The battle over a biennial World Cup, as opposed to having it every four years, continues to rage.
To recap, the political football has been kicked around since the beginning of last summer when the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) debuted the idea.
“We believe the future of football is at a critical juncture,” SAFF president Yasser Al-Misehal said when making his pitch. “The many issues that football has faced have now been further exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. It is important to review how the global game is structured, which should include whether the current four-year cycle remains the optimum basis for how football is managed both from a competition and a commercial perspective as well as overall football development. Having fewer yet more meaningful competitive national team matches could potentially address concerns regarding player welfare whilst at the same time enhancing the value and merit of such competitions.”
The idea stands to increase FIFA's income, as well as that of any host cities.
The IOC, on the other hand, is not a fan. Inside The Games notes that one of the more vocal critics of the plan was National Olympic Committees of Africa President Mustapha Berraf, who said the move would have a "heavy impact" on the continent and football in general.
"The plan would create immeasurable damage and would put in danger sport and in particular football," said Berraf. "It would simply push away other sports and relegate them to the back benches which is unacceptable and create a rift between women's and men's sport and be a setback to our aim of creating equity and parity for all sports."
Another issue the IOC has with FIFA’s proposal is its potential to come into conflict with the Summer Olympics – where soccer is a medal sport. And although FIFA pointed out that any change would be years off, it was nonetheless a point of contention between both organizations.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) also opposed the plan and threatened to boycott World Cup games if held every two years.
The most recent development, however, came in the form of a statement from UEFA, in which Aleksander Ceferin, the organization’s president, told Sports Pro Media that the proposal was to be taken “off the table,” and to be replaced with an acceptable alternative.
“We have discussions as much as I heard and I am sure biennial World Cups is off the table. We are discussing and want to help … I don’t think it is correct we say more now because only discussions but I am sure we will come to a solution very soon with FIFA.”
Some suggested options that were floated included the winners of the winners of the European Championships facing off against the Copa America champions in an event that would become a permanent fixture on the international calendar. And FIFA’s vice president, Victor Montagliani, mentioned an idea for a global Nations League or a revamped Confederations Cup; this event, which ended in 2017, served to bring together teams from around the world.
“I think it is a very good and interesting thing that the two confederations, the only ones who won the cups, play one match against each other,” Ceferin told Sports Pro Media. “I see many of our big federations and also South Americans saying they want to play against each other more and it makes sense. Now we are discussing also with FIFA how do we do it? Do we do it together? Probably yes but for now too early to share publicly.”
In 2021, SDM conducted a reader poll to gauge opinions on World Cup timing. The answers were as follows:
- 81.82%: Keep the event every four years
- 15.15%: Move to every two years
- 3.03%: I don't know
Oh, and yes, we’re still waiting to find out which cities will host the 2026 World Cup. No action there, although we could be getting close. Ultimately, FIFA says it expects to “finalize the selection process by Q1/Q2 2022.” (Note that it didn’t say it intends to announce the cities by that time). However, The Stadium Business quotes Colin Smith, FIFA chief tournament and events officer, as saying in November that a decision on the successful North American cities is expected sometime toward the end of March or early April – at the latest “by April of next year.”
The waiting game continues.