Billions of people eagerly follow the Fifa World Cup, even if their nations do not qualify, said the FT’s Murad Ahmed and Samuel Agini. And footballers consider lifting the trophy as “the sport’s pinnacle”. It’s for these reasons why in recent weeks football’s international governing body has been plotting a “new future for the game” by pitching a bold proposition: staging the Fifa World Cup finals every two years, instead of four.
Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager and Fifa’s chief of global football development, was in Qatar last week to discuss the plans with a host of sporting legends. “Times are changing,” the 71-year-old said. “The new generation is used to quick responses to what they want.”
The idea is to “give fans more of a product they already desire”, the FT added. “At its heart, the push for a biennial World Cup is a battle over money and power.”
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino wants “bigger” World Cups, said ESPN’s Mark Ogden. And he also wants the international game to “reclaim some of the financial power, commercial impact and status of the club game”.
Football’s governing body is carrying out a feasibility study into the practicalities of altering the World Cup cycle. Led by Wenger, the research into the idea has been backed by 166 of Fifa’s 210 national associations.
Should the cycle change, continental championships like the Euros and Copa America would be “sandwiched in the alternate years”, Ogden said. “It would mean more major tournaments but fewer international breaks, more opportunities for nations to stage World Cups, and clubs suffering less disruption from international fixtures.”
A ‘killer’ for the players
There has been opposition though, reported Martyn Ziegler in The Times. Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has warned that European and South American countries could boycott the World Cup should Fifa push ahead with its plans to host the tournament biennially. Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, also warned it would damage the Olympic Games.
Speaking to The Times Ceferin said playing a one-month tournament every summer would be a “killer” for the players. “If it’s every two years it clashes with the women’s World Cup, with the Olympic football tournament. I hope they [Fifa] will come to their senses. Both competitions should be every four years. The Euros and the World Cup are so interesting because they are every four years. Two would not bring double the amount of revenues.”
The traditionalists may complain about diminishing the value of the tournament and the clubs would certainly have their issues, but are there any positives to Wenger’s blueprint? “Yes,” said ESPN’s Ogden. “Football is ultimately about entertainment and glory. The World Cup delivers both in huge quantities.”
An ‘interesting concept’ or a ‘money play’
It’s not just football chiefs who are discussing a radical move to host a World Cup every two years - but also the custodians of rugby union. Alan Gilpin, the chief executive of World Rugby, told The Telegraph that biennial men’s and women’s World Cups are “definitely something that we will continue to consider”.
“It’s an interesting concept,” he said. “Especially when you think about the global development of the women’s game, too. But the men’s calendar is very congested and complex, with a lot of different stakeholders, and we have to make sure we engage with them all before we consider a World Cup every two years.”
Speaking on Newstalk ZB’s Sportstalk with D’Arcy Waldegrave show, NZ Herald rugby writer Liam Napier called the Rugby World Cup plan a “pure money play” to “try and bring more cash into the pot”.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.