December 15, 2016

GENEVA (AP) FIFA has found a difficult opponent to President Gianni Infantino's plan to expand the World Cup to 48 teams.

A group of 220 of Europe's top clubs called on Infantino on Thursday not to increase the tournament from its 32-team format.

The European Club Association said the number of games played each season ''has already reached an unacceptable level.''

''In the interest of the fans and the players, we urge FIFA not to increase the number of World Cup participants,'' ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Rummenigge wrote to Infantino ahead of a possible Jan. 10 decision on expansion by the Infantino-chaired FIFA Council.

Infantino wants 48 teams at the 2026 World Cup, adding 368 players in the 16 extra squads who would be committed to national team duty for at least one month.

The FIFA president is already trying to please clubs with expansion options - including 16 groups of three teams - that retain the current maximum of seven World Cup games per team.

A bigger and more lucrative World Cup would help fulfill Infantino's election promises to FIFA's 211 member federations. He campaigned on adding eight teams to make a 40-team tournament and more than doubling development grants to $5 million for members from each World Cup.

Still, Rummenigge, who FIFA appointed deputy chairman of its new football stakeholders committee in May, urged Infantino to put football first.

''Politics and commerce should not be the exclusive priority in football,'' said Rummenigge, the Bayern Munich chairman.

European clubs are likely to be the employers of the majority of players at the 2026 World Cup.

The ECA's research before the 2014 World Cup said European clubs employed more than 76 percent of players picked to go to Brazil. Only 13 of the 32 teams were European.

Bayern and Manchester United topped a table of clubs providing players to the tournament with 14 players each in Brazil.

The Rummenigge-led ECA has been a tough negotiator with FIFA since it was created in 2008, driving talks to win a share of World Cup revenues with an insurance program for injured players and a cash share through a daily rate paid for each player's participation.

FIFA paid into a $40 million fund to compensate clubs whose players took part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. That rose to $70 million in Brazil and will be $209 million for each of the next two World Cups, in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

The 2026 World Cup, potentially to be hosted across North America, is the first opportunity FIFA and Infantino have to increase the tournament's size.

More teams and bigger broadcasting revenues would inevitably lead to clubs calling for an increased compensation fund.

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