Enlarged Club World Cup will boost competition, Infantino tells AFP

Gregory WALTON
·4-min read

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in an interview with AFP on Thursday that an expanded Club World Cup tournament would boost international competition between clubs.

Speaking ahead of the Club World Cup final in Qatar, Infantino also said for the first time that coronavirus containment measures could still be in place during the 2022 World Cup in the Gulf state -- but he insisted stadiums would be full.

Two Club World Cups will be played this year, with Qatar currently hosting the edition delayed from 2020 that concludes on Thursday when Bayern Munich face Mexican side Tigres. Another seven-team edition will go ahead in Japan in December.

A lucrative, revamped 24-team version of the tournament, including eight sides from Europe, was due to be played in China this year.

But the expanded competition will not now start until a later date after the delayed Euro 2020 and the Copa America tournaments -- that could not be held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic -- were pencilled in for June and July.

Infantino said the idea was still valid and he supported it strongly.

"We are focusing on world competition in the Club World Cup, for example, to have not only one club present from each confederation, but more participation because we need to boost club football all over the world," he said.

Ahead of 2022, an enlarged Club tournament could help address growing calls for "super leagues" of top regional and global clubs. Leading European clubs are believed to be keen to create a European Super League, but FIFA has said such a competition "would not be recognised" by world football's governing body.

Infantino did not say on Thursday when the new Club World Cup format might begin.

"(But) we have already decided that the new Club World Cup will be featuring 24 teams from all different continents," he told AFP.

"We will still have to find the right slot for the new Club World Cup with 24 teams. It's obviously not an easy challenge in this period where everything is congested anyway.

"If we need to wait one year longer then we'll do that."

- 'Not an easy challenge' -

As well as saying unspecified distancing measures could still be in place for next year's World Cup, Infantino suggested FIFA could "concretely" help travelling fans from countries with patchy vaccine rollouts.

"Maybe some precautionary measures have to be taken," he said in the Qatari capital Doha, where Bayern Munich face Mexican side Tigres in the Club World Cup final on Thursday.

"We need to see how the situation looks by then. It's very difficult to foresee now.

"It will take a little bit of time, and we have two years of time to come back to some sort of normality."

Infantino backed the Qatari hosts who in recent days have insisted the 2022 spectacle would go ahead with stadiums at 100 percent capacity.

"If certain countries have difficulties accessing vaccines, in spite of the efforts of the World Health Organization... then we could certainly envisage helping them concretely with some projects targeting World Cup situations," he said.

"But two years from now I believe that, and I hope sincerely, that everyone who would like to be vaccinated will be vaccinated."

Infantino, who was speaking before reports emerged that Bayern forward Thomas Mueller has tested positive for coronavirus, praised Qatar for its execution of a bio-bubble during the Club World Cup.

Mueller, a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014 and a key part of the Bayern lineup, would be forced to miss the final if his infection is confirmed.

"One hundred percent security never exists, but we can do whatever we can to go very close to this," Infantino said.

He added that the pandemic had highlighted the challenges of a "congested" international match calendar.

"The real challenge for the future will be the international match calendar -- this balance between national team football and club football which is suffering even more now, during the Covid situation," he said.

Infantino also pledged further support for the global game which has lost more than $11 billion in revenue since the start of the pandemic, according to FIFA estimates.