International soccer’s governing body stepped up its efforts in September to have the men’s World Cup competition take place every two years. But that trial balloon could be headed right toward a big pin as some organizations, including UEFA, oppose it.
The move, FIFA officials claim, would give more players and teams the opportunity to compete in high-profile (and arguably more meaningful games) while also improving talent and raising money for development programs.
As the Associated Pressreported on Sept. 17, FIFA claimed its findings from an online survey of more than 15,000 respondents in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” when it comes to support of increasing the tournament’s frequency, with younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones. FIFA reportedly is conducting a follow-up survey of 100,000 people in more than 100 countries, after FIFPRO, the global union for active players, deemed the initial survey as flawed. A “new phase of consultation” now will involve groups representing players, clubs, leagues and the sport’s six continental governing bodies, according to the AP.
FIFA began kicking around the idea of a biennial World Cup in May, and it’s become a lightning-rod issue.
“FIFA’s chief of global football development and former Arsenal [F.C.] manager Arséne Wenger says he is ‘100 percent convinced’ it is the right way forward for the sport,” reports independent new site The Conversation. “Others, including fan groups, have quickly called foul on the proposal. UEFA, responsible for governing football in Europe, has threatened a boycott, with its president Aleksander Ceferin commenting: ‘We can decide not to play in it … So good luck with a World Cup like that.’”
UEFA hosts the Euro Cup every four years, and a biennial World Cup could compete with that tournament — for both players and fans, notes Front Office Sports. CONMEBOL, UEFA’s South American counterpart, also has expressed opposition to a biennial World Cup format.
For what it’s worth, as Front Office Sports points out, “Europe and South America combine for 65 of FIFA’s 211 affiliated associations, just short of the one-third needed to block any proposal. … European and South American teams have won every World Cup in its 91-year history.”
“Opposition has focused on diluting the World Cup’s appeal, distorting the balance between domestic and international soccer and overloading players in a crowded schedule,” the AP reports “The prestige of UEFA’s European Championship and CONMEBOL’s Copa America also risk being hit by playing more World Cups.”
Indeed, SI.com soccer writer Brian Straus argues that a biennial World Cup isn’t the most significant change FIFA could implement. “Instead,” he writes, “the critical component of the overhaul championed by FIFA — along with many national associations, including a bunch from CONCACAF — is the dramatic streamlining of the international calendar. The number of breaks for national team matches will be cut to just one (the preferred option) or two per year from around five. That reduction will fundamentally alter the very concept of a national team and therefore, the end product: the World Cup. FIFA wants to double its most precious asset. But in so doing, it risks undermining not only the value of that asset, but the quality as well.”
“FIFA has a vested interest in the international game maintaining and hopefully increasing relevance, and with the power and leverage that many clubs and leagues around the world have, they see this as an opportunity to secure or increase the relevance of the international game, which they fear it’s being diminished,” Alexi Lalas, who played for the United States national team in the 1994 World Cup and is now an analyst for FOX Sports, told Straus. “They recognize that this is a seminal change, a massive change, and that it’s a jolt to the system.”
That jolt (and probably other jolts to come) might still be reverberating by the time the next World Cup takes place, in Qatar in November and December 2022. That event’s organizing committee anticipates a total economic impact of about $20 billion, according to Front Office Sports. The country is expected to have poured about $300 billion in preparations — including the building of an entirely new city, a new stadium, a new metro station and an airport expansion.
The World Cup can “accelerate a lot of the initiatives the government has already committed to … whether that’s in terms of urban development or economic diversification,” Hassan Al Thawadi, head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the event told Bloomberg.com, as reported by Front Office Sports.
As many as 1.5 million spectators are expected to attend the World Cup, despite numerous calls by media outlets and fans to boycott the event, citing human rights abuses in Qatar.