Fifa puts Club World Cup revamp on hold after European resistance
Gianni Infantino says investors prepared to pay nearly €22bn for expanded tournaments
Fifa president Gianni Infantino during a press conference on Friday, after a Fifa council meeting in Kigali. Photograph: Cyril Ndegeya/AFP/Getty Images
The plans of Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, to launch a lucrative new Club World Cup and Nations League have been delayed by intense European opposition, and a “task force” will be appointed to examine the implications for football globally.
Following reports that the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, was threatening to lead a walkout of the Fifa council meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, on Friday if the proposals were voted through, overnight discussions resulted in agreement to appoint a task force and consult more widely on the implications.
Infantino had presented to the council the same proposals he had to shelve in May, for new formats of the tournaments, with the current Club World Cup replaced by a competition featuring more top European clubs. He said the plans were backed by investors prepared to pay $25 billion (€21.9 billion) for four of the tournaments to take place every four years from 2021, but has never identified the backers, citing a confidentiality agreement. Following widespread reports that the Japanese telecoms giant Softbank is the prime investor, backed by Saudi Arabia, which has invested in Softbank’s “Vision” fund, Fifa has denied that any state funds, from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, are involved.
Fifa stated in notes for the council that it “would not enter into a joint venture for this purpose whether directly or indirectly, with sovereign wealth funds of individual states”.
Uefa fiercely objected to the proposals again, sharpened by Infantino’s suggestion this time that a Club World Cup could be held every season. The European Club Association (ECA) also remains strongly opposed, arguing that Infantino failed to consult properly on major changes to the football calendar, which is fixed until 2024, and warning of an “institutional crisis” in a letter for Ceferin to take into the meeting.
The World Leagues Forum, which includes the Premier League, had also strongly objected, complaining in a letter to Infantino that Fifa was proposing to impose new demands on the football calendar with “urgency and recklessness”.
Individual clubs had expressed support for revamping the Club World Cup, an annual Fifa tournament between continental champions which has held limited appeal. Infantino argues that Fifa should create a more attractive tournament, recommending a 24-team competition over 2½ weeks in mid-June. Fifa’s proposals include paying some of the income in “solidarity” to national football associations, from the $12 billion (€10.5 billion) promised for the Club World Cup over 12 years, and $13 billion (€11.4 billion) for a new Nations League.
After the plans were presented to top Premier League and European clubs in April and May, promising more than £100 million (€112.5 million) to each participating club, Real Madrid and Barcelona publicly expressed support, and other clubs were positively interested. However, the ECA letter opposing the plans was signed by all 15 board members, who include the officials from the two Spanish clubs, Manchester United, Arsenal, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Concerns, acknowledged by Fifa, remain over the impact these new fortunes will have on competitive balance.
The task force will be directed by Fifa’s bureau, made up of the six continental confederation presidents and Infantino, and will deliver its proposals at the next Fifa council meeting in Miami on March 14th.
The Fifa council is also heading for a row with La Liga after publicly stating its opposition to proposals announced by the Spanish top flight in August to play an annual league match in the US.
That strategy, to expand La Liga’s global support and try to close the financial gap with the Premier League, is intended to begin with a match on January 26th between Barcelona and Girona in Miami Gardens. The game needs permissions from the Spain and USA national football associations, and both continental confederations, Uefa and Concacaf. Fifa’s approval is not formally required, but Infantino said the world governing body was opposed to one country’s league matches being played elsewhere.
In a statement after the meeting, Fifa said: “The council emphasised the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”
However, La Liga responded by saying in a statement: “Should we receive official notification from Fifa that they prohibit the match, we will take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport [Cas] with urgency.”
The Fifa council also agreed to significantly increase the payments to the 24 participating countries in the Women’s World Cup next year, following complaints from players’ unions at the huge disparity with the money in men’s football. Prize money will be doubled to $30 million (€26.3 million).