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October 22, 2021

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Infantino faces dissent over World Cup

If Gianni Infantino was in any doubt how divisive his rule of world football has become, it was revealed to the FIFA president during an hour-long video call with leaders of European federations.

Trying to convince UEFA members to back his plans for biennial World Cups for both men and women, Infantino instead faced a torrent of criticism.

“We trusted you to create an organization that transcends the divisions and brings unity,” Razvan Burleanu, the Romanian Football Federation president who sits on the FIFA Council, said to Infantino.

Fernando Gomes, the president of the Portuguese federation, reminded Infantino it was Europe that helped to elevate him so unexpectedly from the position of UEFA general secretary to the FIFA presidency in 2016. Now, Gomes said, Infantino was overlooking the concerns of Europe about the damage to the game that would be caused by the envisaged overhaul of the football calendar.

Italian FA President Gabriele Gravina told Infantino he was “very worried” by the plans, which are opposed by the coaches and players across Serie A.

“Football does not need further tensions but requires a journey that offers an idea of more stability and improved sustainability,” Gravina said.

FIFA’s proposal foresees a tournament in every offseason, rather than one edition each of a World Cup and European Championship in the current four-year cycle. Rather than there being match windows in September, October, November and March for men’s international games, the plan is for one month-long block of games around October and November for tournament qualifiers.

“We don’t see any benefit,” Swiss FA president Dominique Blanc told Infantino.

The AP reported on Tuesday that more than a dozen European nations told UEFA they would consider quitting FIFA over biennial World Cups. The six Nordic nations appear leaning toward that.

“If a majority in FIFA decides to adopt the proposal on biennial World Cups,” Finnish federation president Ari Lahti told Infantino, “the Nordic Football Associations will need to consider further actions and scenarios that are closer to our fundamental values than what the current FIFA proposal stands for.”

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has already suggested Europe could boycott the World Cup if Infantino pushed ahead with ending the current quadrennial format. “I am seriously seriously asking you and FIFA not to push for a vote because that could have terrible consequences for football,” Ceferin told Infantino.

“I don’t think it would be wise to go for a vote on a matter like that,” he said. “Not just because there will be severe consequences that we will have to take but also because the stakeholders like clubs and leagues don’t have a voting right and this idea is detrimental to their existence.”

Perhaps the first indication was obtained that Infantino might back away from the project he has largely left to be presented by FIFA chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager.

“We will not go ahead as far as I’m concerned with any proposal if anyone was to be harmed,” Infantino said.

The next day, on Wednesday, came an indication of the success of UEFA’s resistance when Infantino announced there would only be a summit of the 211 FIFA member nations rather than an extra congress to formally vote on the planned biennial World Cups.


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