Fifa and Uefa to face off over new megabucks tournaments
Fifa want a new Club World Cup and global league while Uefa are fiercely opposed
Fifa president Gianni Infantino is pressing forward with a plan for two new global tournaments that could reshape soccer’s international calendar but Uefa are fiercely opposed. Photo: Marco Rosi/Getty Images
Gianni Infantino, the president of Fifa, is pressing forward with a plan for two new global tournaments that could reshape soccer’s international calendar, putting it on the agenda for a meeting of the sport’s leaders this week. But one of the organisation’s most powerful stakeholders is not happy about it, and is threatening to walk out of the gathering in protest.
The proposal, a $25 billion plan for a revamped Club World Cup and a new national-team competition, is fiercely opposed by members of Uefa, European soccer’s governing body.
The plan, from an investment group led by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, was introduced earlier this year by Fifa, which oversees global soccer. The new Club World Cup would be a 24-team championship for club teams, with half of the participants drawn from Europe. The second tournament would be a global league of national teams, and would supplant Uefa’s version of a similar competition for European countries, the brand-new Nations League. It would be played under a different format from the quadrennial World Cup.
The proposal has been delayed since the spring, when Infantino introduced it, but Fifa added it to the agenda for its Fifa Council meeting on Friday in Kigali, Rwanda.
Members of the council — Fifa’s top board — are scheduled to discuss governance problems afflicting several national federations and will receive an overview from various committee heads. Then the conversation will turn to Infantino’s pet project — the $25 billion offer from SoftBank, an issue that has created a contentious atmosphere among the game’s leaders.
If Infantino tries to force an agreement at the meeting, the resistance from European representatives will probably be even more intense than the angry scenes that greeted his efforts to push through an agreement earlier this year. European council members are prepared to walk out of the discussions, according to people familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the situation.
The Uefa members are opposed to how the new tournaments would alter the world soccer schedule and devalue its Champions League competition, the most lucrative in the world. The new Club World Cup and the national-team league could also draw large numbers of fans, broadcasters and sponsors, replacing the largely unheralded current world club competition and the Nations League, which is in its inaugural edition this year.
The $25 billion proposal has the backing of investors from Asia, the United States and the Persian Gulf, including from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which has piled into sports as part of ambitious plans by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to broaden the country’s economy.
“The meeting has yet to take place and many topics are on the agenda for discussion and debate, as always,” a Fifa spokesman said. “It’s strange that some people have gone directly to a conclusion.”
The first time Infantino pushed the proposal, last March in Colombia, European soccer officials came to the meeting prepared. Aleksander Ceferin, Uefa’s president, distributed letters signed by officials from groups representing soccer’s top leagues and clubs, criticising Fifa’s leadership for failing to consult them about major changes that would affect them.
Several rounds of talks have taken place since then, but the European Club Association, which represents about 270 teams, still opposes the plans, as does the World Leagues Forum.
“As long as I am Uefa president, there will be no room for pursuing selfish endeavors or hiding behind false pretenses,” Ceferin told European Union ministers in May. “I cannot accept that some people who are blinded by the pursuit of profit are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds.
“Money does not rule — and the European sports model must be respected. Football is not for sale. I will not let anyone sacrifice its structures on the altar of a highly cynical and ruthless mercantilism.”
But for Infantino, successfully pushing the proposal through would provide a timely lift. He is up for re-election next year, and he has promised to increase funding of development projects for each of Fifa’s 211 members.
The debate over the plan was put aside to allow this summer’s World Cup to go ahead in a cordial manner. The fund’s offer and the creation of new tournaments were kept off the agenda when the council last met, on the eve of the Russia World Cup in June.
Infantino and Ceferin have rarely spoken since the contentious meeting in March, which longtime council members described as the most acrimonious gathering they had ever attended. Infantino has been using contacts cultivated during his time as a Uefa executive to try to persuade the biggest clubs to back his plan.
SoftBank has been tight-lipped since news of its plans broke more than six months ago. The company has hired the management consultant firm McKinsey to evaluate its offer.
According to people with knowledge of the situation, SoftBank has backed off from an initial 60-day deadline it gave Fifa to conclude talks about the plan. It proposed a guaranteed $2 billion for each edition of the national team competition and $3 billion for each Club World Cup.
As they organise opposition to Infantino’s plan, European clubs are also being courted by other groups looking to create a prestigious new tournament. Among them is Relevant Sports, a group backed by the Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M Ross that already hosts the International Champions Cup, an annual series of exhibition matches played around the globe, including in North America. Relevant wants a more competitive format and has spoken with Uefa about its plans, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. – New York Times service