FIFA selected China as host of the inaugural edition of the expanded Club World Cup in 2021 but delayed a decision on how the 24 slots for the tournament will be distributed.
A proposal on how many teams would qualify from the six confederations was shared with FIFA Council members for approval at a meeting in Shanghai on Thursday, including Europe having eight participants.
But a vote on the participation model was pulled because Oceania’s only way of qualification would be its Champions League winner first defeating the domestic champion of host nation China in a playoff.
Oceania is pushing for a guaranteed place in the group stage in China in June 2021, as FIFA’s task force on the revamped Club World Cup originally proposed in March. That is according to people with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity with The Associated Press to discuss the contents of a private meeting.
FIFA only said the qualification process “will be finalized in a consultation process between FIFA and the six confederations.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the governing body will make “zero” out of the new event because all the profits will be reinvested back into club football.
“I hope China will help FIFA to organize it in financial terms,” Infantino said after the meeting in Shanghai. “It will be the club football event which will generate the highest revenue per match.”
Infantino said FIFA along with the Chinese soccer federation and government will push ahead with planning on the tournament.
Staging the Club World Cup in China will be a test of human rights policies that FIFA now subjects host nations to.
The Chinese government has been accused of cracking down on human rights and pro-democracy activism. President Xi Jinping’s government has also faced criticism over its treatment of Muslims in China’s northwest, where the U.S. government, activists and researchers say as many as 1 million people have been detained.
“I think that we need to reflect on our role,” Infantino said. “Countries all over the world are going through difficult times. It is not the mission of FIFA to solve the problems of the world. The mission is to organize football in all of the countries. … We do that by bringing football to the people, not by criticizing.”
A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.
For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9.
The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation’s domestic title winner. The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.
Based on FIFA’s proposed qualification procedures seen by the AP ahead of the Shanghai meeting, teams could qualify for the overhauled Club World Cup in 2021 without having to win a regional competition – even at the expense of some champions.
Caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out.
With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.
All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify – although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.
Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.
Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season’s trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.
While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL’s two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation.
The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.
Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season’s final next month.
If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia’s FIFA lineup.
But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document.
Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.
But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup.
The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.
The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country.
Oceania is the only one of FIFA’s six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner would have to face a playoff against the Chinese champions under FIFA plans that are now on hold.