Players union threatens FIFA with legal action over calendar

FIFA has been warned of legal action from players and national leagues if it does not backtrack on adding new and bigger competitions to the congested calendar of men's international football.

In a letter sent by global players union FIFPRO and the World Leagues Association, which has been seen by The Associated Press, FIFA is criticised for "unilateral decisions that benefit its own competitions and commercial interests" -- including the World Cup and expanded 32-team Club World Cup that debuts next year.

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The letter said it is "inherently abusive" for FIFA to continue adding games while forcing players and leagues to adapt. It was addressed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom.

FIFA is urged in the letter to reschedule the revamped Club World Cup, due to take place in the United States in June 2025. The lineup includes Champions League finalists Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund as well as Manchester City and Bayern Munich, among others.

That month-long tournament will test stadiums and logistics for the first 48-team, 104-game men's World Cup staged one year later across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The unions and leagues also want FIFA to "review its decision" -- effectively scrap -- the Intercontinental Cup set for this December involving the same continental champions that will play in the Club World Cup six months later.

Talks also should reopen on the FIFA-managed calendar through 2030 when clubs must release players for national team games, the unions wrote.

"FIFA has ignored repeated attempts by leagues and unions to engage on this issue," FIFPRO and World Leagues said, aiming to step up pressure before the football body's ruling council and congress of 211 member federations meet next week in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Should FIFA refuse to formally commit to resolving the issues, as set out above, at its upcoming council, we shall be compelled to advise our members on the options available to them, both individually and collectively, to proactively safeguard their interests," the letter said.

"These options include legal action against FIFA on which we have now commissioned external expert advice," FIFPRO and Zurich-based World Leagues warn.

In response, FIFA rejected their claims that they made unilateral decisions to benefit its competitions in the international calendar. In the letter seen by Reuters, Grafstrom stated that they have regularly engaged with relevant stakeholders on the subject of the International Match Calendar (IMC).

"Consequently, there could hardly be a clearer demonstration not only that a genuine consultation took place but also that your views were very much taken into account during the course of that consultation," FIFA's letter concluded.

Player workloads and domestic fixture schedules also are being squeezed by UEFA's expansion of its three season-long club competitions.

Teams in the Champions League and Europa League next season will play two guaranteed extra games in an opening-stage schedule running from September through January instead of December, using 10 midweeks instead of six across the three competitions.

"Players are being pushed beyond their limits, with significant injury risks and impacts on their welfare and fundamental rights," FIFPRO and World Leagues warn, adding the fixture squeeze is harming the ability of leagues to organize properly.

FIFA conservatively budgeted for more than $11 billion in revenue from 2023-26 -- about a 50% increase from the previous four years -- that did not include money from the inaugural Club World Cup expansion and a top-tier sponsorship confirmed last month with Saudi Arabian state oil firm Aramco. More Saudi sponsorship is expected with the kingdom set to host the 2024 men's World Cup.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has consistently said the extra money and playing opportunities are needed to raise the level of teams from outside Europe and South America, which traditionally dominate the World Cup and other international events.

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.