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Infantino backs away from biennial World Cup plans

FILE - FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaking during a Council meeting of the World's football governing body at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, on October 20, 2021. Photo: Harold Cunningham/FIFA/AFP

FILE - FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaking during a Council meeting of the World's football governing body at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, on October 20, 2021. Photo: Harold Cunningham/FIFA/AFP

Published Mar 31, 2022

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Doha — FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Thursday tried to distance himself from a highly controversial project to hold the World Cup every two years as he suggested the plan had never actually been proposed by world football's governing body.

"Let me be very clear that FIFA has not proposed a biennial World Cup," Infantino said on the stage at the organisation's congress in Doha on the eve of the draw for this year's tournament.

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Despite that, Infantino has pushed the project in recent months along with Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager who is now FIFA's head of global development.

Infantino claimed at a virtual global summit to discuss the topic last December that playing the World Cup more regularly would offer enormous financial benefits for member federations.

Then, FIFA promised an extra $19 million every four years for each national federation, based on feasibility studies projecting major revenue increases.

Yet Infantino had to put off holding a vote on the subject due to vociferous opposition from all sides.

It had initially been thought the subject would feature prominently at Thursday's congress in the Qatari capital, but the agenda was instead dominated by the fall-out from Russia's invasion of Ukraine as well as the build-up to the World Cup.

"Let's get the process clear here — the last FIFA Congress asked the FIFA administration... to start a feasibility study into holding the World Cup every two years," Infantino added.

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"The FIFA administration under the leadership of Arsene Wenger did exactly that.

"FIFA did not propose anything, but came to the conclusion that it is feasible, that it would have some repercussions and impact."

He added: "We found it would be feasible and even positive for a big part of the world, but there is of course also big opposition to it and that is where the discussion has to start."

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The project has been lambasted by almost all sides, with UEFA and South American governing body CONMEBOL uniting in their opposition and even moving towards organising a transatlantic Nations League after 2024.

The European Club Association as well as leagues and players have voiced their disapproval too.

The Confederation of African Football did give its backing, but even the International Olympic Committee expressed concerns about more frequent World Cups drawing attention away from other sports.

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New Club World Cup still on cards

However, Infantino later indicated that there was still some hope of eventually reviving the project.

"We are looking at all options. We will take the time it takes with the utmost understanding of all positions," he said.

He also said that plans for an expanded, 24-team Club World Cup remain alive despite the pandemic forcing the indefinite postponement of the first edition.

Planned for June and July of 2021, it was put off in order to make way for the Copa America and Euro 2020, both postponed by a year because of Covid-19.

The Club World Cup in its existing guise features seven teams — the champions of each continental federation as well as the host nation — and Infantino admitted it is "not exciting or inclusive enough".

"We took a decision to have a new Club World Cup with 24 teams. It should have been played in June 2021 and we agreed to postpone it," Infantino said.

"That is still the plan. We did not yet fix a new date for that because there are more important things which we have to deal with, like the pandemic.

"In the meantime we have our current Club World Cup but we are still looking forward to a new version."

Chelsea won this year's Club World Cup, beating Palmeiras in the final in Abu Dhabi last month.

AFP

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