Football: Players' union deplores 'lack of vision' with biennial World Cup proposal

The debate around the international calendar and a men's World Cup every two years has been revived in recent weeks. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - The world footballers' union FIFPro has attacked the "lack of holistic vision" of the game's institutions, including Fifa's proposal for a biennial World Cup, with its general secretary saying the debates were prompted by "commercial interests".

Speaking by video conference on the sidelines of the presentation on Tuesday (Oct 5) of a report on the playing demands of professional players, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann called for "reasonable and effective reform" to lighten the burden on footballers and reduce the chance of injury.

"There is an absolute lack of holistic vision and leadership from most of the institutions," he said about Fifa's proposal for a biennial men's World Cup.

"It is very much a transactional affair in which proposals, whether good, bad or ugly for football have very little basis for a conversation or consultation, because everything is aligned to the commercial interests of different competitions.

"That really undermines our chance to have reasonable and effective reform.

"We would really like to try to differentiate between conversations about the calendar and that about competitions. These are two very separate conversations."

'Merit' in condensing windows

The debate around the international calendar and a men's World Cup every two years has been revived in recent weeks by ex-Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, Fifa's head of global development.

Wenger says the idea would be to have a final phase every summer from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championships and Copa America. Qualifying matches would be grouped together in October, or in October and March.

He refutes the argument that the players would face increased strain, arguing that they would have to make fewer long journeys and would have a minimum of 25 days rest after playing in summer tournaments for their countries.

A full report is due to be released by Fifa in November, ahead of a "global summit" by the end of the year.

The idea has already led to widespread criticism from managers, while European football's governing body Uefa has been scathing in its response but FIFPro struck a more pragmatic approach.

"Condensing windows is an interesting one," said Baer-Hoffmann. "We had a first meeting with Fifa about this about a week ago. There is a lot in this whole proposal we still need to look at and analyse.

"Reducing windows would be a positive as it would reduce travel. Fifa are also suggesting going from 10 games we have in the current window down to seven.

"I see upsides for coaches who would have more time to work with players, so there is merit."

FIFPro's presentation asserts that the current levels of match congestion, extensive travel and reduced off-season time in elite men's football are detrimental to players' health and careers.

The report, which used a sample of 265 players from 44 leagues between June 2018 and August 2021, found that the number of back-to-back games had increased in the last three years, putting players at greater risk of injury.

FIFPro defined back-to-back matches as consecutive appearances of a minimum of 45 minutes each, with less than five days of recovery time between them.

National team regulars at the top clubs have the toughest workload, the report said, adding that some players spent 70 per cent to 80 per cent of their playing time in a two-game-a-week rhythm.

"The data shows we must release pressure on players at the top end of the game and this report provides new research why we need regulation and enforcement mechanisms to protect players," Baer-Hoffman said.

"These are the type of solutions that must be at the top of the agenda whenever we discuss the development of the match calendar. It's time to make player health and performance a priority."

FIFPro recommended that governing bodies enforce a four-week break between seasons and a two-week mid-season break to safeguard players' mental and physical well-being. The union also suggested a mandatory break for individual players after a specified number of successive games.

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