Martin Ainstein undergoes an unforgettable experience in Moscow as he visits the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center during his tour of World Cup host cities.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has finally admitted defeat in his attempt to force through a revamped Club World Cup and new Nations League competition before Russia 2018.
The current Club World Cup is a seven-team tournament played every winter, but Infantino wants to turn that into a 24-team event played every fourth summer from 2021. He also wants to start a Nations League that would culminate in a mini-World Cup every second October.
These two new competitions would reportedly generate a guaranteed $25 billion (£18.7billion) for FIFA in the first 12 years thanks to backing from a group of investors whose identities Infantino says he cannot yet share.
The mystery surrounding this money, widely thought to be from Saudi Arabia, coupled with anger at the lack of consultation, concerns about the impact on existing tournaments and the competitive balance in club football, as well as fears over player burnout, have led to strong opposition to the plan.
Infantino first mentioned the idea at a FIFA Council meeting in the Colombian city of Bogota in March and he had hoped to get the green light for the new events at an extraordinary meeting of the council this month. He now knows that will not be happening.
In a statement released to Press Association Sport, a FIFA spokesperson said: “Following the detailed proposal concerning a revamped FIFA Club World Cup and a worldwide Nations League put forward at the FIFA Council meeting in Bogota in March, constructive talks have been held with the relevant stakeholders on these proposals and further consultation will continue in the upcoming weeks.
“An update on this matter will be presented at the next FIFA Council meeting on June 10 in Moscow and FIFA will continue to further develop these proposals together with the main football stakeholders.”
This means the whole idea has been kicked into the long grass until after this summer’s World Cup and many wonder if it will ever return, such is the anger it has provoked.
On Wednesday, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin launched an astonishing attack on the plan.
In a speech to European Union sports ministers in Brussels, Ceferin said: “As long as I am UEFA president there will be no room for pursuing selfish endeavours or hiding behind false pretences.
“I cannot accept that some people who are blinded by the pursuit of profit are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds.
“Money does not rule — and the European sports model must be respected. Football is not for sale.”
And in March, Premier League boss Richard Scudamore wrote to Infantino in his role as chairman of the World Leagues Forum, saying the FIFA president’s approach “defies all definitions of best practice and good governance.”
Javier Tebas, Scudamore’s opposite number at La Liga in Spain, made similar points in an interview with The Financial Times this week. He also said the plans would have a negative effect on national leagues by making a handful of super-clubs even richer.
“I’ve already said to Real Madrid and Barcelona: there will be food now and hunger tomorrow,” Tebas told the newspaper.
“This will cause a deconstructing of the national league. We already have this problem in Europe. We have to face it and find a solution because the Club World Cup will make it even worse.”