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How feasible and desirable is a biennial World Cup?

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

During the FIFA Global Summit on Monday, December 20, two independent feasibility studies, conducted by Nielsen and OpenEconomics, were presented that discovered strong economic upsides for FIFA’s 211 member associations from switching to hosting the women’s and men’s FIFA World Cup every two years.

FIFA’s biennial World Cup plans

The suggestion to change the current four-year cycle was put forward by the Saudi Arabian Football Association in March this year. Two months later, things became much more serious when the FIFA congress approved a feasibility study on the two-year World Cup cycle and Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal boss, started working on a fully-fledged plan to present to stakeholders.

FIFA Global Summit 2021

The summit was staged as the latest step in the consultation process regarding the future of football, as the current international calendars for both women’s and men’s football are set to expire in 2023 and 2024 respectively.

FIFA invited all member associations to the summit, where they were presented the results of the feasibility studies, in an attempt to convince some of the still skeptical parties involved, such as UEFA and CONMEBOL.

The European and South American governing bodies had already shown their disapproval of FIFA’s biennial World Cup proposal, by announcing their own plans to turn the Nations League into a mini World Cup on December 15. The idea is to include South American teams in the competition, starting in 2024, as an intercontinental Nations League might discourage FIFA from taking additional steps to stimulate international football.

Main findings

The 700-page document showed that the biennial World Cup cycle plan, masterminded by Arsene Wenger, would substantially increase revenue from ticket sales, media rights and sponsorship deals.

We have been advised by independent experts that a switch to a biennial FIFA World Cup would provide a combined additional USD 4.4 billion in revenue from the first four-year cycle, with these funds being distributed across our 211 member associations, said FIFA President Gianni Infantino. This additional revenue would allow solidarity funding to move from the current level of USD 6 million per cycle to up to potentially USD 25 million on average per FIFA member association in the first four-year cycle, with the actual distribution being subject to FIFA’s governance principles.

The FIFA president added that the primary intention of the proposed plan is to ‘bridge the gap’ between FIFA member associations and “give as many of them a more realistic chance of playing on the global stage,”.

Furthermore, the OpenEconomics study concluded that hosting the men’s World Cup every two years would generate two million additional full-time jobs.

Wouldn’t a World Cup every two years devalue the tournament?

That’s the most prominent argument against the idea. Aleksander Ceferin, the president of UEFA, declared that the proposed plan may go against ‘the basic principles of football.’ The prestige of being a World Cup winner lies in the fact that the tournament is only hosted once every four years and players get so few opportunities to win it during their careers. However, Arsene Wenger seemed to disagree with the notion that more frequent World Cups would be detrimental to its value: “The Champions League is held every year and it’s very prestigious. People want to see matches that matter, competitions that matter”.

What about the legal ramifications?

Apart from any concerns regarding the value of and enthusiasm around biennial World Cups, this whole saga also has legal implications.

The ECA (European Club Association) already expressed its discontent back in October by stating that a biennial World Cup would not only be detrimental to the club football ecosystem, but would also not comply with legally binding obligations between FIFA and ECA.

Given the centrality of the IMC (International Match Calendar) to club football, and of club football to the IMC, ECA reiterates in the most unambiguous terms that any decisions relating to its future can only come about with the consent of football clubs, with player welfare at their heart – and in keeping with legally binding obligations which ordinarily should not need re-stating.

FIFA was “in light of the range of predisposed decisions and communications ... in direct and unilateral breach of certain legal obligations," the ECA stated.

Which exact legal obligations would be infringed remains unclear, the ECA most likely refers to the legal obligations set out in the collaboration agreement between the ECA and the FIFA, signed back in 2015. This seven-year agreement, inter alia, secured the ECA a direct say on the international match calendar. Meaning any changers thereto, will have to be jointly discussed and agreed.

When will a decision be made?

FIFA plans to examine and discuss the feasibility studies in further detail together with confederations and member associations in early 2022. Any vote on changes would likely have to be passed by the full FIFA congress of 211 national associations.

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