FIFA will reconsider $25 billion investment plans from Saudi Arabia for the commercial rights of a new format tournament, touted as a revamp to FIFA Club World Cup. The proposal will be discussed during the upcoming council meeting of football’s world governing body in Kigali, Rwanda on Friday.
The plans were initially mooted by FIFA president Gianni Infantino during a Council Meeting in Bogotá, Colombia, in March after he was approached by what was then known as a group of “secret investors” from Saudi Arabia. The interested parties sought the rights to the new tournament for complete commercial autonomy.
The proposal was, however, rejected by the council for the lack of transparency on the offer and the air of mystery around the investors’ identity as curtailed by the FIFA president. Another fact was that FIFA has never sold control of its events to the commercial parties before and such a deal would have been unprecedented.
The latest concept, if successfully adopted, would see 24 club teams – including 12 from Europe – competing in a quadrennial tournament, which will replace the existing Club World Cup played in December every year. Its quadrennial summer place in the calendar would replace the Confederations Cup tournament played out by the reigning champions of various continental national team tournaments.
According to UK national daily The Times, the $25 billion investment is led by a consortium that includes Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund and the United Arab Emirates.
Under the deal, the investors would control the media rights and other commercial interest related to the competition for as many as three editions. It would even decide the venues of the new format. This could bring a major shift in FIFA’s business model, which relies on the sales of tickets, sponsorships and media rights for revenue.
Infantino, who is said to have met with Saudi officials four times in the last six months, has also proposed a worldwide Nations League, on the lines of the much successful UEFA Nations League. Infantino’s plans to revive talks come at a time when Saudi Arabia is under intense scrutiny over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the state, at the country’s embassy in Turkey.
Infantino, according to earlier reports, has also received a number of proposals at the start of 2018 to bring the club tournament to China and Saudi Arabia, with the two nations committed to expanding their leisure and entertainment sectors.
The move is seen as aim to strengthening Infantino’s presidential candidature for a second term ahead of the elections next year. He has also mooted the idea of women’s global league which he believes will raise the standard, visibility and appeal of women’s football globally.
However, the idea has received bitter criticism and flak from the UEFA, the European governing body of football, amid fears that any new tournament would jeopardize the commercial viability of its flagship properties including the Champions League, Europa League, Nations League and the European Championships.