By Tony Attwood
I have often noted that European commentators on football have a vision that goes far beyond that available to English sports commentators. Indeed I can’t imagine too many publications renaming the idea of the holding of the World Cup every two years into “Biennial World”. Nor can I imagine them running the headline about football that, “Everything is aligned with commercial interests.”
But that is what the Swiss paper “24min” is saying as it reviews the pronouncements of the general secretary of Fifpro, the international players’ union, which has denounced the lack of consultation between Fifa and the rest of the football world concerning the reform of the international calendar.
Of course most of us in the UK remain in blissful ignorance that there is a world footballers union. But Fifpro exists, it is very powerful, and it is making statements to the effect that it deplores the “lack of global vision” of football’s institutions in terms of the proposed reforms of the football calendar.
Now of course none of us know what Mr Wenger is up to with his proposal for a biennial WC. Or what I am tempted to call the Never Ending World Cup (nicking the title from the Never Ending Tour that Bob Dylan launched in 1987 and which was still running when coronavirus caused its sudden cessation).
There have of course been rumblings in England about the project, but little has been said about the way in which once again commercial interests have taken over the debates.
Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of Fifpro has been highlighting the issue. Indeed, the Fifpro approach has called for a “reasonable and effective reform” of football, to reduce the burden on footballers, which is a prime cause of injuries.”
And that seems valid, for one may reasonably ask, do any other trades unions happily accept this level of injury at work for their members?
Indeed looked at this way, Fifa’s approach is positively 18th century in terms of how workers are treated.
But because of the media’s attitude we get no debate on the issue. All we get are transfers and ex-players turned failed-managers pontificating on tactics.
Reform of football? It’s not in the lexicon in England. As Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, Secretary General of FifPro said recently, “There is an absolute lack of global vision and leadership on the part of most institutions. The proposals, whether they are good, bad or horrible for football, give rise to very little debate or consultation, because everything is aligned with the commercial interests of the different competitions.
“It undermines our chances of achieving reasonable and effective reform. We would really like to try to distinguish the debate on the calendar and the debate on the competitions; they are very different.”
As for Arsène Wenger’s idea, grouping together the qualifications in October (or maybe October and March) certainly improves on the awful stop-start we get every season with three or four weeks on, 10 days off.
Indeed Jonas Baer-Hoffmann of Fifpro was open to the idea of ”condensing the international windows” to reduce travel and therefore player fatigue,” although in the UK you’d be hard pressed to know this since for most newspapers and broadcasters Fifpro is a non-existent. (But maybe this is because the national press doesn’t like trade unions in England, feeling that Thatcher defeated them some years back, so there’s no more to say; but maybe that’s just my interpretation).
But Fifpro is strong, and is going somewhere else with this, and I would not be surprised if this wholesale reform was not on Arsène Wenger’s agenda from the start.
The report published last Tuesday by Fifpro, drawn up by KPMG, takes a sample of 265 male players and considers the number of matches played every three or four days.
67% of their annual playing time in 2020-2021 was played with less than five days of rest between two appearances. Hence early burn out, and persistent injuries.
And there’s another issue: where does the women’s game fit into a World Cup every two years? The European Club Association and other bodies are focusing on this, noting that “to organize a men’s and women’s World Cup every two years will have profoundly harmful sporting, economic and social consequences, which will harm the development of women’s football.”
The English, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Swiss and Dutch federations all noted that under the proposals women’s football would lose “financial viability” because of the inevitable “market saturation” that a bi-annual world cup would bring.
Wouldn’t it be nice if some of this vibrant on-going debate in Europe, made it into prime places in the English media, casting aside, just for a while, idiot rumours of transfers which we know from each summer’s experience, are merely inventions of journalists too lazy to get off their backsides and consider what is actually happening in the world beyond the pub.
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