What would a biennial World Cup mean for our sport?

With international football back in the headlines, I was reminded of a less publicized topic lately: the prospect of a biennial World Cup.

It hasn’t left FIFA’s mind, however, as in his last press conference, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the idea was still “a possibility”.

The concept was proposed by the Saudi Football Association in May 2021, with the backing of former Arsenal and Monaco manager Arsene Wenger, who is currently FIFA’s “Head of Global Football Development”. His name and his face are always those associated with the idea.

The outline of Wenger’s plan is as follows: Confederation tournaments in odd years.

Either one (October) or two (October and March) international mid-season breaks, for a month in total, during the qualifications for major tournaments. Groups of four countries are envisaged, with a play-off, for a maximum of seven matches.

Guaranteed rest periods for players after tournaments are over.

As soon as his concept was announced, he ran into opposition. Organizations such as the Premier League, UEFA and CONMEBOL have all expressed their displeasure. On top of that, La Liga chief Javier Tebas said the proposed schedule changes would ‘disrupt domestic leagues as interest would be lost and continuity jeopardized’.

The conviction of those who oppose it is that it is only a way to enrich FIFA and nothing else. There’s some truth to that – according to FIFA, hosting a World Cup every two years would net them an extra £3.3billion over four years.

Despite all this, the concept has some support. CAF (Confederation of African Football) has been supportive and Wenger certainly believes in it, saying he is ‘100 per cent convinced this is the right decision and it will give every talent a chance’.

He believes the extra money he generates can be invested globally and prevent him from believing that players don’t have an equal chance to fulfill their potential because of where they were born. Australian Tim Cahill said: “I spoke to Ali Al-Habsi, who spent 19 years trying to qualify for a World Cup (with Oman) and never made it – 133 countries don’t have ever done.”

I am opposed to a biennial World Cup. FIFA did not promise that its profits would help develop the game and help football fans in poorer countries. Also, I think it would detract from the attractiveness and beauty of the World Cup.

Many believe that the number of countries that will support Wenger’s idea (those that haven’t qualified for a World Cup) will be enough to make the concept a reality.

Maybe that could be a positive, if everything Wenger says is true (and good luck with that). You feel sympathy for minnows like Al-Habsi’s Oman, but isn’t that the case in other sports? There is no annual Cricket World Cup so Tuvalu can achieve its dream of reaching the final and the six countries that make up Rugby’s Six Nations are not planning to upgrade to seven so Panama can experience some success.

I’m not saying minnows have to be minnows forever, but they should improve fairly, through well-run association football, like Canada did by reaching its first World Cup since 1986. I fear that with a biennial World Cup, it will be the bigger nations that benefit from it and not the smaller ones.

Sports Grp2

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