China Daily (Hong Kong)

FIFA sets talks on biennial World Cup


ZURICH — FIFA will finally start speaking to soccer clubs, leagues and players’ unions this month in the latest steps announced on Monday in its push to organize a men’s World Cup every two years.

All 211 member federation­s have also been invited to online talks on Sept 30 as part of consulting on the future of national team soccer, including a biennial men’s World Cup.

FIFA first sought approval this month from retired players, including World Cup winners who went to Qatar for a two-day conference, and commission­ed surveys of fans in selected countries.

That process was criticized as flawed by FIFPRO, the global union for active players, which is now set to get a meeting with FIFA.

A “new phase of consultati­on” will start with organizati­ons representi­ng players, clubs, leagues and the six continenta­l governing bodies, FIFA said on Monday in a statement.

European soccer body UEFA has warned it could boycott if the World Cup moves from its historic four-year cycle, and South American counterpar­t CONMEBOL is also opposed. Their members dominate World Cups on the field but combine for fewer than onethird of the 211 federation­s who vote.

FIFA argues biennial World Cups will give more players and teams the chance to compete in meaningful games, improve talent globally and raise more money to fuel developmen­t programs.

Opposition has focused on diluting the World Cup’s appeal, distorting the balance between domestic and internatio­nal soccer and overloadin­g players in a crowded schedule. The prestige of UEFA’s European Championsh­ip and CONMEBOL’s Copa America also risk being hit by playing more World Cups.

The World Cup debate has overshadow­ed an ongoing review of the FIFA-managed Internatio­nal Match Calendars which mandate when clubs must release players to national teams.

The men’s calendar expires in 2024 and there is broad agreement the current system is outdated. It requires players to travel for matches in separate windows at least four times during each domestic season.

FIFA has proposed streamlini­ng the calendar with smaller tournament qualifying groups, potentiall­y playing all matches in a single block in October.

The women’s calendar expires in 2023, when their next World Cup will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Women’s soccer could be crowded out by clashes forced by having more men’s World Cups, the German soccer federation said last week.

FIFA’s proposed changes are being led by Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal coach who is now global developmen­t director for world soccer. He has suggested decisions could be made by December.

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