Saudi Arabia’s proposal to look at holding FIFA World Cup competitions every two years instead of four has already been approved by FIFA’s Congress but the reality is gaining increasing support around Asia.
During a meeting in May, Yasser Al-Misehal, president of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation, called for a feasibility study on making the change. “We believe the future of football is at a critical juncture. The many issues that football has faced have now been further exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic,” Al-Misehal said.
“It is time to review how the global game is structured and to consider what is best for the future of our sport,” he added. “This should include whether the current four-year cycle remains the optimum basis for how football is managed both from a competition and commercial perspective.”
It was, according to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, an “eloquent and detailed proposal.”
The Saudi motion was passed by the congress with 166 national federations voting in favor of reviewing the current situation with only 22 against.
In recent days, however, the national federations of Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh publicly came out to support the idea of a biennial World Cup, arguing that it was time for a change to bring the global calendar into the modern age.
“The four year cycle of the FIFA World Cup has been set in stone ever since 1930, the inaugural tournament, where no Asian nation was represented,” the four South Asian associations said in a statement.
More than 90 years since the first global tournament was held, Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population, still has only 4.5 spots out of a total of 32. This underrepresentation has led, say the federations, to the majority of Asian nations being left on the sidelines when it comes to the World Cup and all the benefits that it brings.
“Four year gaps between FIFA World Cups is too great — and the window of opportunity too small — to preclude whole generations of talent,” it went on. “Less than a quarter of current AFC member associations have been represented in almost a century of FIFA World Cup finals in a situation where these tournaments are the real drivers of development.”
There are other positive noises around Asia. An official from the ASEAN Football Federation, which represents nations from Southeast Asia, has also signalled that there is growing support in the region of about 650 million people.
“There is a lot of interest in having a World Cup every two years and there has been communication with Saudi Arabia,” the ASEAN official told Arab News. “The calendar is crowded and we are always wary of adding games but the World Cup is different and it is not just about the World Cup itself. More qualifiers means more interest, opportunities to play good opposition and also more commercial activity, which are all important in development.”
“While there have not been as many meetings and conversations around Asia because of the pandemic, the feeling around most of Asia is that a two-year World Cup would be welcome.”