GENEVA—Fifa intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.

The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by Fifa. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.

Fifa claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.

A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, Fifa said.

European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart Conmebol oppose Fifa’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 Fifa members—fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.

The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.

The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.

Fifa’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar—the 2022 World Cup host country.

The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member-countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.

Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. Fifa also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.

European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.

The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.

Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.

South Africa, meanwhile, showed interest in hosting Fifa’s Club World Cup in December after Japan withdrew because of Covid-19, South African Football Association President Danny Jordaan said Monday.

Jordaan told The Associated Press he would meet with Fifa Secretary-General Fatma Samoura in Lagos, Nigeria, this week to get more details on what kind of bid South Africa must present to the world body to host the seven-team men’s tournament.

The Club World Cup will feature European champion Chelsea and the other five continental club competition winners. The league champion from the host country also gets a place.

Japan withdrew last week amid fears the tournament would cause a rise in infections in a country that has just staged the Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Fifa has yet to comment on the alternative host, with Saudi Arabia also keen to step in.

An extended 24-team Club World Cup was due to debut this year in China but it was shelved because the pandemic required the rescheduling of national team competitions in June and Fifa was unable to raise the necessary funding for the planned quadrennial event. So the seven-team format was extended for another year.

The South African Football Association must get government approval to hold the tournament and meetings with the sports minister were also planned, Jordaan said.

“We’ll know our position by the end of the week,” he said.

South Africa has numerous high-quality stadiums that were built or refurbished for the 2010 World Cup but any ambition to host the Club World Cup would depend on its own coronavirus situation.

South Africa went through a mid-year surge in cases and there has been a decrease in virus infections over the last two weeks. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an easing of restrictions countrywide on Sunday. The government is also formulating plans to allow spectators back into sports stadiums, most likely using vaccine passports, Ramaphosa said.

That would be a boost for plans to host the Club World Cup as no fans have been allowed at any major sports events in South Africa since the start of the pandemic. Fifa would likely not want its tournament to be played in empty stadiums.

Image courtesy of AP

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