Fifa and Uefa on collision course as football attempts to rearrange schedule ravaged by the coronavirus
Attempting to reorganise the football calendar is going to put the sport's united front to the ultimate test
Representatives of the wealthiest and most powerful stakeholders in the world’s most popular sport meet on Tuesday via video conference to formulate a salvage plan for this football season and beyond.
In the chair will be Uefa, those lobbying will be the stakeholders of the European game, but the agenda concerns every country, league, player and supporter across the globe.
With the majority of professional competitions suspended because of the Covid-19 crisis, Uefa want to take the lead in adjusting a calendar that was already congested.
They have anticipated a broad consensus from their member nations about one course of action: That the European Championship, scheduled to begin on June 12, should be postponed to allow the current club seasons six or seven further weeks to complete fixtures.
Italy, the country in Europe most affected at this stage by the coronavirus outbreak, has already tabled the proposal. “The first priority is public health,” said Gabriele Gravina, head of Italy’s Football Federation.
He also acknowledged that the date at which many competitions, including Italy’s Serie A, and the English Premier League, have set for domestic competition to resume, April 3, may be optimistic.
“We propose Uefa postpone the European championship with the idea of June 30th as the end of the club season. In time we’ll see if that needs to be extended.”
Gravina has consulted with his counterparts across Europe, and found most open to giving immediate priority to ongoing club competitions, including the Champions League and Europa League, Uefa’s leading club tournaments. “It is fairer to give something for the clubs, who have invested and sacrificed so much, to aim for.”
Uefa are listening, and know that were club seasons to be abandoned for the sake of staging an international tournament, there would be confusion and potential resentment from participants and supporters.
Because of the unusual hosting arrangements for Euro 2020, a tournament whose venues are spread across eight nations, from Ireland to Azerbaijan, rather than staged in one country, the immediate losses of postponing would be shared, no single nation burdened with the crippling aftermath.
But no solution is simple, and shunting the calendar affects the game worldwide. Should club competitions be rescheduled into June and even July, other events would have to make accommodations.
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The Copa America, in Argentina and Colombia, is also due to kick off on June 12. No one imagines that if Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain is contesting a La Liga title with Barcelona in mid-June or Brazil’s Neymar pushing Paris Saint-Germain towards a midsummer Champions League final, the Copa could take place.
Nor is it as if four years of great expectation precede this Copa America. The 2020 edition was to be the fourth Copa within six years.
It is supposed to be a quadrennial event; by various devices, the South American confederation, Conmebol, have managed to turn it into a modern of symbol of football’s insatiable, acquisitive desire to cram as much as it can into the calendar. This is not a sport well set up to act flexibly in a global crisis.
Nor does it easily speak with one voice. One mooted plan is to move the European Championship to the summer of 2021.
Another is to relocate it to November 2020, with the obvious implication that the next club season, 2020-21, would have to rejig its timetable to accommodate the Euros. The template for that exists.
The 2022 World Cup, scheduled for Qatar, will be a November-December tournament, because of the cooler weather in those months. The schedule for club football in 2021-22 has been redesigned around it.
But both alternatives are problematic. Club football will instinctively resist the idea of three successive seasons – the current one and the next two – being pulled out of shape and, were the European Championships to be simply delayed by 12 months, another major clash would be created.
Next summer, 2021, was to feature the first edition of the expanded Fifa Club World Cup, in China, a project with the backing of the world governing body and, although it has not won unanimous support from the European superclubs, growing momentum.
It envisages a three-week tournament, with 24 clubs, including eight from Europe, six from South America, three from Africa and the two finalists from the Asian Champions League.
To move a delayed European Championship into that slot would put Uefa and Fifa into a seismic confrontation. Their sport may seem relatively united right now in putting public health first, but old divisions will resurface quickly as it works out how to get its show back on the road.
Updated: March 16, 2020 04:56 PM