By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 5 – No sooner had he been re-elected FIFA president for another four years than Gianni Infantino subjected himself to an hour of media scrutiny with his pet project, an expanded Club World Cup in 2021, top of the agenda.
With only two years to go until arguably the biggest ever shake-up of global club football, no venue has yet been announced by FIFA with speculation intensifying that China has already been identified.
Infantino wouldn’t reveal where the proposed 24-team competition will take place but he took the opportunity, after months of relative silence, to dampen criticism that his landscape-changing plan will include selling off FIFA’s World Cup rights as part of a $25 billion deal with an international consortium.
FIFA has consistently downplayed reports that a large part of the money is coming from Saudi Arabia and Infantino told reporters the competition will be commercialised in the traditional way – and that European clubs will definitely commit despite speculation to the contrary.
“There was never a question of a financial investor taking over a competition,” Infantino declared. “The rights always remain with FIFA. I worked for 16 years on this kind of thing when I was at UEFA. I know a little bit about this kind of business. I would never ever in my life even propose that any part of a competition is owned by somebody else.”
“Can I once again underline that nothing was ever proposed for a decision by the FIFA Council. Something was proposed for a discussion. And that is the same exact model that exists today, in other words to create an agency and having somebody with a financial guarantee.”
“In any normal business, if the CEO or the president comes and brings to its shareholders a proposal for a deal that breaks $25 billion or something new, I’m not saying he would get a standing ovation but it would at least be looked into.”
“If I start making dodgy deals, I think people would know about it. We will go to a free and open market and see what comes back. I hope a lot.”
The biggest issue emerging from any new competition could be the changes required to an already saturated international calendar. This is a worry to UEFA who want to know what the actual format is before giving the tournament their blessing. In the meantime the European Clubs Association has threatened to pull its members out, rendering the tournament virtually meaningless much as it is now.
“Of course the Europeans will take part, after all they have eight of the 24 teams,” said Infantino. “We are discussing both with UEFA and the ECA how teams will qualify.”
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