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Breakaway Super League ‘would not be recognised’ by FIFA as players threatened with World Cup ban

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jan 21 – FIFA has gone on the offensive amid ongoing speculation about a European Super League, insisting any breakaway by leading clubs “would not be recognised by either FIFA or the respective confederation” while players would risk being banned from the World Cup and other major tournaments if involved.

The threat came in a statement signed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino along with the heads of European body UEFA and the other five continental confederations, a joint response to what it called “recent media speculation” about a breakaway by some of the world’s richest clubs.

“Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation,” said Thursday’s statement.

In October, outgoing Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu dropped a bombshell in a statement announcing his resignation, as he also claimed the club had accepted a proposal to join other clubs in “a future European Super League”.

That followed reports in the UK that negotiations were nearing conclusion for the creation of a closed “European Premier League”, backed by $6 billion of financing from major banks.

The Times of London reported on Thursday that plans were afoot for a Super League featuring 15 permanent founding members, including six from England, three each from Spain and Italy, two from Germany and one from France.

Five other clubs would qualify annually, the report said. The competition would be split into two groups of 10, culminating in a one-legged final, with teams playing up to 23 matches a season while continuing to compete in existing domestic leagues.

According to The Times, founding members would receive up to 350 million euros ($425m) each to join the competition.

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However, at the same time discussions are still ongoing about the future format of the UEFA Champions League, currently the world’s most lucrative and prestigious club competition which is due for reform of some kind from 2024 onwards.

– ‘Protect the existing model’ –

The European Leagues organisation, which represents leagues in 29 countries across the continent, said it “unanimously” supported FIFA’s statement and rejected any attempts to follow the North American franchise model for professional sports.

The reality is that football at the highest level in Europe has already evolved into something akin to a closed shop for an elite few, but the existing model does, at least in theory, offer all clubs the chance to take part.

“In the European football pyramid, every player has the opportunity to play in a club which can qualify from the base of the pyramid to the very top of professional football,” European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson said in a statement.

“This is the foundation of the model and the main reason for football’s success.

“We are determined to protect the existing model and how football is organised in Europe and the way the industry works for professional football.”

That sentiment was backed by Supporters Direct Europe, an organisation active in over 50 countries across the continent.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (L) and AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa at the Asian Champions League final in December © AFP/File / KARIM JAAFAR

“SD Europe unanimously agrees with @EuropeanLeagues and supports its position on maintaining the European model of sporting competition in football,” it said on Twitter.

– New Club World Cup –

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Meanwhile FIFA remains focused on plans for an expanded, 24-team Club World Cup, championed by Infantino.

The competition was due to take place for the first time this year in China but was put back to a later date after Euro 2020 and the Copa America were postponed to June and July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The delayed 2020 edition of the Club World Cup will go ahead next month in its existing format, involving only the champions of each confederation — minus New Zealand’s Auckland City who withdrew due to the pandemic — plus the champions of host nation Qatar.

“As per the FIFA and confederations statutes, all competitions should be organised or recognised by the relevant body at their respective level, by FIFA at the global level and by the confederations at the continental level,” FIFA said.

“In this respect, the confederations recognise the FIFA Club World Cup, in its current and new format, as the only worldwide club competition while FIFA recognises the club competitions organised by the confederations as the only club continental competitions.”

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