Africa Cup of Nations new dates threaten Premier League Christmas schedule

The Africa Cup of Nations is due to be held at an unexpected time to accomodate Fifa’s Club World Cup

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Tuesday 18 June 2024 18:18 BST
Sebastien Haller scored the winner to lift hosts Ivory Coast to their third AFCON title (Themba Hadebe/AP)
Sebastien Haller scored the winner to lift hosts Ivory Coast to their third AFCON title (Themba Hadebe/AP) (AP)

The elite football calendar is set for more chaos, as plans for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations to be held from late December 2025 to late January 2026 are currently being finalised, in part to accommodate Fifa’s expanded Club World Cup.

Those dates would also require a rule change from the governing body with the 2026 World Cup to take place months later, as clubs only have an obligation to release players for one international finals tournament per year.

Those in the Premier League are already understood to be concerned about the congestion, especially as it would represent a clash with the Christmas schedule.

The current plans - not yet confirmed but currently being negotiated - come amid an escalating legal battle over the crammed football calendar. The eve of Euro 2024 saw Fifpro announce legal action against Fifa over unilateral decisions that affect the entire game. The primary concern is the expansion of the Club World Cup, which is set to become a 32-team tournament to be held in USA in the summer of 2025.

Commonly seen as an attempt by Fifa to start staking a bigger claim to the more lucrative club game, it has been a huge driver of tension since president Gianni Infantino first began working on the idea six years ago.

The widespread feeling among other stakeholders is that there is just no space for it in what is in effect a non-stop rolling calendar, and it currently looks set to squeeze the African Cup of Nations to winter 2025-26. Given Uefa’s resistance to the new Club World Cup, it has been noted by those with knowledge of the plans that the new dates would fall between match-days six and seven of the newly expanded Champions League, seeking to maintain a delicate diplomacy.

There is still huge aggravation in other quarters, and English football could be among the most affected given how it clashes with the busy Christmas schedule. Of most intrigue, however, is how this might require a change to Fifa’s rules on international call-ups.

The current regulations on the transfer and status of players state: “It is not compulsory to release the same player for more than one “A” representative team final competition per year. Exceptions to this rule can be established by the FIFA Executive Committee for the FIFA Confederations Cup only.”

Fifa have been contacted for comment.

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