MIAMI — The president of Barcelona spoke out against the haste to introduce a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 ahead of the FIFA Council deciding Friday whether to approve the pilot of the enlarged tournament.
European clubs have publicly resisted FIFA’s bid to replace the current seven-team annual Club World Cup, which is played annually in December, with an expanded quadrennial version in June-July.
Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu backs a revamp of the competition, just not until the entire calendar for club and national team matches is reconfigured for 2024 and beyond to cope.
"We have to take care of the footballers," Bartomeu said in an interview with The Associated Press in Miami, where the FIFA Council is meeting. "We have to take care about the way of training and the vacation they need to recover every season that they do. If the calendar is not modified, of course we cannot agree."
In 2021, FIFA envisages the window for international matches — which is likely to include 2022 World Cup qualifiers — running May 31-June 8. The Club World Cup would be held June 17-July 4, while the African Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup could be played July 5-July 31. European club seasons typically start around mid-August.
FIFA believes the proposed 24-team Club World Cup would "promote and grow football for the benefit of all confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs and fans," according to a task force report on new FIFA competitions seen by the AP.
In the first edition, South America would have six slots — one based on previous performances. Three each would go to teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America. Oceania would get one representative. The confederations would decide their own qualification process, whereas now each continental champion qualifies for the Club World Cup along with the host country.
"We know the current form doesn’t work," FIFA Vice-President Victor Montagliani told the AP. "The top clubs in the world have fans all over the world. So, I think it’s a natural progression of that competition."
The expanded tournament would start with eight groups of three, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams would play two to five matches over a maximum of 18 days.
According to a FIFA document seen by the AP, the governing body’s council will be asked on Friday to approve a trial 24-team Club World Cup running from June 17-July 4, 2021. That is the slot previously reserved for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event in a host nation a year before the World Cup.
"An opportunity to keep growing the competition will always be accepted from our league and our clubs," Enrique Bonilla, the president of the Mexican league, told the AP. "It helps to give exposure and it helps to make clubs from other parts of the world to be more competitive, and to grow, and to learn from those great players that are now playing in Europe."
Also Friday, the FIFA Council will be asked to approve the recommendations of a feasibility study into adding another 16 teams for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.
The council will be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using "one or more additional co-host countries" in the Persian Gulf before a final decision in June on enlarging the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.
A document sent to the FIFA Council says its members will be asked if they agree with the report’s conclusion that World Cup expansion is "feasible provided that neighbouring countries host some matches."
The FIFA study seen by the AP says Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore diplomatic and travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are indicated to be the current possible options identified by FIFA to host games in 2022 but their stadium infrastructure is only briefly assessed in a FIFA report.
Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.
"As long as it’s well studied and well thought out, I think CONCACAF would have no issues supporting that," said Montagliani, who leads the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football.