Football: Fifa chief Infantino vows to prioritise player welfare amid calendar review

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said there was a need to bring some more coordination in the international match calendar. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - Fifa president Gianni Infantino has pledged that player welfare will be a top priority as football's world governing body reshapes the international fixture schedule.

Fifa's proposal for a biennial World Cup drew widespread criticism last year amid concern over burnout due to the increased demands placed on players.

Infantino discussed the issue in Manchester on Thursday (Jan 20) after accepting an invitation from the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) to meet leading players and union representatives. Fifa is conducting a review of the international match calendar, which determines the windows for national team games and tournament qualifiers.

The meeting included Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Juan Mata, England women internationals Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton, who play for Manchester City, PFA chief executive Maheta Molango and Fifa chief of global football development Arsene Wenger.

"It was really a great meeting. I was very happy that the players reached out to us, to me in particular, because we want really to listen to everyone," Infantino said.

"The players are crucial when it comes to the game. Of course, we need to care about the players, we want to protect the players and, in order to know really what their concerns are, we need to talk to them directly.

"At the end of the day what we want for men's and women's football is that the players can perform at their best, not only in one competition but in all the competitions they have to play.

"The women and the men are facing the same issue - go back and forth, back and forth and play a competition, a Finals tournament and then go back and immediately after you go somewhere in another part of the world.

"We need to bring some more coordination in the international match calendar."

The Swiss acknowledged the game has changed considerably since the current international calendar was drawn up, with more players now playing away from their home countries, requiring much more travel.

"Times have changed, globalisation is coming in. In England, you have players from 100 nationalities playing the professional game," he said. "This was not the case many years ago and the calendar is still the same, so we need to adapt, we need to do something.

He did admit the potential change from a World Cup every four years to a biennial event was not the main issue discussed at the Manchester meeting.

"The biennial World Cup was mentioned as well. There are different views, but we didn't seek any sort of opinion in terms of are you in favour, are you against. It was not the main topic," he said.

Meanwhile, Fifa is set to implement rules in which clubs will be limited to signing and sending six players on loan internationally from 2024 so that more focus can be given to developing talent, it said.

The objective of the regulations, delayed by two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is to "develop young players, promote competitive balance and prevent hoarding", Fifa said in a statement.

Clubs will be limited to eight international loan signings in and eight loaned out from next season, with the number dropping to seven the following year and then remaining at six from 2024-25 onwards.

However, homegrown players and those under the age of 21 will remain exempt from the rules, subject to approval at the Fifa Council's next meeting.

The plans also include the introduction of a minimum duration of a loan deal, which would be between two transfer windows, while the maximum duration will be one year.

There will also be a limit of three players being loaned out per season between the same two clubs, while "sub-loaning" to a third club will be prohibited.

The regulations do not cover domestic loans but Fifa said national associations will have three years to bring their own rules in line with those at international level.

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