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Fifa votes to approve revamped Club World Cup, in spite of opposition by European clubs

Fifa has voted to approve plans to launch a revamped, 24-team Club World Cup in June 2021, despite opposition from Europe’s leading clubs.

Proposals to change the Club World Cup have proved controversial ever since Fifa president Gianni Infantino revealed that a group of investors were willing to pay $25bn (€22.02bn) for the rights to the expanded club competition, in addition to the rights to a new global Nations League.

Fifa’s ruling council approved the plans for the new tournament at a meeting in Miami on Friday. Under the proposals, Fifa would scrap the current seven-team Club World Cup, which takes place every December, and replace it with a quadrennial 24-team competition taking place in the summer months.

Infantino would like Europe to provide eight of the teams to compete alongside six club sides from South America, three each from Africa, Asia and Concacaf and finally one from Oceania.

But ahead of the council meeting, 15 clubs on the European Club Association’s (ECA) Executive Board signed a letter advising Fifa of their concerns about the new competition and indicating that they would not participate in the 2021 edition. An ECA spokesperson told SportBusiness the organisation will assess participation in the editions of the competition post-2024.

The ECA, Uefa and European Leagues first asserted their joint opposition to Fifa’s proposals to introduce the Club World Cup at a meeting of Uefa’s Professional Football Strategy Council (PFSC) in February. They argue that any potential new competitions can only be made as part of an agreed framework for the international match calendar post-2024.

The leading European clubs would first like Fifa to discuss the harmonisation of the calendar so that all confederation tournaments would take place at the same time, two years after the Fifa World Cup, allowing a rest period every other summer for the leading players. Plans to introduce the Club World Cup in 2021 would also interfere with the current international match calendar agreed between Fifa and the ECA in 2015.

Infantino acknowledged there was disagreement about the new competition but said there had been constructive discussions with Uefa. He also defended Fifa against accusations it was disrupting the international match calendar.

“We are the only organisation reducing the number of tournaments and games. This will not have a neutral impact on the calendar. It will be positive,” he said. “Five games in four years. I don’t think anyone can say that is a large additional burden.”

Fifa’s vote to approve the new Club World Cup comes at the same time Uefa and the ECA look to be pushing through reforms to the Champions League and other European club competitions. The two bodies are rumoured to be ready to discuss changes to Champions League qualification and the potential for Champions League matches to be played on weekends at a meeting at Uefa’s Nyon headquarters on Tuesday.

Last week, LaLiga president Javier Tebas accused Uefa and the ECA of ‘negotiating behind closed doors’ and plotting reforms that would put national leagues in danger.

Tebas went on to throw his support behind the revamped Fifa Club World Cup last week. A LaLiga spokesperson told SportBusiness: “We need to see how the plans advance, but we like how they’re taking shape. This looks to be a Club World Cup that will support federations and leagues small and large.”