DOHA, Qatar — FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced on Friday the introduction of a new 32-team men’s Club World Cup to launch in June 2025.
As part of his closing news conference at the World Cup in Qatar, Infantino said during a meeting of the FIFA Council held earlier in the day, it was decided the competition will take place every four years and replaces the 24-team version originally due to take place in 2021, subsequently canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Club World Cup is a seven-team competition, the latest installation of which took place in February where Chelsea beat Palmeiras in Abu Dhabi.
« The first edition will take place in 2025 in the summer, » Infantino said. « During that slot where in the past we used to have the Confederations Cup and it will be slightly longer because obviously there are 32 teams.
« But they will be the best teams in the world. They will be invited to participate. All of the details will be developed in due course, and we’ll decide where it will take place as well over the next few weeks or months in consultation with all of the stakeholders.
« Of course, the details of that still need to be discussed and agreed, but the 32-team tournament will go ahead, making it really like a World Cup
« FIFA Council has taken the decision now as a matter of principle to hold that Club World Cup. But don’t forget we were the only football organization in the world, I think anyway, at the international level and not to have organized the competition during the pandemic.
« Everyone else postponed their competitions, then shorten them and played them and we had a Club World Cup planned in 2020 with 24 teams. That was cancelled. It wasn’t replaced or postponed.
« We did that because we wanted to allow for the Copa America, the Euros and we wanted to protect the health and wellbeing of players and not overburden the calendar. »
The global union for professional football players (FIFPRO) reacted negatively to the decision.
« FIFPRO took note with surprise of today’s decisions by the FIFA Council concerning the international match calendars for men’s and women’s football that could have serious consequences for and aggravate pressure on the welfare and employment of players, » it said in a statement.
« Despite an understanding FIFPRO reached with FIFA last week that a joint negotiation of the international match calendar would take place before the FIFA Congress in March 2023, these decisions were taken unilaterally without seriously consulting, let alone agreeing, with the players. »
The World Leagues Forum (WLF), an organization representing professional association football leagues, also criticized the announcement, saying it could have damaging consequences for the football economy and player welfare.
« As the calendar is already overloaded, with longstanding domestic club competitions and ever-expanding international competitions, FIFA’s decision creates the risk of fixture congestion, further player injuries and a distortion of competitive balance, » it said in a statement.
It was also announced on Friday that the next Club World Cup, featuring the traditional seven-team tournament, will take place in Morocco from Feb. 1-11, 2023.
UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid, Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo and Seattle Sounders, the first CONCACAF Champions League winner from the United States, will take part in the competition.
FIFA also announced a women’s Club World Cup and a new friendly tournament known as the « FIFA World Series » which is designed to allow « teams from different confederations to play each other » in the March international window in even years, while the September and October international windows will be merged to form one, four-game period.
The organization posted revenues of $7.5 billion and is projecting growth to $11bn as Infantino looks ahead to a new four-year cycle which will climax with the 2026 World Cup in North America.
« We are convinced about the power of football, » Infantino added. « We are convinced that football will become the number one sport in North America. Maybe the number two to start with and then with time… but we are convinced of the power of our game. The more revenue we generate, the more we can reinvest in the game.
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« It will be incredible in North America. Three huge countries — Mexico, United States, Canada — organizing the event. 48 teams, 50% more so 32 to 48, more games, revenues will go up in terms of broadcasting, sponsorship and in terms of ticketing and hospitality.
« Let’s not forget that we will play in huge stadiums in North America. Stadiums which are normally used for American football so 80,000, 90,000. 70,000 is almost the smallest capacity but then with a lot of attractions for fans.
« We are expecting five million, five-and-a-half million fans to travel in specifically for these events. And we are convinced that football will be booming in North America because we will start working immediately as of Dec. 19 for that World Cup when it comes to the men’s. »
FIFA had already indicated the 2026 World Cup, expanded for the first time from 32 teams to 48, would compromise 16 groups of three teams but Infantino suggested that decision could be reversed.
« We have approved a 48-team format with 16 groups of three, of which the top two would move to the knockout phase of 32 and then 16, eight, four and two, » he said.
« I have to say that after this World Cup and the success of the groups of four and looking at some other competitions like the Euros for example where you have 24 teams and the top two plus the best third ones go to the next group stage, here the groups have been absolutely incredible in the sense that until the last minute of the last match, you don’t know who goes ahead.
« I think we have to revisit or at least rediscuss the format, whether we go for 16 groups of three or 12 groups of four, this is something that is going to be on the agenda in the next meetings. »
Information from Reuters was used in this report.