French football chief challenges European view on FIFA World Cup plan

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FILE – In this file photo from Wednesday June 5, 2019, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, chats with French Football Federation President Noël Le Graet ahead of the start of the 69th Congress of FIFA in Paris. The president of the Men’s World Cup, France, is not opposed to FIFA’s pressure on the European opposition to play the tournament every two years. Noël Le Graët’s comments to the French sports daily L’Equipe are a major fissure in the unity of UEFA, the European football body of 55 nations, against FIFA’s plan. (AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino, File)

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The president of France’s soccer federation, the men’s world champion, said on Friday that he was not opposed to pressure from FIFA to play the tournament every two years, despite widespread European resistance to the project.

Noël Le Graët’s comment to the French sports daily L’Equipe is a major crack in the unity of UEFA, the European football body of 55 nations, against FIFA’s plan to double the frequency of the Coupe du world.

It was also in conflict with France coach Didier Deschamps – who also won the World Cup trophy as the winning captain in 1998 – claiming on Thursday that it would “trivialize” the tournament to play it twice as often.

“I have no opposition to a World Cup every two years, although I want to take a closer look,” said Le Graët. “It would be a mistake not to take a close look at this project. “

Le Graët spoke after the French Football Federation he leads on Thursday attended an online meeting organized by FIFA of more than 200 of its 211 national members.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has called for a biennial World Cup to give more opportunities to play and host countries that rarely or never qualify. He has already overseen the expansion of 32 teams to a 48-nation tournament for the 2026 edition across North America.

Infantino also cites accelerating talent development around the world to close the gap with the footballing powers of Europe and South America that have dominated the World Cup since its launch in 1930.

UEFA and the South American football organization CONMEBOL have threatened to boycott a biennial World Cup.

They see it as a threat to their popular and lucrative quadrennial continental championships and a risk of overloading players and distorting the current balance of national and international competition for national and club teams.

UEFA and CONMEBOL have just 65 of FIFA’s 211 voters in a poll on the future of the World Cup which could take place as early as December. FIFA wants to host a world summit, potentially in Qatar a year before the 2022 tournament.

Le Graët’s position is likely to agitate UEFA management, which appointed him two years ago to a seat on the FIFA Council chaired by Infantino to represent Europe. The Frenchman, who turns 80 in December, got the job after UEFA had a 70-year age limit for candidates seeking a place on his own executive committee.

France and FIFA have forged close ties in recent years, and French President Emmanuel Macron sat down with Infantino in the 2018 final in Moscow, where the French coached by Deschamps beat Croatia 4-2.

FIFA opened a regional office in Paris this year to work on development projects in Africa.

African football’s governing body is the most loyal of football’s six continents to FIFA and its new chairman, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, who took office this year after an agreement with rival candidates been negotiated by Infantino.

Le Graët cited the needs of African members – who have almost no room in the crowded football calendar to play against European national teams – to help explain his views.

“We cannot ignore other parts of the world,” he told L’Equipe. “I listened to the plea from South Africa and Morocco who explained their difficulty in finding friendlies because Europe has reserved all the dates.”

___ Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report


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