Fifa is pushing ahead with a controversial proposal to expand the Club World Cup, even as Europe’s biggest teams including the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus said they will boycott the competition.
On Friday, international football’s governing body agreed to create a “pilot” to grow the annual competition currently played by seven of the planet’s top clubs, into a 24-strong tournament that will take place in the summer of 2021.
“We will have a new, real Club World Cup which will certainly have a great impact on club football worldwide,” said Gianni Infantino, Fifa president, said following a meeting of the governing body’s ruling Council in Miami.
However, prior to his announcement, the European Club Association, a trade body that represents more than 200 of the continents biggest clubs, said its members will boycott the revised competition.
The ECA, whose members also include FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City among most of the leading teams on the continent, said its clubs would not participate in 2021 but will review its opposition from 2024 onwards.
The decision is a major blow given European sides are considered the best in the world as well the biggest draw for broadcasters and fans.
The proposals are vastly different to Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s original concept, which was backed by an international consortium including Japan’s SoftBank and London-based Centricus which would guarantee $25bn for an expanded Club World Cup, along with a new league contest for national teams.
Fifa appears to have abandoned the new national league tournament after concluding there was no consensus for the project.
Mr Infantino’s effort to transform the world’s most popular sport have been bitterly resisted by some powerful blocks within the game, particularly Uefa, the governing body of the sport in Europe.
European football executives see Fifa’s proposals as a power grab that would undermine the primacy of the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club football tournament, which draws about €2.5bn in broadcasting and sponsorship revenues every year.
A person close to Fifa’s leadership believes the European clubs’ opposition will drop once the new tournament becomes a reality.
In a separate move, Fifa said it will look to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, from 32 team to 48, provided it can find neighbouring countries to host additional games. A feasibility study for the idea will take place between Qatar and Fifa, with a final decision to be made in June. However, the move comes after Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies cut diplomatic and transport links to Qatar,
“We know the situation in the gulf region,” said Mr Infantino. “But we are football and we can care only about football.”