FIFA on collision course over World Club Cup

LONDON: FIFA put itself on a collision course with Europe’s most powerful clubs on Wednesday by announcing proposals for a revamped Club World Championship to replace the annual fixture between the European and South American champions. 

Just two days after the European Club Forum, made up of Europe’s top 102 clubs, unanimously agreed to reject plans for a revamped Club World Championship, world football’s ruling body announced plans for a six-team tournament.  

This would involve the champions from each of FIFA’s six confederations and would be held in Japan over eight days in December, starting in 2005. 

The proposal is expected to be ratified by FIFA’s executive committee in London on Feb 29. 

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a statement that the new format was not only a solution to suit all parties, but also “an expression of solidarity in world football”. 

But David Dein, vice-chairman of Premier League club Arsenal and one of the leading voices in European club football, said: “The European clubs party line on this is unanimous. 

“We agreed on Tuesday at our meeting in Barcelona that any such world championship for clubs is ill-conceived and detrimental to the domestic calendar. 

“All the clubs in Barcelona agreed with this point of view and there was no support for any world championship whatsoever.” 

But FIFA spokesman Markus Siegler said: “We have taken note of that, but it does not reflect the opinion of the UEFA executive committee who agree with the proposal.” 

The new tournament would effectively end the 44-year World Club Cup competition, played most years since 1960 between the champions of Europe and South America. 

That competition, which had a colourful early history with hotly-disputed finals played over two legs in Europe and South America, has been played as a one-off match in Tokyo since 1980. It is co-run by UEFA, European football’s governing body, and CONMEBOL, the South American authority. 

The most recent winners were Boca Juniors of Argentina who beat AC Milan on penalties in December. 

In the proposed new tournament, the champions of Asia, Oceania, Africa and CONCACAF (the North American and Caribbean region), would be drawn to face each other, with the winners going on to the semi-finals to play the European or South American champions, both of whom would be seeded. 

The winners would go on to the final with the losers meeting in a third-fourth place match, meaning a maximum of two games for the two seeded teams. 

On Tuesday, FIFA had proposed a 16-team tournament played every other year in the last two weeks of July. 

UEFA for example would have provided five teams for such a competition – the European champions, plus four other teams from the highest ranking UEFA countries, which by definition guarantees the biggest TV market share. 

“Such a competition was not about sporting success but about money,” said one of the continent’s leading representatives. “We were totally opposed to that idea.” 

The Club World Championship started in 2000 in Brazil and sparked controversy when Manchester United withdrew from the English FA Cup to travel to South America. 

Corinthians won the tournament when they beat fellow Brazilian club Vasco da Gama in Rio’s Maracana Stadium. 

But a proposed second competition in Spain in 2001 was cancelled because of financial problems following the collapse of ISL-ISMM, FIFA’s marketing partner. – Reuters 

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