FIFA chief eyes reboot for soccer to avoid financial crisis from COVID-19 shutdowns

FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaking during a virtual news briefing to launch a WHO and FIFA joint awareness campaign to stop the spread of the COVID-19 on March 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2020

FIFA chief eyes reboot for soccer to avoid financial crisis from COVID-19 shutdowns

GENEVA: The future of soccer could be fewer games and fewer top competitions to help avoid a financial crisis, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a newspaper interview published Monday.

With soccer around the world in near-total shutdown and no end in sight because of the coronavirus pandemic, Infantino said the sport risked going into recession.

“Maybe we can reform world football by taking a step back,” Infantino said in the interview with Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport published on his 50th birthday.

“There needs to be an evaluation of the global impact,” the FIFA president said. “Let’s all together save soccer from a crisis that risks becoming irreversible.”

Infantino said different formats could be an answer, with “fewer, but more interesting tournaments. Maybe fewer squads, but more balance. Fewer, but more competitive, matches to safeguard the health of the players.”

Before the pandemic, Infantino added to the congested soccer calendar by expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 edition, and by trying to launch a 24-team Club World Cup next year.

The inaugural edition of the latter tournament in China was delayed last week after UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL postponed their championships by one year to 2021. That was to give domestic leagues time to try to finish their seasons.

The shutdown means there are already too few dates in the FIFA-managed calendar to complete the scheduled qualification paths for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The pressure now on soccer stakeholders — many with conflicting interests — is likely to force a debate on the squeezed schedule that the pandemic has exposed.

Some influential clubs in Europe are pushing to get more guaranteed games in a bigger Champions League, and 20-team top leagues could be under pressure to make cuts. Those include leagues in England, Spain and Italy.

“It’s not science fiction. Let’s discuss it,” Infantino said about the possibility of changing soccer calendars.

FIFA announced last month a task force of officials from member federations, clubs, leagues and player unions that would look at drafting a new match calendar from 2024. That work could also now include the next four years to adjust to the current shutdown.


Villa’s Grealish apologizes, fined for breaking isolation rules

Updated 30 March 2020

Villa’s Grealish apologizes, fined for breaking isolation rules

  • West Midlands Police said they were called on Sunday to an address in Solihull, near Birmingham, where the two parked cars suffered minor damage
  • Villa expressed their disappointment with Grealish and said the 24-year-old will be fined with the proceeds going to a children’s hospital in Birmingham

LONDON: Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish posted a public apology on Monday for breaking UK government guidelines on social distancing as police opened an investigation into an incident in which a Range Rover crashed into parked cars.
Villa expressed their disappointment with Grealish and said the 24-year-old will be fined with the proceeds going to a children’s hospital in Birmingham.
West Midlands Police said they were called on Sunday to an address in Solihull, near Birmingham, where the two parked cars suffered minor damage.
The force said the driver had left his details with a member of the public before leaving on foot.
“I just want to do a quick video message to say how deeply embarrassed I am about what has happened this weekend,” Grealish said in a video posted on Twitter.
“I obviously just got a call off a friend asking to go round to his and stupidly agreed to do so. I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake that I did, so I urge everyone to stay home and follow the rules and guidelines of what we are being asked to do.”
The British government has introduced restrictions on citizens leaving their homes only to shop for food and medicine, essential travel for work and one form of exercise a day to help halt the spread of coronavirus.
“Aston Villa is deeply disappointed that one of our players ignored the government’s guidance on staying at home during the Coronavirus crisis,” Villa said in a statement.
“Club captain Jack Grealish has accepted that his decision to leave his house was wrong and entirely unnecessary. It breached the government guidelines which are clear and should be adhered to by everybody.
“The player will be disciplined and fined with the proceeds donated to The University Hospitals Charity in Birmingham.”
Less than 24 hours before the incident, Grealish was part of a video appeal for people to stay at home during the lockdown.
“I hope everyone can accept my apology and we can move on from this,” added Grealish. “Hopefully in the near future we can all be out enjoying ourselves again.”
In a statement about the incident, West Midlands Police added: “Officers are investigating the circumstances and anyone with information has been asked to get in touch.”
Grealish has been Villa’s star performer on their return to the Premier League this season and was expected to earn a first call-up by England for friendlies against Denmark and Italy this month prior to football’s shutdown due to COVID-19.