Sports

Changing the World Cup to every two years could (but won’t) help soccer’s have-nots


If the World Cup runs every two years, it will cease to be as special.

If the World Cup runs every two years, it will cease to be as special.
Image: Getty Images

Changing the World Cup to a biennial event is an awful idea. That’s not the most groundbreaking statement, but I wanted to put it bluntly because that’s the point I want you to remember from the rest of this. And if FIFA president Gianni Infantino is to be believed, and the move has a majority backing, it could go along the lines of college football conference realignment and the 17-game NFL schedule in terms of shitty changes that actually got passed despite universal disapproval.

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Kylian Mbappé, of Paris St. Germain and this year’s FIFA cover athlete, and Robert Lewandowski, a striker for Bayern Munich and badass in general, both spoke out against it and warned of potential over exertion at the Global Soccer Awards.

“If people want to see quality in the game, the emotion, to see what makes the beauty of football, I think we have to respect the health of players,” Mbappé said.

Lewandowski echoed those sentiments:

“We have so many games every year, so many tough weeks, not only the games but preparation for the season, preparation for the big tournaments. If you want to offer something special, something different, we also need a break.”

The underlying reason for its backing — money — was enough to cause the powers that be to forge ahead with the NFL and NCAA’s changes, and we all know how much money is in soccer. Not only that, but he lust for more never ceases whether it’s FIFA, UEFA, CONCACAF, etc. It’s estimated FIFA would net an added $4.4 billion over a four year cycle with an extra World Cup. That’s an increase of more than half as the current projection for a normal cycle is $7 billion.

If you’re asking yourself why the hell does FIFA, an organization with a history of corruption and incompetence, need more money? They don’t, but some of their members do.

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Here’s Gabriele Marcotti of ESPN on why that’s the case:

“Around two-thirds of FIFA member nations do not have a professional men’s league, and much of the other third who does have a pro league offers facilities, wages and working conditions that are closer to League Two in England than the Premier League or La Liga. These countries feel they can’t rely on the club game to grow organically — the road map that built the game in Europe and South America — because they’re too far behind. In a globalised world, many sponsors and broadcasters would rather spend money on established products than whatever is on their own doorstep.”

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That’s perfectly reasonable. Extra revenue could help countries who are unable to provide wages, facilities, and working conditions get on par with top flight leagues. That’s good and all, but if a lack of funds was the only barrier to having a major soccer product, the MLS would be seen as equal to the EPL, La Liga, and Serie A.

It will never be as popular as those leagues for the same reason people didn’t pivot to the XFL from the NFL or to the Big 3 from the NBA: People want to watch the best athletes, and the best athletes want to play the best competition.

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That’s also the reason the World Cup garners billions of dollars every four years. To dilute it would be to water down a perfect event and lessen its significance.

Even if it does pass, who’s to say the money will go toward its intended purpose. Again, from Marcotti:

“While few of football’s governing bodies have sterling reputations — the last three permanent presidents of CONMEBOL (Nicolas Leoz, Eugenio Figuereido and Juan Angel Napout) were all accused of corruption and banned from the game, the last four presidents of CONCACAF (Jack Warner, Lisle Austin, Alfredo Hawit, Jeffrey Webb) were all either indicted or banned, as were the last two presidents of CAF (Issa Hayatou and Ahmad Ahmad), Oceania (Reynald Temarii, David Chung) and the last presidents of the AFC (Mohamed bin Hammam) and UEFA (Michel Platini) — the FIFA name, as Infantino himself admits, is still ‘toxic’ to many, which is what happens when six years ago you were on the verge of being designated as a ‘criminal organization’ by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

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Aside from tempting corruption, risking the health of the game’s best players, and possibly ruining a tournament with a sterling approval rating, a biennial World Cup is a great idea. There has to be a better way to help the soccer have-nots, because exploiting poor countries is a shitty thing to do, and it seemingly never ends.

I have a hard time simply saying, “Well that’s capitalism, so fuck ’em,” when it comes this because that’s the argument for the two sides that matter. Well-off organizations like UEFA, who has already come out opposed to the change, could take a hit from this for multiple reasons, including its quadrennial competition, the Euros, which runs during what I’m assuming would be the new time slot for another World Cup.

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The members backing it rightfully want more money because that will help them expand the game at home and hopefully keep more of the profits there, too. The small guys continuously get screwed, but when they finally have the power to get more pie, we want them to chill in the name of the sport as if the people at the top don’t do the exact same shit. Part of me feels like who cares if their plans to become relevant probably won’t materialize or if the money goes the way of greased palms, let’s add another World Cup. Everything burns.

I can’t do it, though. I can’t write, “Another World Cup is a good idea.” The take is too hot, the competition is too sacred.

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I hate to pick the status quo — rich remain rich and poor remain poor — over trying something new, but not this. It would be like adding another Christmas to the calendar. You don’t get to celebrate your half birthday like your real birthday.

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