FIFA says 2-year-old World Cup opponents fear losing top spot

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino, center, prepares to hand the trophy to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal midfielder Salman Al-Faraj, left, after winning the League final soccer match of the AFC Champions vs South Korea’s Pohang Steelers 2-0, at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, November 23, 2021 (AP Photo / Amr Nabil)

PA

Opponents of FIFA’s campaign for World Cups every two years appear to be afraid of being toppled from the top of world football, its chairman Gianni Infantino said on Friday.

Infantino’s speech to African football leaders was a clear criticism of Europe and South America which have dominated all World Cups and threaten to boycott biennial men’s tournaments.

“Those who are against are those at the top,” Infantino told officials at the meeting of the African Football Confederation of 54 countries in Cairo.

“It happens in all walks of life, when there are reforms and changes, those at the top don’t want to change anything,” said Infantino, who was a long-time senior UEFA official until his election to the FIFA presidency in 2016. “They may be afraid that if something changes their leadership position will be threatened. “

Europe and South America have provided every team to play in the 21 World Cup finals since the premiere in 1930, and their historic strength has earned them at least 18 of 32 entries in the 2022 edition. in Qatar.

“We understand that and we congratulate and applaud them for being so successful in reaching the top,” said Infantino. “It’s fantastic and they are an example for everyone. But at the same time, we cannot close the door (to others).

No African team has reached a men’s World Cup semi-final and the continent has only five of the 32 registered. That drops to at least nine when the 48-team tournament kicks off in 2026.

Infantino has pushed for biennial World Cups to help other regions grow and close the gap – giving nations more chances to qualify and players more chances to perform on the bigger stage .

An additional Men’s World Cup over a four-year cycle would likely add around $ 3 billion at current levels to FIFA’s revenue and increase funding for its 211 member federations and six continental bodies.

“It is our responsibility to keep the dream open to give opportunities to everyone,” said FIFA executives.

Yet the backlash from all levels of European football since FIFA officially detailed its two-year plan in September led Infantino to say last month that any change must be achieved by consensus without harming the game.

European and South American football officials see threats to the status of their own continental and national competitions, and an increased workload for players.

Infantino hinted again on Friday that a modified tournament might be a solution to gaining wider support.

“Will it be with the World Cup or will it be some other way?” he told members of CAF, which is currently the continental body most closely linked to FIFA. “We have to study, of course, all of this.”

Annual 48-team youth tournaments, instead of the biennial men’s and women’s Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups, are also part of FIFA’s plan to develop football. It was detailed in Cairo by Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal coach and FIFA director of global development.

Infantino has warned of losing a generation of young players whose birth years fall at the wrong time in the current tournament cycle.

FIFA hosted an online summit of its 211 members on December 20 to discuss a strategy for future tournaments.

No vote on the biennial World Cups is then expected amid the current opposition, which includes a demonstration of unity from UEFA and South American football organization CONMEBOL. They have created a shared office in London which will open next month.

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