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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Fifa looks for $25 billion, 12-year deal for new tournaments

Fifa is planning to team up with Saudi Arabian, Chinese and American investors in a US$25 billion (Dh44 billion), 12-year deal that could add two major international tournaments to an already crowded football calendar

Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, celebrates with his Real Madrid teammates after winning the 2017 Fifa Club World Cup. Tickets for the 2018 tournament, again in the UAE, with Madrid back to defend their title, are now on sale. Karim Sahib / AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo, centre, celebrates with his Real Madrid teammates after winning the 2017 Fifa Club World Cup. Tickets for the 2018 tournament, again in the UAE, with Madrid back to defend their title, are now on sale. Karim Sahib / AFP

Fifa is planning to team up with Saudi Arabian, Chinese and American investors in a US$25 billion (Dh44 billion), 12-year deal that could add two major international tournaments to an already crowded football calendar.

With preparations for this year's World Cup in Russia reaching a climax, Fifa president Gianni Infantino is looking to launch an expanded 24-team Club World Cup — played every four years starting in 2021 — and a separate global competition for national teams every two years.

Fifa would have a 51 per cent stake in the joint venture with the investors underwriting guaranteed revenues of at least $25 billion, people with knowledge of the plans told The Associated Press.

The Club World Cup is currently a seven-team event played each December. The winner of Europe's Champions League joins the five other continental club champions and the host nation's league champions. Fifa's financial report says the 2017 edition in Abu Dhabi, won by Spanish club Real Madrid, earned $37 million.

A revamped Club World Cup would kill off the Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament for the following year's World Cup host nation.

The second innovation, known as the Nations League, would replace the Confederations Cup as Fifa's second-tier competition in a format yet to be decided.

The new competitions could secure long-term revenue for many of the 211 Fifa member federations who rely on its financial support. It also would provide a strong platform for Infantino to run for re-election next year.

Still, the project is far from certain to succeed and is likely to face a hostile reception in Europe, which hosts the world's biggest players and most popular club competitions.

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Fifa has put pressure on football's continental governing bodies for a quick decision.

Infantino said at a Fifa Council meeting in Colombia last month that the offer from investors he declined to identify — citing a nondisclosure agreement — was open for only 60 days. The deadline expires in mid-May, and meeting it would need Fifa to lead an intense round of consultation.

Uefa, European football's governing body, said Tuesday the Fifa president had "mentioned an alleged offer to buy some rights" in Bogota, apparently confirming a report in the New York Times that the consortium wanted control of the Club World Cup and Nations League.

"As Gianni Infantino did not provide any concrete details on what such an offer would entail and which entity would have been behind it, we have no comment to make on the topic," Uefa said in a statement.

Uefa already organises the hugelyy popular Champions League and any rival club competition could be a threat to its broadcast sales worldwide. The Fifa proposal also uses the Global Nations League format which Uefa developed and revealed last October.

Wealthy and influential groups of European clubs and leagues have both resisted Fifa's ambition in recent weeks.

"It is not about adding competition in this moment," Juventus president Andrea Agnelli said two weeks ago at a meeting of the 230-member European Club Association which he leads.

Fifa proposes an expanded 24-team club tournament, with at least 12 from Europe, starting in June or July 2021. The format of eight three-team groups, advancing to an eight-team knockout round, would see teams play a maximum of five games.

Fifa's partnership with investors would guarantee $12 billion in revenue from the Club World Cup — $3 billion for each of four editions from 2021-33, people who had been briefed on the project told the AP. They said Fifa would decide where the tournament would be played, which would not necessarily be in China or Saudi Arabia.

Fifa is likely to explore broadcasting deals with video streaming services and could bypass traditional television networks which hold World Cup rights.

Revenue of $2 billion is projected for each of six editions from 2023-33, and $1 billion for a first competition in 2021 when Uefa is committed to the second edition of its own version.

Fifa is looking to win over clubs seeking to protect players from a packed international calendar, insisting the 2021-33 plan involves fewer games: A Club World Cup every four years instead of annually, ending the Confederations Cup, and a Nations League played on existing dates set aside for tournament qualifiers and friendlies.