DOHA (Reuters) - FIFA could drop its long-standing opposition to cross-border leagues, as it looks to help countries who are struggling to compete with the giants of the game, president Gianni Infantino said on Friday.
FIFA has always opposed attempts to create multinational leagues, saying that the basis of the game was the national competition.
Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter was strongly opposed to such plans and European governing body UEFA has also blocked such initiatives and looked to its own competitions as a way of providing extra competition and revenue for clubs.
Yet faced with the commercial power of the big leagues, such as England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, Infantino says that the idea of new structures should be considered.
“We need to be open to discussions. The Belgians and the Dutch have been discussing creating a Benelux league and these discussions have been going on for 20 years and we are always saying no, because we are based on national leagues,” he told reporters.
“But maybe it helps? Maybe it is the only way out, maybe in Europe they have to think about this, maybe in Africa. I was proposing something like this for Africa. I think we have the duty to study these things then we will see where it goes.”
In the early 2000s a plan was drawn up for an ‘Atlantic League’ featuring clubs from the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Scotland, with some Scandinavian countries but was rejected by UEFA.
There have also been suggestions of a Czech-Slovak league, a Balkan league and a ‘Habsburg League’ in Central and Eastern Europe.
Currently clubs in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are in exploratory talks about a possible ‘All-Island League’, while Scottish pair Rangers and Celtic have often talked about joining the English Premier League.
Fuelling such talk has been the fact that clubs from smaller leagues have increasingly struggled to reach the group stages, let alone the knockout phases, of the Champions League.
Although FIFA allowed an exemption for Major League Soccer, which includes clubs from the United States and Canada, it has taken a hard-line stance on all other such attempts.
In 2013, a plan emerged for Russian clubs to break away and resurrect the old Soviet competition with a multinational structure but Blatter’s FIFA firmly rejected the plan.
In comments which will raise eyebrows at UEFA and the Premier League, Infantino, who has already introduced a new 24-team Club World Cup to start in 2021, said FIFA had a duty to look at how less financially successful clubs and nations could compete.
“The Premier League is the most successful competition and congratulations to the Premier League because they created a fantastic competition and a great product as well. Obviously, they want to remain the top for the next hundred years as well,” he said.
“And the others, they want to become the top. So can we do something to make the others better without taking away anything from those who are at the top and...(who) have a lot of merit for how football has developed in the world today?
“It’s not about bringing anyone down. It’s rather about bringing those who are today down a little bit further (up) and we are willing to discuss with everyone about everything. And then we will see.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.