The Premier League is bracing itself for a major battle with Michel Platini over a controversial plan by the Uefa president to overhaul the domestic league season so it runs from March to October – in what looks like a pre-emptive strike in Fifa's drive to hold the 2022 Qatar World Cup in the winter.
The plans first emerged yesterday in a report in Germany's Bild newspaper which claims to have leaked documents detailing radical proposals being drawn up by Platini, and believed to have the backing of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, to force major change on the European game.
Fifa and Uefa want the big European leagues to fall in line with a worldwide model which would see the domestic league season running from mid-March to the end of October. The plans propose playing World Cup or European Championship qualifying games from November to mid-December and using the time until mid-January for the players to rest.
The proposals have caused huge consternation among the big five European leagues – England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. The president of the Bundesliga, Reinhard Rauball, has already said that there will be no chance of the German league changing its plans to adapt.
Rauball said: "There can be no such revolutionary change without the five major European leagues being part of the agreement. I can hardly imagine the British [sic] agreeing. I am personally against it. Fifa and Uefa need to take a serious look at these plans."
The Premier League will oppose the changes and believes that the strength of the European game, as well as the influential European Club Association, will prove decisive. The documents suggest Fifa and Uefa would push for the changes as early as 2015, which would mean the immediate re-planning of the league's crucial broadcasting deals.
Platini is reported to have said that he has advocated a harmonising of the domestic seasons across the world as long ago as 1998. Platini said earlier this month: "As an adviser to Sepp Blatter in 1998 I proposed an international calendar from February to November. But it was refused because of opposition from Spain and Italy, who feared the heat of the summer."
Fifa and Uefa are expected to table a formal proposal after Blatter and Platini are re-elected to their respective offices in April and May. The fear for the Premier League is that the more radical proposals of a permanent change in the domestic season will be used as a bargaining chip, with Fifa and Uefa offering to pull back in return for concessions around the 2022 World Cup finals.
What is clear is that preparations among Fifa's executive committee – of which Platini is a member – for a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 began before the vote on 2 December. The world governing body seems prepared to go to great lengths to strong-arm both European leagues and Qatar itself into accepting a switch to the cooler winter months for the 2022 event.
Fifa said yesterday that there were "no concrete plans" to change the international calendar. The proposals would also play havoc with other British domestic sports seasons, most notably cricket, and mean that European championships could potentially overlap with Olympic Games.
The minister for sport, Hugh Robertson, claimed yesterday that English football was the worst-governed sport in the country, in what was perceived as a direct attack on the Football Association. Robertson said: "The levels of corporate governance that apply to football lag far behind other sports, and other sports are by no means beacons in this regard."
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