15 March 2023

FIFA criticised for plans that ‘further crowd an already overloaded calendar’

15 March 2023

FIFA has been accused of failing to consult with professional leagues over its plans for the 2026 World Cup and a new 32-team Club World Cup.

The World Leagues Forum, which includes the Premier League among its members, is considering “appropriate next steps” to tackle what it sees as the damaging impact of FIFA’s proposals on their competitions and on player welfare.

The new Club World Cup, due to start in 2025, was first announced by FIFA president Gianni Infantino on the eve of the World Cup final in Qatar in December.

It is set to feature 12 teams from Europe, with Chelsea and Real Madrid – as winners of the Champions League in the last two seasons – having qualified under access criteria approved by the FIFA Council on Tuesday.

The 2026 World Cup – expanded to 48 teams and set to feature 104 matches after the FIFA Council approved a four-team group format –  is also a concern to the leagues, even though football’s world governing body says it will occupy the same 56-day ‘footprint’ as previous summer tournaments in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

A WLF statement read: “Despite multiple requests, FIFA did not consult with the World Leagues Forum or any of its member leagues, which represent the foundations of professional football and organise the vast majority of professional competitions globally, about the recent international match calendar decisions by the FIFA Council.

“FIFA’s decisions, including the expansion of the 2026 World Cup and the new versions of the Club World Cup, further crowd an already overloaded calendar and fail to consider the impact on domestic league competitiveness and player welfare.

“The WLF and its member leagues will now analyse FIFA’s decisions and decide on the most appropriate next steps.

“The leagues continue to be ready to engage constructively with FIFA and all confederations on decisions made regarding the match calendar and other issues that implicate domestic leagues, players, and fans.”

The leagues are concerned about the squeeze that new and expanded FIFA and UEFA international club competitions on calendar space for their domestic competitions, and on the impact on the quality of their product if players continue to be pushed further and further.

FIFA has been approached for comment.

The FIFA Council did also approve the establishment of a new player welfare task force earlier this week which will examine the implementation of a mandatory ‘off-season’ rest period, evaluate an ideal gap between matches and potentially mandate a day off per week.

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