ROME (AP) Europe’s soccer clubs are pushing back at the grand expansion plans of the sport’s governing bodies, calling for fewer matches, mandatory rest periods and alignment of confederation tournaments.
Presenting a streamlined agenda aimed at protecting players at its general assembly Tuesday, the European Club Association (ECA) wouldn’t even discuss FIFA’s proposal for an expanded Club World Cup in June 2021.
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“It is not about adding competition in this moment,” ECA president Andrea Agnelli said. “To us the priorities are addressing the calendar post-2024.”
Agnelli said the players, which he described as “the main actors,” must be respected.
“It’s ensuring that throughout the calendar players have the time to rest and/or train,” said Agnelli, who is also the president of six-time defending Italian champion Juventus.
“They’re playing week in, week out, two or three games a week, be it at club level or a national team level,” Agnelli added. “So when we think about the calendar going forward we must also take into consideration weeks when players can actually rest and/or train. So reducing the overall number of games.”
The Club World Cup is currently an annual competition held each December featuring seven teams. FIFA president Gianni Infantino would like to expand the competition to include 24 clubs and move it to June as a quadrennial event similar to the World Cup.
But June is when players’ and coaches’ contracts expire and generally a transitional period for clubs.
“There are many things around that but mainly we almost don’t know anything about it,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told The Associated Press. “The stakeholders are not informed properly yet so it’s much too early to say anything.”
Ceferin added that he “doubts” the tournament could come together for 2021.
But Infantino isn’t giving up.
“The Club World Cup is a great competition already and we are discussing whether we can make it even greater,” Infantino said.
Among other topics discussed at the ECA assembly, which was attended by 163 clubs from across the continent:
Already approved for this year’s World Cup in Russia, the video assistant referee (VAR) won’t be used in the Champions League until next season – at the earliest.
“It’s too soon for the Champions League to start this season. We are not ready, referees are not ready, fans are not ready,” Ceferin said. “It’s not the competition to have a trial.
“We will start training the referees and educating the fans and if everything goes fine it might happen next season,” the UEFA president added.
Agnelli, however, suggested that the VAR might not be included in the Champions League until the 2019-20 season.
Infantino, meanwhile, promoted the VAR amid controversies in domestic competitions where it has already been introduced.
“For the World Cup the referees will be trained, the VARs will be trained,” Infantino said. “We are looking very much forward to a World Cup which, thanks to the VAR, will be a little bit more transparent and just or fair.”
During this season’s trials in other cup competitions, a number of wrong decisions, delays and a lack of communication have left many critics wondering whether the VAR is worth it.
But Infantino said that testing has shown the VAR increases the accuracy of referees’ decisions from 93 to 99 percent.
“It’s not 100 percent so there is still work for all those who want to complain and maybe before if it was the fault of the referee it will (now) be the fault of the VAR,” he added.
2026 WORLD CUP
A day after bid dossiers were released from the North American and Morocco candidates, UEFA’s Ceferin reserved judgment on whether Morocco can spend $15.8 billion for construction work on new stadiums and training grounds.
“I don’t think that this task force group has finished their work yet,” Ceferin said, referring to FIFA’s April 17-19 visit to the North African nation.
Stadium infrastructure accounts for 35 percent of the evaluation score from the task force.
By contrast, the bid book for the joint candidacy by the United States, Mexico and Canada says it is the low-risk proposition since no infrastructure will be built for the first World Cup after the jump from 32 to 48 finalists.
While the dossiers were submitted to FIFA two weeks ago, Infantino claimed he hasn’t read them yet.
“I was here so I didn’t have the chance to look at them,” he said.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY 2.0
The ECA and UEFA have agreed on an update to the financial fair play rules beginning next season – subject to final approval by UEFA’s executive committee.
The new rules aim to expedite the investigation process by putting in place two new indicators: “a sustainable debt ratio” based on a club’s net debt and earnings and a maximum net transfer spending of 100 million euros ($124 million).
If one of the two indicators is breached, UEFA will immediately begin a preliminary investigation – which could drastically reduce the current process, which sometimes lasts up to 22 months.
The clubs rejected UEFA’s proposal of a luxury tax but promoted publishing the amounts paid to player agents.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed.
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