Sport Soccer

Friday 15 December 2017

Open warfare between Fifa and the top European clubs threatens 2018 World Cup

FIFA and the European Clubs Association (ECA) traded blows on Tuesday as the relationship between football’s world governing body and its most powerful clubs descended into open warfare.

The row threatens to derail the 2018 World Cup as clubs have not ruled out withholding their players from Fifa tournaments once current agreements with the football authorities expire.

The row has been simmering in private for several months. But now anger among ECA members over the lack of constructive dialogue with Fifa has begun to spill over, leading to the ECA president, Karl-Heinz Rumenigge making public his feelings at the ECA general assembly in Warsaw.

He told members: "Unfortunately, discussions with the Fifa president have failed to lead to a satisfactory outcome which takes account of the clubs' demands."

This personalisation of the dispute with Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, prompted Zurich to respond in a statement: “Fifa is surprised by recent comments made by ECA stating that they are not satisfied with their discussions with football’s world governing body regarding topics of interest to the European clubs, including the international match calendar.

“ECA representatives are in fact members of several Fifa committees and are always invited to take part in the discussions on such topics, together with representatives from clubs of other confederations.”

A meeting took place last month between Blatter, Rumenigge and their respective lieutenants, Jérôme Valcke and Michele Centenaro. The clubs are seeking a new financial framework and corporate-governance structure after the ECA’s existing memorandum of understanding with Fifa and Uefa expires in 2014.

But the ECA believes it is gaining no traction within Fifa, whose democratic constituency comprises only the national associations, with no structural representation for the clubs.

At the January meeting it highlighted that Fifa paid only $40 million of the $1.1 billion it raised during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to the 400 clubs whose players took part in the tournament, and pressed for a larger share of the pot. In 2014, under contractual terms already agreed, the sum will rise to $70 million. But this falls a long way short of club demands.

Clubs are seeking €300 million from Fifa. The clubs believe this to be justified since they are proposing concessions on insurance premiums.

Currently Fifa and Uefa foot the insurance bills to cover the wages of players injured while on international duty, a cost to the football authorities estimated to be around €100m every four years. However the clubs already hold their own player policies and are seeking to assume responsibility for international-player insurance, providing an economy of scale. Uefa have confirmed it agreed to the new deal; Fifa still holds out.

In return, the clubs are seeking a far greater share of the proceeds of international-tournament football, to which they are statutorily obliged to release their players.

A further meeting has been scheduled for 5 March. That is when Fifa’s confederations will be in Zurich for a conference on the international match calendar, another area of contention with the clubs.

Meanwhile, the number of international friendly matches played every year is likely to be slashed after European clubs and UEFA reached an agreement on proposals to change the international calendar.

The deal, which has still to be agreed with FIFA, would see an average of nine international matches played a year rather than 12.

The agreement would see nine double-headers over a two-year period with no one-off friendlies such as England's match against Holland tomorrow night.

The compromise deal was announced at the European Clubs' Association (ECA) general assembly in Warsaw today - the clubs last year demanded the number of internationals be halved to six a year.

UEFA also agreed to take out insurance to cover the wages of all players injured on international duty, starting at Euro 2012, and to increase the amount of money paid to clubs for their players taking part in the tournament. The amount was 55million euros for the last tournament and the new figure - a "substantial increase" according to the ECA - will be announced next month.

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