Fifa has ignored European opposition to its plan to revamp the Club World Cup by voting to approve a new 24-team tournament starting in June 2021.
The move to scrap the current seven-team tournament, which takes place every winter but is largely ignored by European fans, and replace it with a larger, more lucrative contest every fourth summer, would appear to set Fifa on collision course with Europe’s elite.
The European Club Association (ECA), which represents 232 of the continent’s leading sides, Europe’s governing body Uefa and the world players’ union, FIFPro, are all unhappy with what they claim is a lack of consultation in regards to the congested global calendar and Infantino’s financial plans for the new tournament.
Describing himself as a “very happy man”, the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, announced the decision after a meeting of the ruling council in Miami on Friday. Infantino wants Europe to provide eight of the 24 teams, with six coming from South America, three each from Africa, Asia and the Concacaf region and one from Oceania. It has been suggested that each club could earn £50m for taking part.
In a letter that was leaked on Friday, the ECA’s executive board, including board members at Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid, said they would not take part in any new competition until 2024 at the earliest. The ECA could even consider suing Fifa if it ignors their 2015 deal on the international match calendar.
Infantino admitted there have been “differences of opinion” since he first floated the idea last year and referred to “constructive dialogue” with Europe that he hoped to build on.
“The world will now see a real Club World Cup, where fans will see the best teams in the world compete to be crowned the real world champions,” he added. “We hope that all the best teams will participate and we’ve had some very positive discussions with Uefa.”
Infantino added that club football was “evolving at a different pace in different parts of the world” and it was Fifa’s duty to put on an “exciting, prestigious and inclusive competition, and we’ll have that with this Club World Cup, starting in 2021”.
In its letter, the ECA strongly criticised Infantino for failing to reveal more details about who is providing the financial backing for the new competition and ignoring its concerns about the impact on players.
Infantino dismissed the idea that Fifa was increasing the strain on players, saying the new Club World Cup will replace two unloved competitions: the current annual edition and the Confederations Cup.
“We are the only organisation reducing the number of tournaments and games – this will not have a neutral impact on the calendar, it will be positive,” he said. “Five games in four years. I don’t think anyone can say that is an large additional burden.”
No venue has been mentioned for the inaugural tournament, but it is scheduled to take the slot currently reserved for the Confederations Cup in 2021.
Fifa delays decision on expanding 2022 World Cup
Fifa has postponed a final decision on whether to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from 32 to 48 teams until the governing body’s annual congress on 5 June.
Gianni Infantino has been lobbying for the expansion for over a year but has opted to buy himself more time. The Fifa president needs Qatar to agree to it, as the 16 extra teams would mean it would have to share the event with at least one co-host. He had hoped to gain approval for his plan at Friday’s meeting of the ruling council in Miami, but has opted to buy himself more time.
Qatar is currently embroiled in a bitter diplomatic dispute with fellow Gulf states Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – meaning that the only realistic candidates to co-host the tournament are Kuwait and Oman.
“We all know the situation in the region, but we are in a lucky position in football that we only have to care about football,” Infantino said. “So we’ll move to the next stage and look at who could host these games, and then congress can take the final decision.”
Fifa has also announced that VAR will be used in this year’s Women’s World Cup, which begins in France on 7 June.