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Football

ECA's Rummenigge lambasts FIFA's World Cup expansion

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has criticized plans for a 48-team World Cup in 2026, saying FIFA should think "more about football and not financial and political issues." However, he defended an overhaul of the Champions League.

The decision-making process that prompted FIFA to settle on an expanded, 48-team World Cup in 2026 was not acceptable, according to the chairman of the European Club Association (ECA) Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. 

Speaking to reporters after an ECA meeting in Athens on Tuesday, Rummenigge also alleged that the process had not been satisfactorily transparent, without elaborating. 

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Vorsitzender ECA (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Stavrakis)

Bayern Munich's Rummenigge also chairs the European Club Association - a group of 220 of Europe's top teams

"I believe it is quite clear FIFA knows we are unhappy that they increased the number of [World Cup] participants by 50 percent," Bayern Munich chief executive Rummenigge said. "This is a fact. The way of the decision-making and the transparency was not acceptable from our point of view." 

FIFA voted in January to expand the 32-team competition starting in 2026, fulfilling a campaign pledge from FIFA's president, Gianni Infantino. 

"They are using our players, our employees to benefit the World Cup," Rummenigge said. "We have every right to find a solution." 

The bumper competition is not supposed to involve any extra matches, and should be completed in a similar period of time to the current competition. It will mean, however, that top clubs lose even more players (stars from 48 countries, as opposed to 32) to World Cup duty that year.

'Think more about football'

International football has long been a sore spot for top clubs, who regularly have to give up training time with their best players as they head off to risk injury working for a secondary employer.

Empty seats in the stands even at high-profile international games - for instance Germany and England's encounter last week - has prompted top officials like German national team manager Oliver Bierhoff to suggest a possible "oversaturation" in international football. 

Deutschland Freundschaftsspiel Deutschland vs. England in Dortmund (picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Augstein)

Germany vs England, Lukas Podolski's farewell - and still not enough to fill the stands in Dortmund

Rummenigge accused FIFA of thinking too much about revenues and keeping its member associations happy, but too little about the players. 

"I would call now especially on FIFA and UEFA to reduce the number [of international matches]. We [have] arrived at a point where players have to play too many games," Rummenigge said, calling on FIFA and UEFA to "think more about football and not financial and political issues." 

ECA approves Champions League reform, 'Super League' off the table

But if Rummenigge was reticent about FIFA's expansion plans and financial priorities, he seemed rather less perturbed at plans to alter the Champions League and Europa League competitions in the coming seasons. The ECA's general assembly convened to decide if they were happy with UEFA's plans for club football's European competitions, after issuing threats of a potential breakaway series called the "Super League" if the deal did not satisfy the top teams. 

"We did agree completely with the reform of the 2018-2021 cycle of the Champions League and Europa League," Rummenigge said. "We are fine with the reform, we are happy to stay under the umbrella of UEFA. So there is no discussion ... about Super League."

Among a string of alterations, the main one guarantees that four teams from each of Europe's top four leagues will qualify for the Champions League each season. Critics argue that this will benefit the richest clubs from Italy, England or Spain - or Rummenigge's Bayern Munich - while helping smaller Champions League qualifiers much less. Rummenigge rejected this, calling the approved plan "very good news for all clubs in Europe," and calling claims to the contrary "fake news." 

"It is a fair, qualitative and serious decision that speaks to our solidarity in European football. The reform will make the Champions League more emotional and stronger than ever before." 

msh (dpa, Reuters, SID)

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