FIFA president Gianni Infantino has sparked more fury with his biennial World Cup plans by insisting countries could be banned from playing in back-to-back tournaments.
The controversial idea of hosting the tournament every two years, first raised by Arsene Wenger, has created headlines around the world, and has been met with widespread condemnation.
Infantino is on a PR overdrive attempting to convince people of the plans, but his latest comments have done little to appease fans.
Gianni Infantino is desperately trying to convince people about the biennial World Cup plans
FIFA want to hold the World Cup every two years – but incredibly could ban countries from competing in back-to-back tournaments
Tiago Craveiro, the general secretary of the Portuguese federation, proposed that FIFA explores the possibility of not allowing teams to compete in consecutive editions if it pushed ahead with biennial World Cups.
‘I welcome as well the idea of Thiago to say, well, we need more participation and maybe there is a way of doing that by having two World Cups, but not with the same teams participating,’ Infantino said.
‘I don’t know. This is something that the technical people will study, but this is certainly something that we have to look into. And the fact that we want to have more games for more teams, more meaningful games for more teams all over the world, this is something as well, that has to be part of our reflection.’
The FIFA president was speaking on Tuesday during a meeting that was closed to the media, where UEFA member associations also voiced a stream of opposition to his plans to double the frequency of World Cups. A copy of the recording was obtained by the Associated Press.
Infantino was also challenged by presidents of national federations on the damage that would be caused to not only club competitions but also national teams if FIFA radically overhauls the international game despite European opposition.
But Infantino then pitched the reshaping of world football as being necessary to safeguard the future of the sport.
Infantino faced critics in a recent conversation with various European football federations
Arsene Wenger (above) is leading a bid to get the football tournament staged biennially
‘I believe as well that the enemy of football is not the World Cup or is not FIFA but it is other activities that young boys and young girls are running after today,’ Infantino said in closing remarks to the meeting that lasted more than an hour.
‘And we need to see how jointly and together we can bring them back to be interested in football. And we want to, as far as I’m concerned, do this all together as we have always been doing in the last few years.’
Infantino did not specify what those ‘other activities’ were. He did not respond to a phone call from the AP seeking comment and FIFA had no immediate comment expanding on the remarks.
Keeping younger viewers interested in watching 90-minute matches has increasingly become a challenge, especially given the rise of gaming. Infantino’s comments come amid a dispute with EA Sports, the maker of the FIFA video game, over the future of the product but FIFA itself still embraces e-sports.
The International Olympic Committee also at the weekend denounced FIFA’s attempt to remodel the calendar which could result in having a men’s or women’s World Cup every year.
The IOC has said it ‘shares’ concerns over FIFA’s plans for a World Cup every two years
The IOC has started to embrace sports seen as more appealing to youngsters, with skateboarding debuting at the recent Tokyo Olympics and the the 2024 Paris Games introducing the break dance sport.
FIFA’s plans could have a significant impact on the Olympics where the women’s football competition features no age restrictions unlike the men’s event. ‘I believe we can still find ways to develop football further,’ Infantino told the meeting with UEFA.
‘The World Cup is huge. It’s a big, big competition that everyone benefits from the World Cup and that we need to be very careful on what we do with the World Cup.’
Leaders from the Finnish, Italian, Germany, Portuguese, Romanian, Scottish, Spanish and Swiss federations told Infantino they want to continue having the World Cup every four years.
Infantino says plans will bring young people back to football in a world dominated by esports
They cited the impact on player welfare of having more frequent tournaments, the pitfalls of having only one block of qualifiers across October and November, and the potential damage caused to the growing profile of the women’s game by having more men’s competitions.
‘We will not go ahead as far as I’m concerned with any proposal if anyone was to be harmed,’ Infantino told the virtual meeting with UEFA. But Infantino also said it wasn’t only the views of UEFA, which features 55 member associations, that counted.
Infantino has been pushing to secure approval in December for holding World Cups every two years. ‘We cannot just shape new proposals based on feedback from from Europe,’ he said. ‘We have to respect the opinions of everyone.’