KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Jonas Baer-Hoffmann talks a lot of common sense. Trouble is, a significant disconnect exists between football’s common sense brigade and some of the people who run the game.
A prime example is the current fevered debate about whether the World Cup should be staged every two years rather than the traditional four years.
Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the international players’ union FIFPRO, would prefer the current debate about structure and fixtures pressure to be conducted by the game’s stakeholders in a civilised, confidential context.
He is worried about the alternative. He said: “The next six to 12 months will become very tense. There is a chance of real breaking point in football around this.”
For FIFPRO the priority should be the recalibration of the international match calendar rather than the single-agenda issue of World Cup staging.
But that hope was ruled out of court last spring at FIFA congress when the Saudi Arabia federation generated the headline-busting proposal that the world federation should consider doubling up on the staging its flagship event.
That notion has driven the subsequent debate within the six regional confederations and out in the open, including the subservient applause of many members of the FIFA Legends grouping of golden oldies.
Baer-Hoffmann believes that today’s players’ voice also needs to be heard – and to a far greater persuasive effect than its largely vain exertions on the issues of racism and racist abuse.
He told a media round table: “It’s deeply frustrating, it seems we’re on Groundhog Day No7. We have a complex situation concerning how to rebalance the calendar complicated by these conversations about new or expanded competitions – which is putting the cart before the horse.
“You need to engage in a proper process . . . but there is a lot of lost trust between the institutions in football. We have an agreement with FIFA in terms of negotiation around the issue of the calendar. It’s not helpful if you have the public discourse first.”
Earlier this week FIFPRO issued a cogent statement of its position. This insisted that any plans to change the men’s or women’s calendar should prioritise concerns such as an expanding workload, a need to protect employment rights as well as the “promising advancement of the women’s professional game.”
Proposals such as a biennial World Cup were “inadequate in the absence of solutions for existing problems.”
The statement added: “Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy.”
Following up, Baer-Hoffmann added: “We need a serious, good faith negotiation. If there’s no proper approach then good reforms will fail and bad reforms will lead to conflict.”
He wants a better understanding of the damaging effect of the wealth and organisational chasm between Europe and the rest of the world, a greater top-down investment in the lower tiers, an environmentally-responsible reduction in flights and a parallel conversation about what can work in the women’s game and what will not.
“It’s remarkable that these things can gather pace so quickly,” he said.
FIFPRO today stresses once again that any plans to change the men’s or women’s International Match Calendar must address the players’ concerns such as an expanding workload at the top of the game, the need to protect and improve jobs for the majority of our members around the world and protecting the promising advancement of the women’s professional game.
Proposals isolating further expansions such as a biennial World Cup – as well as other competition reforms under discussion – are inadequate in the absence of solutions for existing problems.
Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy.
The current debate once again follows a flawed process and approach in which additions to the calendar are debated in the public in the absence of in-depth impact assessments, transparent information, and most importantly a commitment to agree improvements for the game in good faith between all stakeholders.
FIFPRO General Secretary, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, said: “Players have natural physiological limits and an inherent interest in the sustainable advancement of the game: the success of the sport depends on their physical and mental well-being.
“What we decide at the peak of the game impacts thousands of professionals around the world. Any plans to expand competitions must integrate their collective experience and views.
“It is also once more frustrating that the specific and fundamental impact on the women’s game is debated as a side-product rather than its own legitimate process with unique needs and opportunities.
“The lack of genuine dialogue and trust between institutions in football blocks the game’s ability to build more resilience after a painful pandemic, but rather we keep reverting to the same old habits of conflict.”
FIFPRO will examine any proposal for new competitions in the light of its own principles for the advancement of professional football’s competitiveness, diversity and equality which include the following:
• no competition can be treated in isolation; each one affects all the others, and therefore we will not endorse individual reforms without an overarching review of the men’s and women’s calendar;
• the growth of the game at the highest level, including international competitions, must not harm but rather spur investment in small and medium-sized leagues, who are the lifeblood of professional football around the world and provide more and better opportunities for players;
• any expansion of the international calendar must include proper safeguards for the health and well-being of players;
• ensuring a proper balance between club and country, providing job opportunities and safeguarding the right of players to represent their country, is vital;
• Reforms of calendar and competitions should provide the necessary space for both women’s and men’s football to develop.
On this basis we are engaging in dialogue with all entities in the game and will meet with FIFA about its reform proposals in the near future.