The Future of Football
Football is at a crossroads. In 2024, the agreement for the current International Match Calendars (IMCs) comes to an end. Nothing has been decided, but there is universal sentiment that change is needed – and 2021 culminated with the release of two independent feasibility studies projecting positive results from the proposals.
“Our intention is to help bridge the gap between FIFA member associations and to give as many of them a more realistic chance of playing on the global stage.”
In May 2021, the 71ˢᵗ FIFA Congress approved a number of proposals submitted by member associations, including that a feasibility study be carried out to explore the possible impact of holding the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup every two years instead of the current four-year interval, as proposed by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.
FIFA began the extensive consultation process to help decide the next stage. The remit was clear – to find a solution that would ensure football can flourish in all regions of the world and at all levels.
“I’ve been thinking of ways to improve the football of tomorrow. The International Match Calendar governs the balance between club and national team football by setting the dates on which players represent their countries. The balance is 80:20 and we want it to stay that way. But the current format doesn’t work anymore and is outdated.”
FIFA Chief of Global Football Development, Arsène Wenger is the project lead. He and his team immediately set about providing an analysis of football development around the world to give every potential talent on the planet a better chance to emerge.
For women’s football, Jill Ellis, who has won the FIFA Women’s World Cup twice as a coach, spearheaded the consultation and studies.
Regarding the IMCs, several issues were placed on the agenda, namely the progressive competitive imbalance, the absence of a mandatory rest period for players and the excessive amount of travel and matches, which puts players’ health and well-being at risk. The technical advisory groups were also tasked with finding a solution to combat the constant disruption of domestic club competitions caused by international breaks.
It was decided that the frequency of men’s, women’s and youth national team competitions would also deserve attention.
Throughout the analysis and discussions, sporting elements were the first and foremost priority. The long-term goal is to have 50 national teams and 50 clubs competing at the highest level of both the men’s and women’s game, in line with the FIFA President’s Vision 2020-2023.
The consultation process
The Future of Football process was established with no predetermined objective with regard to how the goal of ensuring football’s global growth would be achieved. Honouring FIFA’s pledge to create a forum for meaningful debate, the process was actioned in order to engage a wide range of stakeholders in open dialogue before proposing solutions or making decisions.
Reviewing and improving the International Match Calendar
The balance between global, continental and national competitions formed a key part of the consultation process, with youth, women’s and men’s International Match Calendars all under review.
It was put to the panellists that the competitive imbalance between continents was becoming increasingly visible, and that there had been an increase of competitions and matches with no real meaning or interest to fans, while a misalignment of the calendar in different parts of the world had created clashes and friction.
The objective was to review the current situation and assess proposals to create a football calendar that was fit for purpose for modern needs. This would in turn help improve the quality of players, clubs and national teams, while providing both an incentive and an opportunity for the detection and development of talent in a greater number of countries.
Protecting health and well-being
Of primary importance for the game of football both now and in the future is protecting players’ health and well-being. The proposal to overhaul the calendar included mandatory rest and preparation periods with fewer matches, reduced travel and less time away from clubs and families as a result. Among the options explored was condensing the international windows, which currently interrupt domestic leagues and force players to travel, often across continents. By having fewer international windows, horizons could be broadened across the entire globe. This could be achieved by reducing the size of qualifying groups, ending meaningless friendlies and looking at other methods of qualifying for final tournaments, such as through nations league competitions or alternative routes as preferred by the relevant confederation.
Feasibility findings published
On 20 December 2021, FIFA hosted a global summit to present to member associations an update on the proposals as well as the findings of two independent reports that had been commissioned to determine the feasibility of the key proposals within the consultation process. The results were unanimous that there would be a strong upturn in football’s economic situation for FIFA’s 211 member associations, should the women’s and men’s FIFA World Cups move to a biennial format.
The findings, from Nielsen and OpenEconomics, were presented during the FIFA Global Summit, which took place as an online meeting attended by 207 out of 210 eligible member associations. The summit was staged as the next step in the Future of Football consultation process, with the IMCs for women’s and men’s football set to expire.
Addressing summit delegates, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “We have been advised by independent experts that a switch to biennial FIFA World Cups would provide a combined additional USD 4.4 billion in revenue from the first four-year cycle, with these funds being distributed across our 211 member associations.”
“The potential for growth is already with us, and thanks to innovations such as a new commercial programme, we are also creating the right environment for a global women’s club competition to be established as part of the future of women’s football.”
“This additional revenue would allow solidarity funding to move from the current level of USD 6 million per cycle to up to potentially USD 25 million on average per FIFA member association in the first four-year cycle.” The Nielsen research, which focused on financial matters, concluded that should confederations also switch their men’s final tournaments to a biennial cycle, the overall uplift for world football would be in the region of USD 6.6 billion in the first four-year cycle.
The studies found that each member association could receive up to USD 25 million in additional revenue, should the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups move to a biannual format.
The proposed distribution would be as follows:
Establishment of a USD 3.5 billion solidarity fund with revenue to be distributed to all member associations, thus injecting an average of up to USD 16 million to every member association.
In the unlikely event a shortfall were to occur due to changes in the International Match Calendars, the fund would also mitigate any losses suffered by the member associations.
There would be an increase in FIFA Forward funds of 50% to USD 9 million per cycle for every member association.
“We understood from the start of this process that women’s football needed to be looked at from a different perspective, and this has been a rewarding experience.”
The OpenEconomics study, meanwhile, centred on macroeconomic perspectives and concluded that a move to a biennial cycle for the men’s FIFA World Cup would have a significant and far-reaching impact.
As part of Wenger’s plan, national team fixtures would be grouped together under a new IMC, leading to less travel for players. The number of home and away fixtures would be determined after further consultation with member assocations, but there would be a reduction in the number of days for which clubs would have to release players. In addition, novel hosting and co-hosting proposals were presented during the summit to accommodate annual FIFA youth tournaments as part of the programme to give every talent a chance.
“We understood from the start of this process that women’s football needed to be looked at from a different perspective, and this has been a rewarding experience,” said Ellis. “Our proposal to optimise the women’s International Match Calendar also examines player welfare and the need to protect players. A move to a biennial FIFA Women’s World Cup is part of the plan, together with better development pathways and the need to establish global equality and opportunity in the women’s game. The potential for growth is already with us, and thanks to innovations such as a new commercial programme, we are also creating the right environment for a global women’s club competition to be established as part of the future of women’s football.”
Football to become more competitive and resilient
Positive impact across the ecosystem
Sustainable development throughout football
“FIFA’s commitment to the Future of Football remains resolute, as we want to give every talent a chance, and to create the right environment to deliver on that promise through our competitions.”