A biennial World Cup is dead, but FIFA’s fight is not over

DOHA, Qatar – Gianni Infantino entered the bright light of a packed convention center alongside the Emir of Qatar on Friday and announced that he hoped this year’s World Cup would be the best ever. It was not an unusual pride; Infantino has already made it to Russia in 2018 and he will definitely make it again in 2026 when the tournament moves to North America. But behind his bright smile and his bombardment, the setting for a trip to the desert was the latest disappointment for the FIFA president.

It was here that Infantino’s other hope for revolutionary change, the kind of bold but ultimately failed plan that marked the presidency of football’s global governing body, finally came to an end. The divisive attempt to double the frequency of the Men’s World Cup by feeding FIFA multibillion-dollar cash cows every two years instead of every four is over.

Although Infantino reminded FIFA members, meeting privately for the first time in three years, that he did not have the idea for a biennial World Cup – a claim that was technically correct – he spent a significant amount of financial and political capital. Try to engineer what could be one of the most significant changes in football history. The Election Commission was formed to show support. Experts were listed for backtracking against critics. Opponents of the idea, however, never wavered: in the last fall, European and South American football leaders had already threatened to boycott if it took effect.

In Doha, Infantino finally raised the white flag.

The reversal, another surrender to his more noble concept, follows previous mistakes that have created detrimental rifts with important constituencies. In 2018, Infantino sought to force some of FIFA’s top assets to sell and create competition for new clubs and national teams through a সংস্থা 25 billion deal with Japanese company Softbank, making a fight so bitter that he and the European football leader did not speak. A year.

In 2019, FIFA used back-channel efforts to try to extend this year’s World Cup to 48 teams from its planned 32. The offer was rejected because it would require host Qatar to share the games with its neighbors, including a group that was then engaged in a prolonged economic blockade of the tiny Gulf country.

Last week, the 52-year-old Infantino could not make it clear to himself that the biennial World Cup, the source of so much anger over the past year, was not going to happen. Instead, he allowed it to be time to “seek agreement and compromise.”

FIFA, he told delegates, needed new competition to create the kind of revenue that FIFA needed to deliver on its promises to its 211-member federation. No FIFA president has been as generous as Infantino, and follow-through is suddenly important to him: he announced on Thursday that he would run for re-election next year.

Plans for future events are already taking shape. Annual competitions are planned for boys and girls, a 48-team youth event for boys and a competition for 24-team girls are unlikely to encounter any opposition. And the opposition to an extended Club World Cup game every four years – another Infantino priority – is now surprisingly muted. A 24-team club World Cup was awarded to China for 2021 but was canceled due to a coronavirus epidemic and then dropped altogether because Infantino concentrated his power on the biennial World Cup.

Now, even with the once rude European officials engaged in positive negotiations, the Club World Cup – possibly further expanded, to 32 teams – could be agreed in the next few months. The new event could start as early as 2025. Or it could be delayed until 2027 if FIFA, in the face of stagnant European opposition, finds an alternative national team competition for the biennial World Cup. Some regional organizations, including Concacaf, the group responsible for football in North and Central America, are still pushing for a big new national team competition.

“I think there is a hunger for change, and I think the rest of the world really wants change,” said Victor Montagliani, president of CONCACAF.

Montagliani suggested a revived and expanded version of the Mothball Confederations Cup, a largely unpopular tournament held in World Cup host countries as a test event, could be an alternative, such as a global nations league that could add a new quadruple event for its region. Winner – An idea some Europeans ridiculed as the biennial World Cup “at the back door.”

At the center of much of the excitement, however, remains a major battle: the battle for supremacy between European soccer and FIFA. European officials were outraged by what they saw as an attempt to undermine former UEFA general secretary Infantino’s worldwide popularity in an attempt to undermine Europe, and signs of their rupture were evident in Qatar last week. Several members of the UEFA delegation, for example, including its president Alexander Seferin, were notable for their absence from Friday’s World Cup draw, an event that took place just one day after their participation in the FIFA Congress.

Infantino has spoken out openly about Europe’s success in breaking the deadlock – FIFA has been seen encouraging efforts to find an isolated European Super League before the project collapsed last year – and he has retained key allies who have shared his concerns about its dominance.

“What do the rest of us have to do? Do we just have to turn our thumbs up and send players and capital to Europe? Canadian Montagliani says. “It simply came to our notice then. I’m sorry. The reality is that they have a lot of loyal responsibilities to the rest of the world, and I think now is the time for us all to sit around the table and find out. “

In the now-defunct biennial World Cup campaign, Infantino has seen other allies fight, with popular former players and coaches being used to push the issue in his favor. The effort was led by former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, who traveled the world in support of the competition, and members of the FIFA Legends program, a FIFA-funded team of former international stars, who also offered brilliant reviews. (Current players were strongly opposed to this idea.)

At the same time, opinion polls and polls and public relations consultants were tasked with changing the minds of a skeptical news outlet and a cautious fan group. In the end, though, the effort only created disruptions and divisions. And it doesn’t seem to be cheap: FIFA last week announced the increase in communications costs in its latest financial release. They grew by about $ 10 million – 62 percent – over the previous year.

Now, as he moves forward and promises his re-election, some are waiting, even hoping, for Infantino’s next big idea, which could provide his voters with cash as well as a legacy as a change-maker he wants.

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