March 24 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino, whose expansionist plans for world football created widespread consternation among various stakeholders, now concedes the game needs to go the other way to help avoid a financial crisis because of Covid-19.
Infantino has suggested FIFA could “reform football by taking a step backwards” once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Football has been wiped off the map globally in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, with Euro 2020 and the 2020 Copa America both pushed back 12 months.
Before the pandemic, Infantino added to the congested calendar by expanding the Club World Cup to 24 teams with the inaugural edition of the new-look tournament due to take place in China next year.
This was automatically delayed when UEFA and Conmebol postponed their own showpiece competitions to give domestic leagues time to try to finish their seasons.
Now Infantino says football may need to cut back in order to progress.
“Perhaps we can reform football by taking a step backwards,” Infantino told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“[There would be] fewer but more interesting competitions, maybe fewer teams but for a better balance, fewer but more competitive matches to safeguard players’ health.”
“There needs to be an evaluation of the global impact. Let’s all together save football from a crisis that risks becoming irreversible.”
“Health comes first, then everything else. For the managers, the rest means hoping for the best but also preparing for the worst.
“Without panicking, let’s stay it clearly: we will play again when we can do it without putting anyone’s health at risk.
Infantino confirmed the revamped Club World Cup would have to be rescheduled but couldn’t say whether it would be “in 2021, 2022 or 2023.”
He insisted, however, that the concept had considerable merit and would be welcomed in years to come.
“It’s not my dream, but a FIFA tournament to develop club football all across the world,” Infantino said. “It was wanted by all clubs, including the top clubs of Europe. When UEFA created the Champions League 30 years ago, there was the insurrection of Federations and Leagues. They were afraid of the novelty.
“Now, it’s called genius. We have been faced with the similar and useless fear, but everyone will benefit from this. Let’s see what they will say in 30 years.
“The Club World Cup and the World Cup are the only source of income for the majority of the federations.
“Without it, in over 100 countries, there wouldn’t be any Leagues, youth sectors, women’s football, fields. Postponing the Club World Cup will lose FIFA and all the associations hundreds of millions. We have the means to deal with these losses.
“But the solutions in the international calendar must take into account the interests of all stakeholders. It’s FIFA’s responsibility. We will talk about it with confederations, federations, leagues, clubs, footballers. Surely, everyone is ready to take a step back.”
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