FIFA wants 24-team Club World Cup in 2021

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MIAMI (AP) — FIFA Council members will be asked on Friday to approve a pilot tournament for an expanded 24-team Club World Cup in June-July 2021 featuring eight European participants, but plans for a worldwide Nations League are on hold, The Associated Press has learned.

An overhaul of the current seven-team annual Club World Cup, normally in December, is being pursued by FIFA President Gianni Infantino to generate new interest and greater revenue despite ongoing opposition from Europe, with the long-term vision of the bigger tournament being staged every four years.

A 17-page FIFA report on the future of competitions does not specifically mention the financing plans which sparked concern among members of the FIFA Council last year, only that the governing body wants to “ensure that the generated revenues stay within football and do not go to third parties.”

Infantino informed council members last March of a $25 billion offer from investors, led by Japan’s SoftBank, to guarantee funding to overhaul the Club World Cup and introduce mini-World Cups for national teams every two years in a worldwide Nations League.

Of the funding package, an enlarged Club World Cup was guaranteed to deliver FIFA at least $12 billion in revenue 2021-33. But now FIFA just wants agreement on the concept of replacing the little-regarded current Club World Cup format, removing funding from the discussions.

According to a document seen by the AP, the FIFA Council in Miami will be asked on Friday to approve a trial 24-team Club World Cup running from June 17-July 4, 2021. That is the slot previously reserved for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event in a host nation a year before the World Cup.

A FIFA task force, featuring representatives of the six confederations, has been evaluating plans for the Club World Cup since November. The task force report said five of the six confederations supported the 24-team pilot in 2021.

FIFA originally wanted 12 European teams, but UEFA, which sees the competition as a threat to the status of the Champions League, insisted there should only be eight.

In the first edition, South America would have six slots — one based on previous performances. Three each would go to teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America. Oceania would get one representative. The confederations would decide their own qualification process, whereas now each continental champion qualifies for the Club World Cup.

The tournament would start with eight groups of three, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams would play two to five matches over a maximum of 18 days.

“The principal objection of UEFA was related to their concerns on the calendar,” the FIFA document notes. “UEFA’s position was that any technical discussion on a new format and calendar for the FIFA Club World Cup could only take place once a new post-2024 coordinated international calendar had been agreed.”

According to FIFA, European officials argue that the Club World Cup would cause “foreseeable tensions with its clubs” because the lengthy period of matches after the regular season.

In 2021, FIFA envisages the window for international matches — which is likely to include 2022 World Cup qualifiers — running May 31-June 8. The Club World Cup would be held June 17-July 4, while the African Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup could be played July 5-July 31.

This causes “serious interference with critical matches played by clubs for qualification to the European competitions, besides domestic duties,” the FIFA document notes, citing European concerns.

FIFA also noted European protests about the “uninterrupted sequence of official events in June/July depriving players of appropriate rest in a year” between the 2020 European Championship and the 2022 World Cup.

“All of these points were taken on board by FIFA and were considered by the other members of the task force, who felt that it was feasible to play the FIFA Club World Cup in June/July 2021,” the document from the world governing body states.

FIFA believes the proposed 24-team Club World Cup would “promote and grow football for the benefit of all confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs and fans.”

South America is eager to retain an annual December Club World Cup with the number of finalists doubling to 14 but FIFA concluded “this would impact the European domestic leagues on an additional weekend.”

According to FIFA research distributed to the council, 57 percent of members would prefer a biennial event. It also found 60 percent backing a 24-team Club World Cup and more than 90 percent agreeing that an overhaul was necessary.

“The task force deems that a thorough consultation has now taken place on the sporting matters of a revamped FIFA Club World Cup among all relevant stakeholders,” the report states. “The task force is also of the opinion that all relevant parties have had the opportunity to express clear opinions on the various formats.”

Infantino wanted the Club World Cup — and worldwide Nations League — to be run as a joint venture with the investors, with FIFA holding a 51 percent stake. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has said the competition “is a road to the Super League” — with elite clubs breaking away from domestic leagues — while expressing concerns about the involvement outside investors.

Plans for a worldwide Nations League have stalled.

The Nations League was first conceived by UEFA when Infantino was general secretary of European soccer’s governing body before being elected president of FIFA in 2016. It debuted in Europe in September and the first finals are in June.

Infantino wants the global version of the format to involve all six confederations with eight-team finals serving as mini-World Cups in every odd-numbered year.

“It is clear that the existing commercial contracts of individual MAs (member associations) and confederations need to be further looked at before we will be able to progress further,” the FIFA task force report said in its two-page section on the worldwide Nations League.

The FIFA Council will be asked on Friday to extend the mandate of the task force to conduct more work on the worldwide Nations League.