By ROB HARRIS
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — A $25 billion overhaul of world soccer competitions is on hold after mounting disapproval from European leaders and clubs saw FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Friday accept more consultation was necessary.
A task force of regional confederation presidents headed by Infantino will explore in more detail the merits of the new formats, a climb down by the FIFA leader who started the week hoping for an agreement in principle on revamping the Club World Cup and establishing a Global Nations League.
Infantino said an agreement was reached to “bolster the consultation process” before the next FIFA Council meeting in Miami in March.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin thwarted Infantino’s desire to secure the agreement of the council at Friday’s meeting after gathering complaints from European clubs and leagues. There are also concerns in Europe about the increased demands on players, the lack of consultation by FIFA and, within leagues, the potential for the big clubs to get even richer.
“Common sense prevailed,” Ceferin said after leaving the meeting.
Infantino had tried to divide Europe by meeting some clubs in May and gaining public backing for the new competitions from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But the Spanish clubs have since backed away from FIFA. Those teams were among 15 members of the European Club Association who wrote a letter to Ceferin to take into the meeting warning of an “institutional crisis with potentially severe and far reaching consequences” if the new competitions were approved on Friday without a thorough examination of the impact on the congested match calendar, which had already been agreed to through 2024.
“The successful development of international football competitions is dependent and based entirely on clubs’ participation and/or on their assets,” the ECA wrote, highlighting how most of the world’s leading players are based in Europe.
The ECA letter, which was also signed by officials from Manchester United, Bayern Munich Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, said FIFA failed to adequately consult with the clubs. That was the same complaint in a letter to Infantino from leading domestic leagues, which featured the heads of the Premier League, Bundesliga and the Mexican league among the signatories.
Imposing new competitions or expanding existing ones “would only further overload the calendar, endanger players’ health, and jeopardize the economy of football globally,” the World Leagues Forum wrote. “We do not understand the urgency and recklessness with which FIFA is acting on these competition and calendar issues.”
Infantino has been trying to gain approval from the FIFA Council since March to accept an offer from a global financial consortium, including Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, to make the biggest change to soccer competitions in years.
In briefing documents for the meeting, FIFA assured council members that government-issued funds won’t be allowed to be part of any joint-venture consortium involved in the new tournaments.
Two options for a new Club World Cup from 2021 were floated to council members.
The first would see a tournament staged every four years over a maximum of 18 days in the June slot currently used by the Confederations Cup, which serves as the warm-up event a year before the World Cup. FIFA earlier this year proposed 24 teams but is now leaving that competition field open.
The second proposal would keep an annual Club World Cup but shift it from December to the July-August window currently used by European teams for often-lucrative preseason friendlies in the United States and Asia.
The Nations League was first conceived by UEFA when Infantino was general secretary of European soccer’s governing body before being elected president of FIFA in 2016. It debuted in Europe last month. Infantino wants the format to involve all six confederations with eight-team finals serving as mini World Cups in every odd-numbered year.