World Cup, Super League ′turning point in how football is being run′ says player union | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 27.10.2021

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World Cup, Super League 'turning point in how football is being run' says player union

Football is in need of a structural overhaul, according to one of the organizations central to the running of the game worldwide. The general secretary of players' union FIFPRO told DW this is "a clear turning point."

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah in Premier League action

A European Super League and the proposed biennial World Cup are a threat to domestic leagues.

Global players' union FIFPRO, one of football's most influential organizations, have called for greater influence in how the game is governed, in the face of a breakaway European Super League project and FIFA's "deeply flawed" blueprint for a biennial World Cup.

"The current system of government is no longer capable of dealing with the decisions that need to be taken or able to balance the voices that need to be heard," said the FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann at a policy forum run by his organization in Brussels on Tuesday.

"We need everyone in the room for these discussions and unfortunately they are not," Baer-Hoffmann said, referring to UEFA and the ECA (European Club Association), who declined to send representatives to participate at the event. "To take big constructive decisions has become virtually impossible. It is time for significant change in the governance of football," he added.

‘New model of co-stewardship'

In a further conversation with DW, Baer-Hoffmann said he believes that, given the threats to the future of the game, it is high time for a new model of co-stewardship of the game to emerge, based on common interests.

"There is a clear turning point in how the game is being run and how decisions are being taken, and from that, which values determine the outcomes," Baer-Hoffmann told DW. 

"There's a common expectation that things from now on are agreed. This is in the common interest in football because we've seen very clearly that it's no longer possible for one institution, one leader, to take control and ownership for everything that happens. It needs to be co-ownership and co-stewardship to protect the inherent value but also to correct and amplify things that are not going so well."

Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal coach and FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development

Arsene Wenger, FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development, has championed the idea of a biennial World Cup.

‘Peak of the pyramid'

As a result of the Super League and biennial World Cup proposals, FIFPRO and European Leagues issued a five-point ‘manifesto of governance' at the event, which focuses on the agreed principles of collective representation and the rights of leagues and players, including player welfare.

"When you look at the elite players that would participate in a proposed European Super League or a biennial World Cup, there's a very direct threat to their health that these additional tournaments would bring,” Baer-Hoffmann said.

"That's the elite end of the problem. Football focuses almost all of its innovation towards the peak of the pyramid. The logic is that we create more there and trickle-down economics means that everyone lower down benefits. But clearly it doesn't usually work that way.

"Further down there is a question about the economic sustainability where most of the jobs in football are, in the domestic leagues. This is where shared interest comes in. We have 65,000 players that we represent individually and the vast majority of their jobs depend on domestic football. The more the commercial value in the game is focused towards the top end, the harder it will be to keep sustainability in those competitions, and that would ultimately cost jobs."

Germany women's coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg

Germany women's coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg is opposed to a biennial World Cup

Biennial World Cup harmful to women's game

In an event that repeatedly underlined the lack of board level representation of women and the ethnic minority groups in the leagues and associations that they represent, FIFPRO also criticized FIFA's handling of its biennial World Cup blueprint, which its says would damage the fabric of the women's game even more than the men's.

"We thought FIFA's process of presenting a biennial World Cup to deeply flawed,” Baer-Hoffmann told DW. "We told them so because these kinds of substantive changes need to come from a process of negotiation and engagement and going to the media first was clearly not helpful, and put everyone on their back heels from the very beginning.

"One of the problems was that FIFA's blueprint was seemingly designed mostly with the interests of the men's game in mind and that was simply projected onto the women's game. But the women's game has very different needs and opportunities. More nations need to get invested in their women's teams because right now you still have despicable conditions for women in the majority of countries in the FIFA Federations.

"The public discourse based on the way it was presented was quite detrimental to the legitimate problems that need solving," he added. These problems include player burnout and stress, an issue raised by Germany women's coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg last month.

Infografik Super League Schulden nach Mannschaft EN

MEPs recommend 50+1 and equal pay

The Brussels event, held a stone's throw from the European Parliament, preceded a fraternal response from MEPs, who called for "a values-based EU sports model” in a statement, and for more funding to be channeled from elite sports to grassroots.

MEPs also recommended more leagues to consider the German football club ownership 50+1 rule, which limits private investors to own only up to 49% of the shares of a club, and for national sports federations to equalize premium payments for female and male athletes, following the example of the Football Association of Ireland.

"We need more EU policy involvement in sports and more sports funding," said Tomasz Frankowski, a Polish former player and now a member of the European Parliament.

"Our main task as MEPs is to enhance and protect a values based sporting model in Europe for the next generation. We have to work together against the forces that threaten this model and seek to undermine it with a pure profit-based vision of sport. That is why we are against a closed Super League of elite clubs in European football. Sport is a right for everyone. That is something that all of European sport must always stand for."

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