By Tony Attwood
Recently, the notion of a biennial World Cup, supported by Fifa under the guidance of its Supreme Leader, Gianni Infantino, aroused what one might call a certain wave of opposition. Faced with this, the Italian-Swiss overseer now resident with his family in Qatar for legal reasons, said last week, “Let me be very clear: Fifa has never proposed a biennial World Cup.”
This statement was made to the annual Congress of Fifa. In Qatar.
It was a statement that gave the media in the UK quite a problem as it has sworn utter and total allegiance and support to Fifa, because it feels itself duty-bound to support the FA in England and the FAs of Wales, Scotland and N Ireland, in their ceaseless attempts to spend tax-payers’ money doing whatever it is they feel they should be doing.
From this latest reversal statement, we can take it the reform from a four-yearly world cup to a two-yearly affair is now on hold, at least in the short term. But that does not mean that the former Uefa general secretary (still under investigation in Switzerland for corruption – which is probably why he fled to Qatar), has no shortage of other ideas whacky ideas for transforming the game of football.
The New York Times for example reports that he is considering the creation of a new major global competition, inspired by the Nations League for European teams.
And that’s not all. Corriere dello Sport also suggests that Infantino would like to extend the effective playing time of the World Cup matches, starting with the games scheduled in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.
The idea seems to be to extend the duration of matches to 100 minutes, instead of 90. This would be achieved by substantially increasing the amount of extra time, in order to make up for the minutes lost due to stoppages.
This idea comes from the fact that in a study published in December 2018,in which the Football Observatory (CIES) noted that in the Champions League, the actual playing time represented on average only 60.2% of the total duration of a match.
With its normal knee-jerk reaction Fifa has denied what it calls “rumours” which usually means there is some substance in what is said, saying “Following certain articles and rumours circulated today, Fifa wishes to clarify that there will be no change in the rules regarding the duration of football matches for the World Cup or any other competition.”
So where do all these rumours come from?
As usual, the imperative for change in Fifa originates with money. It would appear that Fifa is worried by the fact that when watching (and particularly when watching on TV) there is a tendency for younger viewers to look at their phones when there is any moment that is not packed with incident – such as when a player is being treated for an injury, or there is, as we saw at the Arsenal match on Saturday, a long delay for VAR.
I’m not sure how long that VAR pause to validate a completely false offside call that denied Arsenal a goal, actually was, but it was extensive and reached completely the wrong conclusion.
But extending the game would mean that more time could be given over to new types of advertising that Fifa are now looking at. Which in turn means changing the rules.
Of course, some rule changes can be for the good of the game – such as the rule that was introduced some time back through which goalkeepers cannot pick up the ball when passed by by one of their own defenders. Prior to that change in 1992 back passing to the keeper was becoming endemic – particularly in the 1990 world cup, and resulted in a number of lower audience figures on TV, which in turn resulted in lower revenues for Fifa.
This was when we first became aware that law changes were never for the good of the game, but always for the good of Fifa’s finances. As is the case now.
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