FIFA’s fading plan for biennial World Cups was labeled a threat to football and all other sports by the International Olympic Committee on Thursday.
IOC President Thomas Bach lambasted FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino, an IOC member for the past two years, for not being in Beijing to hear the criticism.
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“We all would have very much liked to discuss the FIFA proposal for a biennial World Cup together with the FIFA president and IOC member,” Bach told about 100 colleagues at the traditional pre-Olympic meeting, with some there in person and others viewing remotely.
Bach added, in a break from the usual politeness of IOC gatherings, that talking to Infantino directly “is not possible… because he canceled his visit to Beijing the day before yesterday.”
Infantino was expected to be watching remotely, either from FIFA’s home city Zurich or Doha, where he has been living ahead of this year’s World Cup. The tournament in Qatar starts in November.
The FIFA president has been pushing a plan to stage World Cups for men and women every two years instead of four. FIFA believes the plan will accelerate development in soccer worldwide, close the gap on the European clubs and national teams that dominate competitions, and add billions of dollars in revenue it can share among its 211 national federations.
Infantino has strong support from Africa for the plan. But the European and South American soccer bodies have said they will boycott biennial tournaments.
The FIFA plan has “no chance” of succeeding, South American soccer president Alejandro Dominguez told The Associated Press last week.
Mustapha Berraf, the president of the African group of national Olympic committees, led the IOC’s opposition on Thursday, saying biennial World Cups would have a “heavy impact” on his continent.
“The plan promoted by FIFA as we speak would create immeasurable damage and put in danger sport in general,” Berraf said.
IOC executive board member Nenad Lalovic, representing summer sports, and Olympic table tennis gold medalist Seung Min Ryu said adding extra World Cups would add to players’ workload and put their health at risk.
“There comes a point where the athletes have to say: ‘Stop,'” Ryu said.
After four interventions from IOC members, Bach asked for and was given applause to convey the feeling of the room back to Infantino.
Infantino previously faced criticism from sports leaders when Bach and the IOC hosted an online meeting in December.
Momentum for FIFA’s plan stalled after European and South American officials voiced their concern. Infantino then pulled plans for an expected vote on the issue in December.