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Chasing the money: FIFA’s quest for a biennial World Cup

Kieran Maguire

Published: Updated:

The recent Super League debacle, created by established large football clubs in Europe to concentrate power, wealth and control in their own hands has been abandoned…for now. The repercussions of the Super League are still to be determined, with UEFA potentially charging Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus as they have not yet withdrawn from the franchise project.

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However, the sport’s infighting has not finished. FIFA, football’s governing body, is now investigating the feasibility of holding the World Cup every two years instead of four. If the proposals are introduced it is likely to result in a conflict with UEFA, whose own competition, the Euros, also presently takes place over a four-year cycle.

FIFA’s annual accounts reveal that it loses money three years out of every four, and relies on the success of the World Cup to underwrite losses in other years.

UEFA has the benefit of the Champions League taking place amongst club sides on an annual basis, plus the European Championships.

A FIFA World Cup taking place every two years is therefore seen by some as a means of smoothing out the revenue flows and allowing FIFA to become more profitable too.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses a news conference in Kigali, Rwanda. (File photo: Reuters)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses a news conference in Kigali, Rwanda. (File photo: Reuters)

There were accusations leveled at FIFA president Gianni Infantino that he was not wholly opposed to the Super League proposals because FIFA would have had to sanction the competition. Knowing this his critics, including Spanish La Liga president Javier Tebas have suggested Infantino was willing to trade approval of the Super League if the clubs involved would have committed to a bigger FIFA World Club Championship. This competition would take place annually. This would have further increased FIFA’s income while reducing those of UEFA too. Infantino has denied the accusations, but FIFA’s initial opposition to the Super League was relatively lukewarm.

FIFA as an organisation is very generous to its member federations (who also, coincidentally, vote to choose the president).
In 2019/20, following the problems caused to football globally by COVID-19, FIFA instigated a $1.5 billion relief plan. FIFA has significant cash and investment reserves and so was able to fund the relief plan from its existing resources.

FIFA funds many worthy football-related projects via annual sums given to its 211 federations. In 2019, pre-COVID, these were worth $1m each, plus sums available for bespoke projects.

It is easy to see why a more regular FIFA World Cup would have some appeal, as extra revenues would result in higher payouts to member associations. A more regular competition might also increase the possibility of some smaller nations, who have never competed, reaching the finals.

The world’s two most populous nations, China and India, have managed to qualify for one set of FIFA World Cup finals and scored zero goals in the finals between them. Such nations would potentially welcome the opportunity to qualify for such a prestigious competition if it were held on a more regular basis. Similarly, it would increase the chances for individual players to compete in the world’s pinnacle competition.

The downside of having the tournament take place with such regularity is that it would put further pressure on an already overloaded fixture list. UEFA have made changes to the Champions League with a new ‘Swiss Model’ which will mean that from 2024/25 it will take 180 matches to reduce 36 teams in the competition to 24.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their fourth goal from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick. (File photo: Reuters)
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their fourth goal from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick. (File photo: Reuters)

Footballers who compete in such competitions are well paid, but they are also athletes rather than machines. The risk of injury increases in line with the number of competitive matches that are played. Clubs perhaps would have to keep more expanded rosters of players and rotate their starting eleven to minimise the dangers of losing star players for longer periods due to injury.

Fitting in a more regular FIFA World Cup, expanded FIFA Club World Cup and Champions League, plus the existing European Championships, African Cup of Nations, Copa America etc. and domestic competitions is not feasible.

How teams would qualify for the FIFA World Cup under a two-year cycle is uncertain. The proposal of having teams in the competition, who qualify by right as opposed to merit, was one of the reasons for the demise of the Super League. Fans, especially those in England and Germany who protested against the proposals, have been brought up on winning matches bringing sporting reward in terms of qualifying for competitions.

The final decision will be made in due course by FIFA members. Those making the decision will, if past evidence is a guide, put self-interest first, with the arguments both for and against driven ultimately by money.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.