Gianni Infantino says FIFA’s “ambitions for football development” can only be realised if it holds competitions more frequently, but UEFA are understood to remain firmly opposed to plans for a biennial men’s World Cup.
The world governing body has plans – spearheaded by its chief of global football development Arsene Wenger – to host the men’s World Cup every two years instead of every four.
The proposed changes to the international calendar would mean a major finals being held every year, alternating between World Cups in even years and the continental finals such as the European Championship and the Copa America in odd years.
Under the proposal, the number of international windows in a season would be cut to one or at most two, in October and March, with no national team playing any more than seven matches including playoffs.
Speaking during the first FIFA member associations’ online summit – to which 204 FIFA member associations and 32 FIFA council members were invited – Infantino said the organisation’s “ambitions for football development across the entire world can only be realized if we have more successful events taking place on a more regular basis.”
The governing body’s president added that FIFA is undertaking the “most inclusive and thorough consultation process that the world of football has ever seen on a global basis.”
He added: “This first summit was an important step in the consultation process, because it provided both FIFA council members and over 200 FIFA member associations with the opportunity to make proposals, to ask questions and to debate issues in an open and transparent way.
“We want to adopt a holistic approach with a global approach to this project. FIFA has one event that lasts one month every four years that is helping to develop football in 211 member associations and the other FIFA competitions.
“The new FIFA is open for this type of dialogue as we strive to find the best possible solution for women’s, men’s and youth football going forward, both in terms of international match calendar and final tournaments reform.
“We have the opportunity to shape football history, to look forward, to learn from the past and to design the future because our vision is to make football truly global.
“But we will only make changes if it benefits everyone. No one should be a loser in this, everyone should be better off at the end of the day, otherwise there is no reason to change anything, if the global world of football and everyone in it is not better off. We are aware of the different challenges that this brings.”
FIFA says it has consulted with players and coaches on its proposals and will now consult with member associations, confederations and stakeholders, including fans, in October.
It will then publish a report in November before a global summit at the end of the year.
Both Wenger and two-time Women’s World Cup-winning manager Jill Ellis – now FIFA’s technical advisory group leader for women’s football – gave presentations at the summit.
Discussing his revamped men’s international match calendar – headlined by a biennial World Cup – Wenger said: “It is an audacious proposal for the future of men’s football, and it follows four main principles, namely regrouping national team qualifying matches, reducing travel for players, creating more space for meaningful matches and final tournaments, and ensuring a mandatory rest period for players between seasons.”
Ellis also confirmed her intention to increase the frequency of Women’s World Cups, saying: “Challenges, with the right mindset, can create opportunities.
“We have issues in both national team football and club football that require substantial change. Our focus is on providing more balanced playing opportunities at national team level across the world, and to find better solutions in moving club football forward.
“Therefore, included in our proposed solution would be the opportunity to change the frequency of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and continental tournaments in order to create a much bigger platform for women’s football.”
Despite the backing of Infantino and Wenger, UEFA is understood to remain against the plans to increase the frequency of World Cups, arguing it will damage football and threaten players’ health and welfare, and is seeking a meeting with FIFA to discuss the plans.
South American confederation CONMEBOL has previously described the plans as “highly unviable”, but the Confederation of North and Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the Asian Football Conderation (AFC) have confirmed they are open to the idea of a biennial World Cup.
At Thursday’s meeting, associations asked questions and raised concerns about the impact of a biennial World Cup on finances, competition prestige, player welfare and domestic competitions, as well as how it would fit into the calendar.
Sources described the mood in the meeting as constructive, civilised and transparent.