FIFA defends expanded Club World Cup despite concerns over player welfare
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — FIFA has defended its newly expanded Club World Cup from criticism that players are being overworked by pointing to the longevity of aging stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Concerns were raised about players’ physical and mental health after world soccer’s governing body introduced a 32-team tournament to an increasingly congested calendar.
Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football development, said recently there have been “huge improvements on the welfare side” in areas such as nutrition, injury prevention and medical technology, and that players are performing at the highest level for longer.
“We see players receiving world awards, the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, [Karim] Benzema, all over the age of 35. And it is not unusual to see international careers lasting over 20 years. Not so long ago, that was not possible,” said Wenger, the former Arsenal manager.
The first edition of the revamped Club World Cup will be held in the United States from June 15 to July 13, 2025.
“The positive impact that this will have on clubs is going to be huge, because it will increase resources for clubs all over the world to develop and to compete,” Wenger said. “There is demand for big competitions in football, and there has been a good support for this one.”
While the European Club Association described the tournament as “fantastic news for club football,” world players’ union FIFPRO hit out at the plans.
It said that without initiating “further player workload safeguards” the scheduling of the event showed a “lack of consideration for the mental and physical health of participating players, as well as a disregard for their personal and family lives.”
FIFPRO has raised concerns that players’ careers could be curtailed by the demands being placed on players.
Wenger said rest periods during and after the tournament would be respected, but a report by FIFPRO this year found that 43 per cent of players surveyed from last year’s World Cup — which was held midway through many seasons in November and December — experienced “extreme or increased mental fatigue”.
In the Club World Cup’s current format, the champions of Europe and South America play a maximum of two games. The expanded version would see teams play in a group stage and then knockouts from the round of 16 to the final, meaning a maximum seven matches for the winner and runner-up.
The last edition of the Club World Cup in its current guise is currently being held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Champions League holder Manchester City is aiming to win the trophy for the first time.
If successful, the expanded version, which will be staged every four years, has the potential to rival the popularity of soccer’s most successful competitions like the Premier League and Champions League.