Elite en­raged by en­large­ment

Euro­pean leagues fear burnout af­ter FIFA ex­pands World Cup

China Daily - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Madrid

Span­ish league pres­i­dent Javier Te­bas sug­gested on Tues­day he might launch a le­gal chal­lenge to FIFA’s de­ci­sion to ex­pand the World Cup to 48 teams, start­ing in 2026.

Te­bas claimed Europe’s most pow­er­ful and rich­est leagues were not con­sulted on the de­ci­sion and that it was based on FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino’s need to ful­fill prom­ises that got him elected last year.

“An in­sti­tu­tion in­volved in sport­ing pol­i­tics is also tak­ing de­ci­sions that af­fect the pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics of Europe’s big leagues and these de­ci­sions can’t be taken with­out con­sen­sus,” La Liga boss Te­bas said.

“We will see if we will present a case to the com­pe­ti­tion com­mis­sioner of the Euro­pean Union and also to the com­pe­ti­tion in­sti­tu­tions in Switzer­land.”

The new for­mat en­vis­ages 80 matches — 16 more than the cur­rent set-up — but cru­cially will still be played over the same 32 days, a nod to op­po­nents who fear player burnout.

Two teams from each group will ad­vance to a 32-na­tion knock­out round.

A FIFA re­port seen by AFP es­ti­mates a 48-team tour­na­ment would bring a $640 mil­lion cash boost above pro­jected rev­enues for next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia.

Africa and Asia could be the big win­ners with a rise in their num­ber of World Cup places. Cur­rently, five African teams qual­ify while Asia has four or five.

A source close to FIFA said Europe could get 16 places, an in­crease of three, with Africa earn­ing nine.

Te bas be­lieves the big Euro­pean leagues where the vast ma­jor­ity of star play­ers ply their trade should have more of a say, with op­po­nents to the plan cit­ing player burn-out as one of the ma­jor draw­backs.

“I think the leagues should have their opin­ion heard be­cause 75 per­cent of the play­ers in the World Cup are play­ing in the big Euro­pean leagues and this type of or­ga­ni­za­tion has an ef­fect,” said Te­bas.

“Se­condly, FIFA is an in­sti­tu­tion that takes po­lit­i­cal and sport­ing de­ci­sions, but also busi­ness de­ci­sions on TV rights which could af­fect us, so I am not in fa­vor of the ex­pan­sion of the World Cup.”

FIFA on Tues­day voted to ex­pand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 in a vic­tory for its pres­i­dent In­fantino.

In a deeply di­vi­sive devel­op­ment which will en­rich scan­dal-tainted FIFA’s pock­ets, its rul­ing coun­cil unan­i­mously adopted an ex­panded for­mat with 16 groups of three na­tions that will bring “ben­e­fits with­out neg­a­tives”, said In­fantino.

“We have to shape the World Cup of the 21st cen­tury ... foot­ball is more than Europe and South Amer­ica,” the FIFA chief, who had pushed hard for the change, said af­ter the vote.

“Many more coun­tries will have the chance to dream.”

It rep­re­sents the first ma­jor al­ter­ation to the World Cup since the tour­na­ment was boosted from 24 to the cur­rent 32 teams for the 1998 tour­na­ment in France.

But its many crit­ics op­pose the lat­est ex­pan­sion and it was branded a “money grab and power grab” by New FIFA Now, a group cam­paign­ing for re­form of soc­cer’s world gov­ern­ing body.

In­fantino was elected 11 months ago, promis­ing to re­pair the dam­age done dur­ing Sepp Blat­ter’s ten­ure.

En­larg­ing the World Cup was the cen­ter­piece of that vi­sion, but op­po­nents say a big­ger tour­na­ment will di­lute the qual­ity of play and over­bur­den play­ers phys­i­cally, par­tic­u­larly in Europe’s money-rich leagues.

The pow­er­ful Euro­pean Club As­so­ci­a­tion (ECA) also stated its strong op­po­si­tion, de­scrib­ing the cur­rent 32-team model as “the per­fect formula”.

“We un­der­stand this de­ci­sion has been taken based on po­lit­i­cal rea­sons rather than sport­ing ones and un­der con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, some­thing ECA be­lieves is re­gret­table,” the body, which rep­re­sents Europe’s elite clubs, said in a state­ment.

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