The prospect of the best women’s club sides on the planet meeting in a competitive tournament has taken a big step forward with FIFA aiming for an inaugural Women’s Club World Cup in 2026.
Advocates of the women’s game have been talking about a global competition for over a decade and FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he wanted to stage one “as soon as possible” as far back as 2019.
But the next significant milestone came in December 2022, when a FIFA Council meeting in Qatar approved the launch of women’s versions of the Futsal World Cup and Club World Cup.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Infantino said the details would be decided after “consultation with the relevant stakeholders”, adding that concerns about “players’ health and well-being” would be a “primary goal”. He also said there would be no further changes to the game’s calendar until 2025, at the earliest.
Those stakeholders are football’s six confederations — the regional bodies that govern the sport in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, Oceania and South America — and the talks soon became a case of UEFA, the European confederation, versus the rest of the world.
The sticking point has been FIFA and the five non-European confederations wanting an annual Women’s Club World Cup, while UEFA favoured a less frequent competition, as it is concerned about fixture congestion and setting a precedent for the men’s game.
In regards to the latter, it is an open secret that FIFA would like to hold its expanded men’s Club World Cup to take place every year but has settled for a four-yearly tournament in the face of strong European opposition. The first edition of the new 32-team format will take place in the United States in 2025.
However, there has recently been a breakthrough in the talks about the women’s tournament, with UEFA ready to accept a compromise of biennial Women’s Club World Cups, starting in 2026.
With a 48-team men’s World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the US dominating the summer, the new women’s club competition would have to take place in either the spring, autumn or winter, which would require some negotiation with the main domestic leagues in Europe and North America.
There also further conversations required to decide how many teams are invited and a venue for maiden tournament. FIFA will be determined to make sure all of the game’s regions are represented but mindful that the best teams all come from Europe, North America and South America.
This would suggest that a duplication of the current, seven-team men’s format would not be particularly attractive, as it would effectively become a three-horse race, but, on the flip side, copying the men’s new, 32-team format might be a stretch for a sport that is still finding its feet commercially. A 16-team format might be the optimum number.
Likewise, the debate on the venue is likely to come down to where in the world this inaugural event has the best possible chance to make a good first impression, with packed stadiums and strong support from broadcasters.
That would appear to limit the choice to Europe or the US, but with the latter already hosting Copa America, the men’s Club World Cup and the men’s World Cup over the next three summers, it could be a chance for Europe to provide the stage.
Getting this event on the calendar, however, is considered to be a huge priority for the game’s bosses, as there is a real sense that women’s football is growing and that momentum must not be wasted.
It has pointed out during the talks that if it is not 2026, the next available window might not come until 2029 or even later, as there is a Women’s World Cup in 2027 and a 16-team Olympic competition at the Los Angeles Games in 2028.
That is a lot of football for the world’s best players, though, and there will have to be conversations with the players’ unions, too, as several leading players have recently spoken out about the number of games they are playing and the associated risks of injury.
But the prospect of Chelsea versus NJ/NY Gotham and Corinthians against Lyon, with a world title at stake, is likely to excite broadcasters, fans, players and sponsors, and help grow the game’s popularity around the world.
(Andre Weening/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
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