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Too many meaningless matches not good for the international game, says FIFA president Infantino

The FIFA flag is displayed prior to a Russia 2018 World Cup match in June 2018. Kirill Kudryatsev, AFP/file
The FIFA flag is displayed prior to a Russia 2018 World Cup match in June 2018. Kirill Kudryatsev, AFP/file

DOHA—FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Wednesday questioned the international match calendar, saying that there were too many meaningless games and that such a structure was unsustainable for the health of players and the global game.

Speaking in Doha, where FIFA is conducting a part of its feasibility study into the practicalities of staging a World Cup every two years, Infantino said that it was difficult for players -- especially during the COVID-19 pandemic -- to leave their clubs and keep traveling from one country to another.

"The current match calendar shows us that we have reached some limits . . . We have to have a system that is simple, which clearly defines when there are national team games and when there are club games," he said.

The ambitious plans of soccer's global governing body for a World Cup every two years have come in for fierce criticism from various stakeholders, including UEFA, clubs, players and fan groups. 

Critics have pointed to the already-packed annual schedule and argued that a showpiece event like the World Cup would be significantly diluted if held biennially. 

Infantino, however, reiterated that 88% of the member associations had voted in favor of the feasibility study, which was first proposed by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation and is being led by FIFA's chief of global football development Arsene Wenger.

The controversial idea has found support among the African Football Confederation and several countries in Asia.

"It's crucial to understand what the consultation process is... that's what we are doing: studying the calendar, consulting everyone, starting of course with the protagonists of football, the main actors of football -- the players, the coaches," Infantino said. 

World Leagues Forum, the association that represents all major professional leagues, said in a statement: "The World Cup... is a unique sporting event. FIFA's leadership cannot be able to turn something exceptional into a commonplace event purely to serve their short-term interests."

Despite the protests, Infantino added that a new match calendar is likely to be in place by 2024, when the current men's cycle ends.

"This global process is exhaustive . . . So by 2024 we need to have a new match calendar. That's why we need to take some decisions by the end of this year."

(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru Editing by Toby Davis)


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