedule, which requires ECA approval in order for clubs to release players for tournaments.
FIFA was “in light of the range of predisposed decisions and communications … in direct and unilateral breach of certain legal obligations”, the ECA said.
“Apart from the noticeable lack of genuine (or indeed any) consultation, and as many stakeholders have pointed out in recent days, FIFA’s proposals would have a direct and destructive impact on club play, both domestically international,” added the ECA. . “Furthermore, the proposals would put the health and well-being of players at risk. They would dilute the value and meaning of club and national competitions.
The ECA highlighted how the plans would ‘diminish and clash’ with women’s football losing its right to stage events in a European summer without a men’s tournament. FIFA have only just begun to explore plans for a biennial Women’s World Cup.
“Any decision relating to the future (of the international match calendar) can only be taken with the consent of football clubs,” the ECA said, “with the welfare of the players at heart – and in accordance with the legally binding obligations that would normally not need to be reviewed.
The ECA has, however, backed an expansion of the Champions League in conjunction with UEFA with the group stage due to increase from six to 10 team matches from 2024.
The only top European clubs that are no longer members of the ECA are Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus, who are continuing their quest for a European Super League. The breakaway was launched and collapsed in April, leading to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi taking over as ECA boss from Juventus president Andrea Agnelli.
Infantino has been accused of being complicit in forming the separatist plans of Europe’s elite before belatedly denying collusion with the rebels after months of silence. Infantino’s links to the Super League have heightened suspicions within European football as to his motives for more regular World Cups which give FIFA even greater influence over a sport with club play at its heart .
“BMI reform must be based on jointly agreed outcomes,” said the ECA, “balanced in the interests of all, following honest and detailed consultation – not simply in the singular interest of FIFA on the back of a series of public relations campaigns.
FIFA declined to respond to specific criticism from ECA.
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