Aleksander Ceferin the president of UEFA has threatened FIFA with a European boycott of the World Cup if the competition moves to a two-year cycle.
In May, the FIFA Congress agreed to a feasibility study into the calendar change, after it was requested by the Saudi Arabian football federation.
In his proposal, international qualification matches would be consolidated into one or two windows and there would be a tournament at the end of each season, with the World Cup taking place every two years.
Arsene Wenger has put forward plans to change the World Cup from every four years to two
Wenger briefed journalists today and he insisted that there would be no more matches than in the current international calendar, players would be guaranteed 25 days rest before the start of a new season, there would be less disruption of domestic football and fans would have the opportunity watch higher quality international games.
But Ceferin was doing a briefing of his own and dramatically raised the stakes, by questioning European and South American participation in the competition if the reforms go ahead.
‘We can decide not to play in it,’ Ceferin told The Times. ‘As far as I know, the South Americans are on the same page. So good luck with a World Cup like that. I think it will never happen as it is so much against the basic principles of football.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin (left) has already made clear his opposition
‘To play every summer a one-month tournament, for the players it’s a killer. If it’s every two years it clashes with the women’s World Cup, with the Olympic football tournament.’
‘The value is precisely because it is every four years, you wait for it, it’s like the Olympic Games, it’s a huge event. I don’t see our federations supporting that.’
All parties agree that the international fixture calendar is congested and needs reforming. However, a power struggle is developing between FIFA and UEFA, with money and influence at its heart.
A two-year World Cup would be highly lucrative for FIFA, which says it wants to give more nations the opportunity to compete in and host the blue riband tournament, as well as invest additional funds in player development around the globe.
Former Arsenal boss Wenger is currently trying to gather support for his new, radical plans
Arsene Wenger presented his plans for the reform of the international calendar to journalists
His plan includes reducing the number of international windows. The current situation – status quo – shows five windows in red. Wenger is putting forward two options, in the first there is just one window each season and in the second, there are two reducing player travel
In the second part of his proposal, Wenger suggests a World Cup every two years with the year in between being filled with an international competition within each confederation
But UEFA already hosts the European Championships every four years and is planning is expanding European club football annually, including changes to its flagship competition, the Champions League
‘I hope they [FIFA] will come to their senses, because I don’t see the right approach to go everywhere except the confederations, not to speak to us,’ added Ceferin.
‘They didn’t come, they didn’t call, I didn’t get a letter or anything. I just read in the media.’
A meeting of all UEFA’s 55 member countries has been called for Tuesday when the FIFA plan will be raised.
UEFA is furious that the proposals for the biennial World Cup have been developed and shared prior to consultation with confederations.
The new plans would enable international players (like the England squad, above) to travel less
The European Leagues group has also voiced its objection to the plans as have 58 fan groups from around the world.
Ceferin told The Times he did not want to see the European Championships moved to every two years.
‘It might be good for UEFA financially but the problem is we would be killing football like that. We are killing the players,’ said Ceferin. ‘I don’t see the clubs allowing the players to go and that would divide us completely.
‘We have seen the clubs saying they don’t want to let the players go now [if they have to quarantine]. But what if they say we don’t let them go at any time any more. I don’t know if these people know what they are playing with.’
However, FIFA has begun a consultation with former players and coaches. It says it has spoken to 80 high-profile figures in the game, who are reportedly all supportive.
This week a new Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on the future of men’s football, which features players and coaches from all six confederations has met in Doha, Qatar.
Wenger (centre) and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino (bottom centre) are together in Doha this week
Among them were former Everton and Australian international, Tim Cahill, Manchester United’s legendary goalkeeper and Norway international, Peter Schmeichel and the Brazilian Ronaldo.
They joined Wenger in extolling the virtues of a biennial World Cup and reformed fixture calendar.
Wenger told an online news conference: ‘I have been asked by 166 countries how it is possible to hold a World Cup every two years. Overall I have had a very positive response and the decision will be made by the 211 countries who are members of FIFA.
‘Our mission is to plan and shape the football of tomorrow and to improve the competition of global football. The objectives were first less travel for players, no increase in the number of the games, guaranteed rest for players and more meaningful games, that’s what the fans demand, and more chances to shine, and to close the gap.
‘All the confederations have to have access to top, top games, not just Europe and South America.
Ronaldo was capped 98 times by Brazil and would support a two-yearly World Cup
Ronaldo, who was capped 98 times by Brazil and whose CV includes spells with Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan, was enthusiastic about the prospect to a two-yearly World Cup.
‘I am very optimistic about the changes,’ he said. ‘I have no reservations. The World Cup will continue to be the most prestigious event in the calendar.’
Wenger’s proposal is to overhaul the current system, which includes five international windows during a season. In one option that is reduced to one window, plus a summer tournament and in another it becomes two windows, and a competition in June.
In addition, competition formats would be overhauled to manage the number of games. Wenger insists the number of matches would not increase and the balance of 80 per cent domestic matches and 20% internationals would be retained.
Ronaldo, who missed the 1998 World Cup through injury and almost lost out in 2002, when Brazil won the tournament in Japan.
Ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel is in favour of a biennial World Cup
‘Ask Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, would they like more opportunities to play in a World Cup? I am sure they would say yes,’ he added.
The players were asked if anyone in the Technical Advisory Group had disagreed with the idea of a biennial World Cup.
‘I don’t think anyone disagreed with the frequency of the World Cup,’ said ex-United stopper Schmeichel, who played 129 times for Denmark.
Tim Cahill says that travelling for international games on another continent was gruelling
‘The discussion was more on how the calendar should be formatted, the number of games, the rest periods.’
He said there was also debate about how to invest the additional revenue in youth development. The former goalkeeper explained he only played in one World Cup despite 14 years of international football and he would have welcomed more opportunities.
Tim Cahill, who was a stalwart for Everton and Australia, explained that inter-continental travel for international players is ‘gruelling’. Fewer international match windows would reduce the strain on players.
FIFA says travel and ‘climate shock’ have a bigger impact on players than the actual number of games.
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