Europe’s top clubs “unhappy” with FIFA’s World Cup expansion

European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge says Europe’s top clubs are unhappy with the expansion of the World Cup and calls sport’s governing bodies to reduce the number of international matches.

ATHENS, GREECE (MARCH 28, 2017) (REUTERS) – The decision-making process that led FIFA to increase the number of teams at the World Cup to 48 starting with the tournament in 2026 is unacceptable, European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Tuesday (March 28).

The European Club Association, which represents 220 soccer clubs, opposes the FIFA decision which Rummenigge, the former German international who is also Bayern Munich’s chief executive, has previously dismissed as “nonsense”.

Rummenigge said on Tuesday there were also issues with transparency in that specific FIFA process, without elaborating.

“I believe it is quite clear FIFA knows we are unhappy that they increased the number of participants by 50 percent,” Rummenigge told reporters after the ECA’s general assembly.

“They are using our players, our employees in favour of the World Cup,” he said.

FIFA voted in January to increase the size of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 from 2026, fulfilling a campaign promise of its president Gianni Infantino, who was elected last year.

FIFA says the tournament will not last longer than it does at present but big clubs in particular are angry at the prospect of losing even more players to their national teams.

Clubs have already complained about what they say is a crowded calendar of international matches for which they must release their players on a regular basis.

“I would call now especially on FIFA and (European soccer’s governing body) UEFA to reduce the number (of international matches. We arrived at a point where players have to play too many games,” Rummenigge said.

These organisations should “think more about football and not financial and political issues,” he added.

Rummenigge also adressed last year’s Champions League reforms when rearranged the group-stage slots in favor of its four top-ranked leagues – in effect Spain, England, Germany and Italy – by guaranteeing them four places each.

Places for the winners of the 11th and 12th ranked leagues were cut and the number of places reserved for teams from the remaining leagues, who play their way through a qualifying competition, was reduced from five to four.

These reforms have been critcised by some, including the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), the umbrella grouping for 24 European domestic leagues, who argued the changes are detrimental to domestic soccer in Europe and will increase the gap between the wealthiest clubs and the rest.

However, Rummenigge pointed out that clubs from the wealthier leagues accounted for the vast majority of UEFA’s Champions League revenue and dismissed claims that the ‘rich are getting richer’ as ‘fake news’.