FIFA’s planned overhaul of the international calendar has moved a step closer to reality, with changes initially suggested by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation now at the advanced consultation phase.
Arsene Wenger, who works as FIFA’s chief of football development, is spearheading a feasibility study into a plan that would see the number of World Cups doubled, with the tournament to be held every other year.
And the sport’s governing body have called in some of football’s biggest names to consult on the plan, including former England internationals John Terry and Michael Owen.
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What is the plan?

Wenger and FIFA’s proposal would see the number of qualifying matches dramatically reduced during the season, and a World Cup tournament held every other year.
The FIFA chiefs believe that the tournament’s new 48-team format allows for greater flexibility and the opportunity to cut back on the sort of mid-season international fixtures that struggle to gain widespread attention.

Arsene Wenger in Zürich

Image credit: Getty Images

Wenger has stated that the intended plan would see no more games played in total, but rather the international calendar would be focussed more on major tournaments.
And the FIFA plan would also see a doubling of the regional competitions, with events such as the European Championships also being increased to once every two years.

Why do FIFA want to change the calendar?

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said earlier this year that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the imbalance in football and the need for change.
There is believed to be a widely held view within the organisation that the four-year World Cup model is no longer compatible with a modern world of short-term content consumption and social-media-driven engagement.
"Let me be very clear: the starting point is not 'the calendar is full and so nothing changes'," he told the 71st FIFA Congress in May.
"The starting point is the exact opposite of that. We have a blank sheet, we are open to take on board all views and opinions about how we can make the international calendar better."

Gianni Infantino

Image credit: Getty Images

The FIFA president says that the current schedule in the sport primarily benefits the biggest leagues in the world, centred around European football.
Increasing the number of World Cups and introducing a major Club World Cup tournament – which is another of FIFA’s major proposals – would help spread the wealth more evenly.
Today, big leagues generate billions in revenues from all over the world — and these revenues are distributed where? To the 18-20 clubs in their leagues, with a small percentage going in solidarity.
"The only body which is generating revenues from all over the world and redistributing and investing all over the world in solidarity is FIFA."
However it could be argued that Infantino’s position could be motivated by power as much as philanthropy.
FIFA’s revenues have reduced over recent years and there is also an understanding that the world organisation feel concerned that UEFA and the Champions League are becoming the sport’s dominant force.

What are the potential problems?

There are concerns that doubling the number of international tournaments would lead to further player burn-out, by removing the opportunity for extended summer breaks for the world’s leading players.
Wenger says that the plan will include at least 25 rest days for players each summer, but there are concerns that clubs will expect that majority of that time to be spent in pre-season, leading to the top men’s footballers enjoying even fewer recovery breaks.
FIFA’s proposal also means that women’s international tournaments will no longer have their own summer windows in which to garner maximum coverage, and instead will likely have to compete against the men’s events for attention.

The United States celebrate with the Women's World Cup trophy

Image credit: Getty Images

The England manager’s view

Gareth Southgate has remained relatively neutral when asked about the proposed remodelling of the international calendar.
But the England boss has acknowledged that such an overhaul of the traditional schedule for the sport would be hard to adjust to for his generation of fans.
"I actually met with Arsene a couple of weeks ago, he was meeting a few different coaches so I have a pretty good idea of the proposals," Southgate said.
I think the whole calendar needs reviewing. My feedback would be - I don't know - that our generation is going to find a World Cup every two years a strange concept.
“But I also know that things like The Hundred in cricket have been an incredible success, so I'm open-minded about some of those things. But the calendar generally needs to be tidied up. We can't keep adding more things in.
"I agree generally with the concept of better quality matches. Fewer matches, better quality across the board, but there's lots of other things that need consideration and we can't just add more in at the moment."
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