It’s a move that can have a seismic impact on world football — a World Cup every two years. Fifa wants it and its chief of global football development and former manager of English Premier League (EPL) club Arsene Wenger says that the likes of Brazilian legend Ronaldo and English icon Gary Linekar support it, but the biggest federations and clubs are opposed to the move, given the logistical challenges and potential loss of revenue that it represents. Here’s all you need to know.
How Did The Proposal For a World Cup Every Two Years Come About?
It was following a formal proposal by the Saudi Arabian country body for football in May this year that Fifa said it would take up a feasibility study on the question of staging the World Cup every two years for both men and women. Although the European and South American federations are opposed to the idea, the proposal for the study was backed by four out of every five Fifa member.
But the proposal itself isn’t anything new. Before Saudi officials mooted the plan, Wenger had in March talked up the potential of having more World Cups. But before Wenger, it was former Fifa president Sepp Blatter who had in the mid-90s sought to push for such a plan, but little enthusiasm was shown then. Cut to 2021 and a more interconnected world, social media and increasing financial footprint of Asian entities in European football — where they now own some of the biggest clubs — has meant that there is more interest in such a move, Wenger says.
While Uefa boss Aleksander Ceferin has said he has “grave concerns" over the proposal, the need for enabling more countries to play at and host a World Cup is frequently tallked about in terms of the domination of the game by just a handful of countries. Only South American and European countries have ever won the World Cup and Asian and African countries have hosted just two editions of the World Cup since the four-yearly tournament kicked off in 1930. There is a long waiting list of countries who want to host the tournament while countries also complain about the qualification quotas that are seen as favouring European and South American countries over the other regions.
More frequent World Cups could address both issues, but while that proposal is explored Fifa has already gone ahead with an expanded roster for the 2026 World Cup to be hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico which, with 16 extra teams, will feature 48 countries and 80 matches.
Why Does Fifa Want More World Cups?
Ask Wenger and he says staging World Cups more frequently would lead to an improvement in the game. And, that there is a big demand now among viewers for more big ticket international tournaments.
“The goal is to keep improving the quality of football by increasing the frequency of competitions… I would like to increase the frequency of competition in a way that’s led by simplicity, a clear calendar, and a desire to only organise competitions that have a real meaning to them, which are those which allow an improvement in the level of football," Wenger is reported to have told French sports daily L’Equipe.
An extra World Cup every second year would be a win-win from the fans’ perspective, too, he argues even though Uefa boss Ceferin has said that more frequent World Cups would “lead to less legitimacy and dilute the World Cup itself". Wenger though points out that the Champions League, the crown jewel of Uefa club competitions, is held every year and remains hugely prestigious and competitive.
“What people want are competitions with high stakes, that are easy to understand. That’s why it must be done, for audiences and to improve football… we have to recognise that society demands more and more high-stakes and high-emotion matches, and more often," Wenger has said.
Is There A Money Angle?
Wenger has rejected suggestions that Fifa is in it for the money, saying that “there’s no financial incentive behind it, especially as Fifa redistributes the money to all of the federations around the world to develop football in their countries". But the fact remains that the World Cup is the biggest avenue of income for the global football body.
“Fifa operates in a four-year cycle and the vast majority (around 95 per cent) of the organisation’s revenues come from the sale of television, marketing, hospitality and licensing rights related to the Fifa World Cup," it says. So, an extra World Cup can only mean additional revenues for Fifa.
But money is also cited as the reason why the likes of Uefa may be opposed to the plan. European countries and clubs are the most followed ones in world football and, apart from the Euro Cup, Uefa has two lucrative club-level competitions in the Champions League and Europa Cup. Uefa is also reported to make more money than Fifa. While the proposal is yet to be fleshed out, it can be presumed that a World Cup every second year would clash with the Euro Cup, which is at present held two years after every World Cup.
How Will It Happen?
Wenger says that the way he envisions it, the clubs can continue with their tournaments, the regional meets can stay intact and players have more time for rest. To that extent, he has talked about an overhaul of the qualification format for the World Cup and also called time on international friendlies, which he says are “less and less important".
He says that qualifying matches would be over two international breaks, in October and March “to make it simpler for clubs and for there to be less issues to resolve for national teams".
“The idea is to reduce the number of qualifying matches, to group them together, and then at the end of the season to have a World Cup and a championship for each confederation every two years. In between these two qualifying windows, the player would stay at their club all year. Instead of 10 qualifiers, there would be six, for example in four-team groups," he told L’Equipe.
As for players, he said they will be playing the same number of matches as before and on international duty less often. “For the players, there won’t be more matches, and there will be a compulsory rest time after international competitions — 25 days at least, as I see it," he said.
So, when can a World Cup every other year become reality, if it happens at all? According to Wenger, the international football calendar is set till 2026 and Uefa has the Euro Cup to stage in 2028, so it’s a minimum of seven more years during which the proposal can be given shape, raising the tantalising possibility of the new calendar being unveiled in 2030, which would mark 100 years of the World Cup. Reports though said that the earliest that the proposal can be voted on is the 2022 Fifa Congress.
Before it’s time to set a new calendar, “mentalities will have continued to change in this direction", Wenger says, adding that “we have to anticipate the future".