Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.
FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.
Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.
Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.
Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.
“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.
“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”
The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.
The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.
Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.
“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches – and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy – but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”
Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.
“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.
“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”
Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.
“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.
“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”
While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.
Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.
“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.
Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.
“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.
“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”
Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.