Uefa, European soccer’s governing body, along with nine top-tier women’s soccer leagues from the continent and the representative European Club Association body, has said that plans from Fifa to hold its men’s World Cup every two years will have a “profoundly detrimental” impact on the women’s game as a whole.
In a statement released yesterday (4 October), the bodies have highlighted 13 consequences of Fifa’s plan (currently undergoing a feasibility study) to increase the regularity of men’s World Cups from once every four years, for women’s soccer worldwide.
The statement says that a biennial World Cup would have “profoundly detrimental sporting, economic, societal and many other impacts that will fundamentally alter the course and development of the women’s game.”
It is not yet clear precisely if and how a biennial men’s World Cup would affect the scheduling of women’s soccer's international and domestic tournaments and leagues, but it seems likely that a substantial increase in the regularity of major men’s international tournaments would take a certain level of fans’, broadcasters’ and sponsors’ attention away from competing women’s events.
Uefa has also said that the “fast-paced nature of the very selective consultation process [from Fifa] … has not allowed a careful reflection on what is in the best interests of the future development of women’s football.”
The governing body and the letter's other signatories have said a biennial World Cup would cause: further congestion to the international match calendar; more physical strain on women’s players which could lead to a greater risk of injuries; an interruption to the ongoing professionalisation process for the women’s game; a reduction in the opportunities for broadcast exposure for matches; the financial viability of the women’s game to be undermined; a reduction in the opportunities for developing nations across the globe to compete at a Fifa Women’s World Cup; and disruption to women’s soccer’s growing fan culture by boosting other tournaments at its expense.
At the moment, the Fifa Women’s World Cup is also held once every four years, with the Uefa Women’s Euros sticking to a similar schedule (but not in the same years).
The Uefa letter has also been signed by the top-tier women’s leagues in Denmark, England, Germany, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Romania, as well as by the ECA.
It calls on Fifa to “engage in a genuine, joint and open forum with all relevant soccer bodies and stakeholders to assess all the consequences [mentioned above] that the proposal will cause.”
The biennial World Cup plans, first raised by the Saudi Football Federation at Fifa’s congress in July, are now being evaluated and assessed by the governing body, which is looking to canvas support from the various national and continental soccer authorities.
Uefa’s stance in this statement is unsurprising, given that Aleksander Ceferin, its president, has already gone as far as saying that if Fifa does push the proposal through, then European and South American nations could well boycott the new competition.
He said last month: “I think it will never happen as it is so much against the basic principles of football.
“We can decide not to play in it. As far as I know, the South Americans are on the same page. So good luck with a World Cup like that.”
Uefa has now reiterated that Fifa’s proposal “requires serious scrutiny … Further development of the game can only come about when we discuss issues together, with all those impacted by such a major decision."
The European soccer governing body calls the current state of the women’s game “a delicate equilibrium."
Over the past month, three continental federations – North and Central America’s Concacaf, the Asian Football Confederation, and the Confederation of African Football – have either said they support the proposal or are willing to approach it with an open mind, while Uefa and its South America’s equivalent Conmebol (both of whom carry significant weight in the game) – have said they are categorically opposed to the idea.
The original suggestion for a biennial World Cup from the Saudis was referred to by Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino as “an eloquent and detailed proposal” earlier this summer, and the subsequent vote to set up a feasibility study secured 166 votes in favour from the various worldwide national federations, with only 22 federations standing against.
Proponents of the biennial World Cup proposal have said it will give smaller nations a greater chance of competing on the world’s biggest stage and play more top-tier tournaments, while those who stand against the idea have said it will overwhelm the international fixture calendar and lead to an increase in player fatigue and injury.
A Fifa fan survey about the idea (15,000 fans across six continents had their views assessed, with the results made public last week) has not necessarily cleared up matters either.
Fifa said that when these fans were given a direct choice between the status quo (a World Cup every four years) and having it more frequently, with no further details attached, 55 per cent opted for more frequently.
However, in terms of a specific answer on how often fans wanted the World Cup, with options of one, two, three or four years given, more fans wanted the quadrennial option (45 per cent) than any other.
If a biennial World Cup is introduced, it could be done as early as 2028, which would be the next free two-year slot after the 2026 World Cup in the US, Mexico, and Canada.
Any final decision on the plans would have to be voted in by a full Fifa congress, which generally takes place annually in May.