The fight for the World Cup schedule pits FIFA against the leagues

A meeting was called, discussions took place and groups representing some of the biggest football clubs and leagues in the world were gi...


A meeting was called, discussions took place and groups representing some of the biggest football clubs and leagues in the world were given the opportunity to speak.

Their concerns were immediate: Additional dates proposed for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers would seriously affect their operations, they said, along with dozens of their South American players, including Lionel Messi and Neymar, who are expected to miss crucial league games due to their national team commitments.

FIFA, the governing body of world football, reassured club and league officials. Don’t worry, the clubs said, FIFA would consider the needs of all affected groups before deciding how to reduce the additional dates, which were needed to accommodate the games postponed by the pandemic.

But in the end, FIFA chose what worked best for FIFA. Ignoring pleas from clubs and leagues around the world, FIFA and its regional confederation for South America, CONMEBOL, went ahead and added two more days for qualifying matches in September and October. The clubs, not the World Cup organizers, would just have to adapt.

The result was perhaps the clearest example of the immense power that FIFA wields when it comes to running a sport for which it is the main governing body and also the host of the World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. While everyone involved agreed that something had to be done to find a place for the games, which had been postponed earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, only FIFA had the final say on when they would be. would take place.

While leagues, clubs and player unions are often heard, they have had little say in the matter beyond expressing helpless frustration at the outcome. This is what a lobby group, the World Leagues Forum, did this month when he noted that the FIFA move would most likely leave clubs in Europe and beyond without hundreds of millions of dollars in talent for key early-season games, as the new dates – and player travel – would overlap with national schedules.

“As a governing body, FIFA should try to find the best solution for the whole football community,” read the statement from the World Leagues Forum, an umbrella organization of around 40 leading leagues. . “Instead, FIFA decided to impose the worst possible option with virtually no notice. This poses an obvious governance problem that will need to be addressed.”

The growing tension comes amid a larger discussion about the future of football, with FIFA pushing for new competitions and new sources of income and even evaluate the possibility of organizing the World Cup every two years. This discussion, which is officially linked to football’s calendar for the next decade from 2024, is expected to end by the end of this year.

The talks follow perhaps the most eventful period in modern football history, encapsulated by an unsuccessful attempt by a group of major European clubs to form a closed superleague and break away from the centuries-old structures that unite the game.

Although their efforts did not spark the revolution they had designed – their so-called Super League collapsed in a few days – their revolt highlighted the unequal distribution of power in world football: as teams and leagues invest billions of dollars in the game, they have little to say about how it is run.

Currently, FIFA has signed memoranda of understanding which provide a framework for players, most of whom are trained and paid by their clubs, to play for their country. Under the terms of this relationship, clubs are required to release players for national team service for up to 10 days for each international window.

For years that deal largely held up, until the coronavirus changed everything and reduced the time available to hold matches before the World Cup at the end of 2022. Instead of two matches and their accompanying trips in each window, national teams would now be scheduled for three.

At a meeting on July 27, FIFA, represented by Victor Montagliani, its vice-president and head of the regional body for North and Central America, met with officials representing leagues and clubs . All agreed that a solution had to be found for South America’s qualifiers – backed by cancellations linked to the pandemic – to be completed in time for the World Cup.

A CONMEBOL official, according to meeting notes reviewed by the New York Times, explained that traveling to and within South America was extremely difficult and the confederation needed three more days. in September and October to ensure the games can be played. without issue.

A representative from the leagues said that would not be acceptable, as it would mean dozens of players would not be available for at least one league weekend, and possibly longer, due to quarantine requirements upon their return. in their clubs. He said the leagues could accommodate an extra day and suggested games be played in a secure bubble to minimize travel. At the same meeting, a representative of the players’ union, FIFPro, reminded FIFA of the health effects on athletes of running long distances and playing so many matches in quick succession.

A few weeks later, on August 7, FIFA announced its decision. At a meeting of its highest body, the Bureau of the FIFA Council – a group made up of FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the leaders of the six regional confederations – it was decided that the South American qualifiers September and October would be three match days – three matches in one international break – and clubs would be required to release players for two more days. Only UEFA, Europe’s governing body, voted against the plan. Previously he and CONMEBOL had worked together object to some of Infantino’s suggestions.

“The addition of two days will ensure sufficient rest and preparation time between matches, reflecting the longer travel distances required both to and within South America, thus preserving well-being players by mitigating the negative consequences of this more intense schedule, while also ensuring fair competition, such as a faster return to their clubs of the players involved, ”FIFA said in a statement.

This has hardly appeased the clubs. To make matters worse, FIFA said it had removed a regulation that allowed teams whose players were quarantined upon their return not to release them for national team matches.

“From a regulatory point of view, this means that FIFA is forcing players to play for their national team even if they are subsequently banned from playing for their club for several matches,” the leagues said in a letter. addressed to the President of FIFA. The effect, according to the leagues, would be quarantine measures which would result in “the disruption or interruption of the national leagues”.

With just over a week before the first games of the September window, leagues and clubs are weighing their options. According to current FIFA regulations, they may not have many: they will be penalized if they refuse to release their players for the impending international window. The complaint would be lodged by the national football associations that make up FIFA. The body that would rule on complaints? FIFA.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The fight for the World Cup schedule pits FIFA against the leagues
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