FIFA's Confederations Cup has uncertain future after Russia
GENEVA (AP) The Confederations Cup soccer tournament might have some fans around the world. If so, they should enjoy this one in Russia while they can.
FIFA's eight-nation World Cup rehearsal for the host country, World Cup title-holder and six continental champions is not sure to survive for another edition.
''If there was no Confed Cup in 2021, I wouldn't be unhappy,'' Germany coach Joachim Loew said last month when he announced a squad for the June 17-July 2 tournament in Russia with only three of his 2014 World Cup winners. ''I don't think those involved would be unhappy either.''
The Confederations Cup has struggled to spark attention outside the competing countries since FIFA took over organizing it for the 1997 edition, which tournament founder Saudi Arabia hosted.
Now that some teams seem to care little - and sluggish ticket sales to Germany fans have lagged behind Chile's - the tournament has a problem in an increasingly crowded calendar.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino put the Confederations Cup on notice as part of a leadership review.
''We are putting everything on the table,'' Infantino said of the Confederations Cup's future at the group-stage draw in Kazan last November. ''Shall we play it in June? Shall we play it in November? Shall we think about the format?''
Momentum for change was created by moving the 2022 World Cup dates in Qatar to start in November instead of June to avoid the searing heat.
A traditional Confederations Cup as rehearsal exactly one year ahead in peak time for European leagues is not acceptable. FIFA suggested in 2015 that Qatar could stage a Club World Cup in late-2021 as an ''operational test event.''
Then under Sepp Blatter's leadership, FIFA also said a Confederations Cup in June 2021 could still be held ''in another (Asian Football Confederation) country.''
China would be an obvious potential host for a four-venue event if FIFA agrees. Australia, Japan and South Korea would also be options.
FIFA already has other test event plans for the expanded, 48-team World Cup in 2026. A new six-team, four-game playoff round in November 2025 will be played in the host countries.
Infantino has also speculated about expanding the Club World Cup, which could be a candidate for the June 2025 slot.
It is unclear that the Confederations Cup earns its share of revenue.
The 2013 edition in Brazil cost FIFA $70 million in expenses, according to that year's accounts. Yet broadcasting and sponsorship rights are bundled into World Cup deals that are the real attraction.
If FIFA does seek change in 2021, it still has contracts to provide a Confederations Cup to commercial partners whose deals run through at least the 2022 World Cup.
What about the actual football, aside from business and politics? Could it save the tournament by appealing more broadly beyond the countries taking part?
The 2013 edition was mostly a success on the field, even as tear gas wafted across nearby stadiums from a wave of street protests against unpopular tiers of Brazilian government.
Neymar's stunning goal in the third minute of the opening game against Japan set the tone for an intriguing tournament. Italy beat Japan 4-3, Brazil beat Italy 4-2, and overmatched Tahiti lost 10-0 to Spain and 8-0 against Uruguay.
Crowd sizes averaging around 50,000 far outstripped previous editions, and 73,000 people were at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro to see Brazil beat Spain 3-0 in an incident-packed final.
In Russia, there will Cristiano Ronaldo to compensate for no Neymar - even if European champion Portugal has been less entertaining than Brazil - but the injury-hit home team lacks stars and Germany is sending a team of reserves.
Loew has some injured regulars though prefers to use the summer between a European Championship and World Cup to rest others who are also Champions League regulars.
History suggests Loew is wise. No Confederations Cup winner has ever gone on to win the next World Cup.