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FIFA claims majority of fans support the idea of a World Cup every two years

Russia v Saudi Arabia – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group A – Luzhniki Stadium
(Image credit: Adam Davy)

A majority of football fans favour a change of frequency in the World Cup, according to a survey commissioned by FIFA.

Fifty five per cent of respondents from 23 countries across the world – including England – favoured a change, as FIFA continues its consultation on playing the World Cup every two years instead of every four.

Of the 55 per cent, the most popular option was biennial World Cups.

However, in every age group, the highest percentage was in favour of the status quo – ranging from 37 per cent among 18-24 year olds to 58 per cent among those aged 55 and over.

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The world governing body has developed hugely controversial plans to shorten the gap between its showpiece event from four years to two, with former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger championing the changes.

The Football Supporters Europe group is opposed to the idea and wrote to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, who replied to say he had “grave concerns” about the plans and has since told The Times that European countries could boycott the World Cup if the change is made.

However, FIFA says that globally there is support for the plan, and said the enthusiasm was greatest among younger fans in “developing markets” outside Europe.

Arsene Wenger, right, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino

Arsene Wenger, right, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino (Handout from FIFA/PA)

“A survey has provided feedback as part of the feasibility study regarding the frequency of the men’s FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said in a statement.

“The findings of this online survey, conducted in July 2021, will be used as part of a wider consultation process involving fans, which will take place over several phases.

“Fifteen thousand respondents were identified as expressing an interest in football and the FIFA World Cup, from a broader market research survey involving 23,000 people in 23 countries, across six confederations, commissioned via IRIS and YouGov, independent industry experts.

“Based on initial results, the following conclusions can be drawn:

“The majority of fans would like to see a more frequent men’s FIFA World Cup; of this majority, the preferred frequency is biennial; there are considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets; and younger generations in all regions are more open and interested in change than older generations.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has previously expressed

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has previously expressed “grave concerns” about the plans (Niall Carson/PA)

It is understood only respondents who expressed an interest in football and the World Cup were asked the question about World Cup frequency. The 23 markets which were selected included England, with around 1,000 targeted in each market.

FIFA said the results of an expanded survey involving over 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is under way and would be published in due course.

South American confederation CONMEBOL has joined UEFA in speaking out against the plans, while world players’ union FIFPRO has warned the proposals will not have any legitimacy without the support of its members.

European Leagues – an umbrella group which includes the Premier League and all of the continent’s major domestic competitions – has expressed firm and unanimous opposition to the plans. That appears to be a major obstacle for FIFA to overcome, as its clubs employ the majority of the players who play in World Cups.

France celebrate winning the World Cup

France won the 2018 World Cup (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The European Club Association – which includes all of the continent’s big clubs except for the Super League rebel trio – has also warned FIFA against any “unilateral” decision.

The idea for a biennial World Cup was first floated by the Saudi Arabian football association, and a feasibility study was given the go-ahead after a vote at FIFA Congress in May.

Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development, says it provides more meaningful matches for players who do not operate in Europe’s big leagues, and also cuts down on international travel during the season, with international breaks cut to one or at most two.

He also believes it gives national teams more chances to qualify, although the likelihood is that the same teams would simply play in World Cups more often, if they entered.

Additional World Cups would, in theory, mean extra revenue for FIFA to share among the member associations who elect the FIFA leadership, and it has been seen by some as a means for Infantino to solidify his power base.