Football: European clubs slam Fifa reform process and World Cup expansion plans

The Fifa headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland.
The Fifa headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

ZURICH (REUTERS) - A package of reforms proposed by Fifa to clean up the scandal-plagued governing body of football was angrily criticised on Friday by Europe's powerful clubs, who said it would increase frustration among the sport's stakeholders.

The European Club Association (ECA), which represents more than 200 clubs including top sides like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, said its members were "not prepared to be further ignored" and were leaving "all options open".

Fifa is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis, with criminal investigations into the sport under way in the United States and Switzerland. Its president Sepp Blatter is among officials who have been suspended by its own ethics committee.

Football bosses from across South and Central America were among 16 people charged on Thursday by the United States with multi-million-dollar bribery schemes for marketing and broadcast rights, bringing the total number of indictments so far to 41 in a probe spanning dozens of countries.

The same day, Fifa announced a package of planned reforms including limits to the number of terms top officials can serve and a new separation of policy and management positions, with a 36-member Fifa council replacing the 25-member executive committee.

"ECA will now take the required time to assess how it wishes to position itself in relation to this latest development, leaving all options open," said the club association in a statement. Nearly all the world's top players are with European teams.

Fifa's international competitions depend on a calendar, agreed between FIFA and the clubs, which allow them to be released for their national teams on certain dates. If the clubs were to pull out of those agreements, it could throw international football into chaos.

ECA was particularly angry that a proposal had been discussed to increase the four-yearly World Cup to 40 teams from the current 32, even though the idea has now been put on hold.

The proposal had been made "without prior consultation with the clubs (in full knowledge of the impact this will have on the professional club game)," said ECA, which is chaired by former West Germany forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

This was proof "that the proposed reforms are not at the required standard allowing for a new and modern Fifa," it added.

ECA added that its members had not been involved in the Fifa reform committee, which consisted of representatives from the six continental football confederations such as Europe's Uefa and Africa's CAF.

"The proposals relating specifically to the governance reform are missing the involvement and greater recognition of all stakeholders," said the statement.

ECA dismissed a proposal to create a stakeholders' committee representing clubs, leagues and players, saying it did not address the issue.

"ECA believes that rather than reduce the risk of tension within the football family, the proposed recommendations will only lead to increased frustration among stakeholders," it said. "ECA had misgivings towards the manner in which Fifa managed this reform process, but agreed to give Fifa the benefit of the doubt.

"Given the recommendations that have now been presented, ECA was right to believe that a reform process led from within is unable to deliver a sustainable governance model which is fit for the 21st century."