FIFA chief Gianni Infantino is busily promoting money-spinning schemes for world football ahead of an expected bid for a second term, including a revamped Club World Cup and a so-called Global Nations League.
Infantino faces a re-election vote in June next year, three years after he took control of world football’s governing body after long-time leader Sepp Blatter was ejected amid a bitter corruption scandal.
With an eye to winning a new term at FIFA’s 2019 Paris Congress, Infantino has embarked on one new project after another to fill the coffers and bolster his reforming appeal.
“He clearly has a political agenda,” said a analyst familiar with FIFA’s inner workings. “He has opened two main areas, one covering competitions and the other on rules, where he wants to work on transfers.”
His marquee project is to boost the number of World Cup participating nations from the current 32 to 48 by 2026, a target that has now been brought forward for the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“It is the president of Conmebol (the South American football confederation), Alejandro Dominguez, who proposed (bringing in the expansion for 2022) but you would be forgiven for thinking that FIFA was directly behind it,” said a former FIFA official, speaking on condition his name not be used.
That proposal has left Qatar, already diplomatically isolated, scratching their heads and wondering how to host an expanded tournament that would likely involve staging matches in neighbouring countries.
However, the expansion to 48 teams has its supporters and falls in line with the FIFA chief’s “political agenda”, according to the same source.
New-look club world championship
Infantino’s other key proposal is to revamp the Club World Cup, boosting it from seven clubs to 24 in a four-year format rather than retaining it as an annual event.
At the same time, borrowing an idea from Europe’s governing body UEFA, Infantino has opted to launch a league tournament for nations, the Global Nations League, grouping the winners of international competitions in each of FIFA’s six regional confederations.
Infantino pushed the proposals at a FIFA council meeting in Bogota in March, with the persuasive argument that sponsors were ready to pour $25 billion (20.7 billion euros) into the new league and expanded cup proposal.