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Head of FIFA calls emergency meeting amid $25B rights offer

FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks at the 68th Conmebol Council meeting in Buenos Aires in Argentina on April 12. AFP
FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks at the 68th Conmebol Council meeting in Buenos Aires in Argentina on April 12. AFP

Head of FIFA calls emergency meeting amid $25B rights offer

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has called for an emergency meeting of the leading officials in international football to address a $25 billion rights offer from an investment group that could radically change some of the biggest competitions in the sport.

In a lengthy letter sent to members of the governing FIFA Council last week, Infantino called for a special meeting with leaders of football’s six regional bodies as soon as this week to discuss new details of the offer for control of a new quadrennial 24-team club tournament along the lines of the World Cup, FIFA’s $5 billion cash cow, and a proposed league for national teams.

The New York Times first reported details of Infantino’s secret talks with the group of international investors April 9. Infantino disclosed the negotiations to FIFA’s board at a fractious meeting last month in Bogota, Colombia.

Officials have so far blocked Infantino from moving ahead with a deal that he said had to be signed within 60 days, in part because he declined to identify the members of the international consortium, citing a non-disclosure agreement, and also because they are concerned the event could compete with existing tournaments.

It later emerged that one of the proposed investors is SoftBank, the Japan-based financial institution that runs the world’s biggest technology investment fund.

The full FIFA Council is expected to address the offer during an extraordinary meeting in early May. The next scheduled meeting for that group had been set for June, days before the 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia.

“A meeting with the confederations will take place in due course but no date has been set yet,” said a FIFA spokesman, confirming the planned talks were to discuss details of the offer from investors. “Further consultation is also ongoing with different stakeholders on potential changes to the FIFA Club World Cup.”

Emergency meetings are rare and reserved for the most vital matters. The last time FIFA called its top board for an unscheduled meeting was in 2015, after several of the board’s members were arrested in a dawn raid on a luxury Zurich hotel.

Infantino’s rationale for the urgent meeting is twofold. He wants to persuade sceptical officials to allow him to forge ahead with negotiations on the proposed $25 billion deal. But he also wants to calm some members who have grown angry over what they see as Infantino’s aggressive pursuit of a deal that would lead to the biggest restructuring of football in several decades.

During his campaign for the presidency of FIFA, Infantino promised fourfold increases in financing for football development to member nations. The $25 billion would provide Infantino with enough money to follow through on that commitment before his bid for re-election next year.

Global club championship of 24 teams

Opposition from powerful European soccer officials and some of the continent’s biggest clubs remains strong.

Creating the event without the agreement of the world’s best clubs, employers of the top players required to make the events a success, is likely to lead to a protracted conflict in a sport that has been a battleground for primacy between national teams, which are governed by FIFA, and club football, which is overseen by the six regional confederations and their members.

To win support, Infantino recently met with a handful of executives from the biggest clubs, including Germany’s Bayern Munich and Chinese-owned Inter Milan, according to people familiar with the situation.

The discussion took place without the knowledge of the European Club Association, an umbrella group for about 200 teams from across the continent, which includes the vast majority of the world’s richest clubs.

A spokesman for the ECA said it had not been informed about the extraordinary FIFA Council meeting.

In a briefing document sent to FIFA Council members before the Bogota meeting, and seen by the New York Times, FIFA said it favoured a 24-team global club championship, with half the participants drawn from Europe.

That group would include the finalists from the four prior editions of the Champions League, football’s richest club event.

FIFA estimated each edition of its proposed club competition could generate a maximum of $1 billion – the investment group is offering $3 billion for each tournament, with the remainder offered for a proposed nations league.

According to the BBC, FIFA describes the nations league format as operating “at confederation level, with different levels/divisions divided into groups of four teams, ensuring six games for each national team.

“The best teams would then qualify for a ‘Final 8’ tournament (essentially up to three games) in the following year”.

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