To many it still sounds absurd, but on November 21, 2022, the 22nd FIFA World Cup will get under way in Qatar.

Twelve years will have slipped by since Sepp Blatter pulled a card from an envelope and declared Qatar the hosts, giving the Arab world its first crack at putting on the tournament.

When the announcement came at FIFA HQ in Zurich, former US president Bill Clinton wrestled to mask his disappointment and offered a congratulatory handshake as the Qatari delegation celebrated on the row behind him. Clinton was the US bid committee's honorary chairman. It was reported he smashed a mirror in fury after returning to his hotel suite.

The USA, Australia, South Korea and Japan had been the rival candidates to Qatar, and many in the game believed the Americans would be awarded the tournament.

Chuck Blazer, the crooked FIFA executive who was also CONCACAF general secretary at the time, smiled along as the triumphant Qataris took to the stage.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, chairman of the Qatar bid team, said: "Thank you for believing in change, thank you for believing in expanding the game, thank you for giving Qatar a chance. We will not let you down. You will be proud of us; you will be proud of the Middle East and I promise you this."

Within a fortnight, Blatter said any gay fans planning on travelling to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, should "refrain from sexual activity". He faced a swift backlash for that remark, which was supposedly made in jest.

He added: "I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years."

That sounded almost like a polite way of saying "not my problem", and as the FIFA gravy train soon hit the rails, with widespread corruption being exposed, the World Cup was indeed taken out of Blatter's hands.

Where then do we stand, with 12 months to go? Is this really a World Cup at the wrong time, in the wrong place?

Stats Perform has looked at the state of play, and the concerns that Blatter so flippantly dismissed continue to linger. Others have since sprung up and remain active worries; but at the same time, perhaps there is still cause for a little cautious optimism.

 


Can Qatar now be considered a fit and proper host for a World Cup?

May Romanos is a Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, the human rights organisation. She hails from Lebanon and lives in London.

When Qatar was handed the rights to the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty jumped at the chance to turn the spotlight on human rights concerns in the country and lobby for positive change that might spread throughout the Middle East. Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the tournament, according to a Guardian investigation. Amnesty says that around 70 per cent of those deaths have not been satisfactorily explained.

Romanos says Amnesty harboured worries about "major labour abuse and exploitation".

It is not known exactly how many of those who have died were involved in the World Cup building project, given that over 90 per cent of Qatar's workforce are thought to be migrants, but staging the World Cup has been a major project for the country and it has been reported a significant proportion would have been involved in creating the infrastructure for the event.

These are the workers who built the stadiums, the roads and the hotels. Amnesty has been pushing for these workers to be afforded rights they could reasonably expect elsewhere in the world.

"In the first few years, the calls fell a bit on deaf ears and Qatar didn't really respond to the pressure, the criticism," Romanos told Stats Perform.

"Eventually in 2018 they signed this agreement with the International Labour Organization, which definitely indicates a higher political will to commit to reform the system and make this World Cup a driving force for change and leave a positive legacy for human rights."

Qatar has managed to introduce "important legal reforms to change the system to introduce better access to justice for migrant workers, introduced the minimum wage, [and] a mechanism to monitor the payment of wages", says Romanos.

"But what we are finding is that although the laws are there, their implementation and enforcement remain very weak, meaning that many migrant workers continue to be victim of labour abuses and exploitation."

The Qatari government has rejected claims of a spike in migrant worker deaths, stating that the mortality rate sits "within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population".

Qatar's World Cup Supreme Committee, through its Workers' Welfare legacy programme, says it is "achieving long-term tangible changes that now serve as benchmarks across the country and the region".

There have been new and improved laws introduced, directed at improving worker welfare, and Amnesty is optimistic these will make a telling difference.

"I think the political will is still there," says Romanos. "There is, I think, the need to get into action quickly and urgently because the window of opportunity is closing.

"We are 12 months away from this World Cup and I think it's very crucial that they take urgent action now to address the shortcomings and ensure the next few months will be very vital to deliver a World Cup that is not going to be tainted by labour abuses and exploitation or human rights concerns in general."


What can football do to help?

A UEFA working group visited Qatar in August, to take a first-hand look at work on the ground, amid concerns for the workers.

Gijs de Jong, general secretary of the Royal Netherlands Football Association, was among the delegation and spoke afterwards to praise Qatar's "significant positive progress with human rights legislation in the last three years", stressing he had "no doubt" this was hastened by the award of the World Cup. De Jong underlined, however, that the legislation was "not yet universally adopted".

According to Amnesty, there is a need for pressure to be applied to the Qatari authorities by all parties concerned with the World Cup.

Stats Perform pointed to the UEFA working group, and to David Beckham's reported big-money deal to be a tournament ambassador, questioning what role such figures can play in pressing for a better human rights situation.

"We want them, and we urge them, to take our concerns seriously," Romanos said. "Because they do have responsibility towards taking part in this tournament; they have responsibility to ensure their participation is not going to lead to further human rights violations.

"They have to use their leverage they have over FIFA and therefore over Qatar to push for further changes, and I think while we all agree there has been some legal progress, some of it remains ink on paper. The time is to recognise this but also to push further, to use the leverage they have to push Qatar and push FIFA to implement these reforms, so at least teams can go there confident in the knowledge their operation there is not going to lead to further human rights abuses."
 

What about the players? Won't they have enough to focus on without searching their consciences?

There is a tournament to win, and doubtless Qatar will put on a tremendous show in their space-age stadiums.

But politics will never be far from the surface, and players might be wise to at least be aware of the fundamentals of the human rights issues, which include oppression of LGBTQ+ people and discriminatory laws affecting women.

Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One superstar, used his platform ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix to highlight inequality and abuses.

"When we see a statement like this, we welcome it," said Romanos, "and we welcome players who decide to speak out about the human rights situation. We urge everyone to educate themselves and be ready to use their leverage or their voice to push for further changes.

"Obviously, the obligation of players is different to the obligation of the football association who actually have legal obligation and responsibility to ensure they use their leverage, push for change but also do their due diligence to ensure the teams they send are not going to be linked to any human rights violations.

"For the players, we would welcome and we would love to see this happening more often, using this platform, using the leverage you have to shed the light on a very important issue and ensure this World Cup will actually leave a positive legacy, or any sporting event will leave actually a positive legacy."

FIFPro, the global players' union, has already gathered together a number of footballers for discussions with the Building and Wood Workers International organisation, which has campaigned for better and more rights for those who have literally shed blood, sweat and tears for the sake of building a futuristic World Cup landscape. Players have spoken directly to such workers and this dialogue is expected to continue over the months ahead.

Although FIFPro would not take sides on such matters, it is providing the pathways for such important discourse to take place. Then it falls to the players to choose their next course of action.

FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer Hoffmann said earlier this year: "Let's not forget that, while footballers have no say in the decision to pick tournament host countries, they inevitably become the face of those events when they run onto the pitch to compete. They feel a responsibility to foster human rights in those countries."

FIFA and UEFA are among the football authorities that have allowed players to take the knee before games, in support of the Black Lives Matter anti-discrimination movement. Whether FIFA will be quite so lenient if players are actively speaking out against the Qatari authorities while at Qatar 2022 remains to be seen.

The world governing body has rules for that sort of thing, to keep politics out of football. It has financial interests to protect – sponsors, TV, supreme committees – but it is understood there are significant voices within the game that would urge FIFA to allow players to speak and express themselves freely on rights abuses next year. FIFA would also be risking global contempt by blocking such discussion. The clock is ticking for Qatar.

"This World Cup has brought the spotlight and has pushed the authorities to commit maybe at a faster pace to reform these processes. Probably they had this in mind, but the World Cup accelerated this," said Romanos.

There are countries "with equally if not even worse troubling human rights records [that] are also eyeing to host mega sporting events", Romanos added, without naming names, promising "more scrutiny" for those that get to stage such international jamborees.

"We are still hopeful," she added. "We really think that if anyone can pull this together and deliver their commitments and deliver a World Cup that will have a positive legacy, Qatar can do it."


What can fans, including LGBTQ+ fans, expect from Qatar, and should they even travel?

The comedian and football presenter Elis James spoke on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast of the quandary of wanting to follow Wales to a World Cup, but being wary of being part of a showcase event in a country where deep injustices have been called out.

He said he had "reservations about Qatar, but we haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1958, so the head and the heart are saying two very different things".

"And I actually don't like myself for being in that position," James added, "because I wish I could have more moral certainty about this."

He is far from alone, and Amnesty is not calling for anybody to boycott the tournament, although there have been others who have gone down that route. There was a strong movement in Norway calling for the national team of that country to give the tournament a miss. Ultimately, missing out on qualification meant Norway sealed their own fate in that regard, while the nation's football federation had already voted against the prospect of a boycott.

"Obviously it's a personal choice," said Romanos. "At Amnesty, our role as a human rights watchdog is to inform about the human rights situation and invite people to educate themselves before going and know what will happen there and expect what will happen."

 

Qatar is considered unlikely by many observers to impose its strictest rules on visitors during World Cup time, which may mean LGBTQ+ fans of the game will not face any persecution. Rainbow flags are expected to fly in fan zones and inside stadiums, but whether this has any influence on Qatari daily life beyond the tournament remains to be seen.

Fan power for four weeks in November and December is one thing, but changing the way of life in Qatar is likely to involve gradual shifts rather than overnight change.

"I think it’s up to the individual to decide how they want to use the platform they have to push for greater changes," Romanos said.

"As a person coming from the Middle East myself, the moment I learned that Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup I was genuinely very happy because I felt like our region deserves to be mentioned with some mega sporting event.

"We love football, but we don't have great football teams; but football is huge in the Middle East, and I felt for once it’s good for us not to be connected with terrorism, wars.

"But when you look at the human rights situation of migrant workers and the abuses that happen, you would say, okay, let's do a World Cup that we are proud of as the first World Cup in the Middle East. That's why we believe there is still this window of opportunity."

Premier League clubs are unanimously opposed to FIFA's proposal for a biennial men's World Cup.

While the idea of a World Cup every two years had been tentatively mentioned in the past, it gained traction in July when former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – now FIFA's head of global football development – publicly backed the potential change.

FIFA began carrying out a feasibility study and Wenger insisted a biennial World Cup "is what the fans want", but the proposals have been met with widespread criticism.

UEFA officials have been particularly vocal in their opposition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expressed concerns, and players and managers have largely questioned the wisdom of such an alteration to the football calendar.

The Premier League has now lent its collective voice to the conversation, denouncing FIFA's proposals – which also encompassed the extension of international windows – due to concern for player welfare and domestic football.

A Premier League statement confirmed none of the 20 Premier League clubs were in favour of a World Cup every two years, while CEO Richard Masters said: "The Premier League is committed to preventing any radical changes to the post-2024 FIFA International Match Calendar that would adversely affect player welfare and threaten the competitiveness, calendar, structures and traditions of domestic football.

"We are open to reforms and new ideas, but they must enhance the complementary balance between domestic and international football in order to improve the game at all levels.

"This process should also involve meaningful agreements with the leagues that provide the foundations for the game.

"We will continue to work with supporter groups, players, domestic and international stakeholders to find solutions that are in the best interests of football's long-term future."

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has revealed he is still open to returning to management.

Wenger has not held a coaching role since his 22-year reign with the Gunners came to an end in 2018.

The 72-year-old currently serves as FIFA's head of global football development and that role remains his priority for now.

But at the premiere of the film 'Arsene Wenger: Invincible', the Frenchman suggested he had not ruled out the possibility of returning to the dugout at some stage.

"I'm crazy, I'm crazy enough to be crazy and to make a crazy decision," Wenger said.

"But overall I would say no, I am determined at the moment not to do it.

"Maybe a national team at some stage for a term but at the moment I am involved in projects with FIFA and want to get to the end of it.

"We have just launched an academy online to give a chance to everybody in the world to develop as a football player – that is, for me, more useful now."

Wenger will be comfortable if his return to management never ends up materialising.

He added: "I made 1,235 games for Arsenal, and overall in my career 2,000 games – if I manage 10 more it will not change my life."

Wenger won three Premier League titles and the FA Cup seven times with Arsenal, who he joined after spells with Nancy, Monaco and Nagoya Grampus Eight.

His latest comments come after remarks in September where he defended the results in his final years at Arsenal and hit back at suggestions he was too old to be a manager given he remains "in good shape".

The Best FIFA Football Awards 2021 will be held as a virtual event from Zurich on January 17 next year.

FIFA's alternative to the Ballon d'Or has been held consecutively every year since 2017, with Cristiano Ronaldo scooping the first award as Best Men's Player.

Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski took that accolade for the 2020 awards and will be hoping his record-breaking efforts in the Bundesliga last season will be enough to defend that title.

Competition is likely to come from Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, who came third in 2018 and has enjoyed a remarkable start to 2021-22, while France duo Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema seem set to be in the running too. Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, of course, cannot be discounted.

The Best Men's Goalkeeper and Best Men's Coach are also up for grabs, as are the equivalent of all three awards for the women's game. 

The FIFPRO Men's and Women's XIs will also be named.

With coronavirus cases around Europe still rising, FIFA has chosen to host the event virtually, rather than have attendees present.

A FIFA statement read: "The Best incorporates the views of the four pillars of the footballing world.

"The recipients of the trophies for the top players and coaches in both women's and men's football will be determined through a combined voting process involving the captains and head coaches of all national teams around the world, an online ballot of fans and submissions from a select group of more than 300 media representatives."

Voting will commence on November 22 and close on December 10.

Former FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have been charged with fraud and other offences by Swiss authorities relating to a payment made in 2011.

Switzerland's attorney general's office (OAG) published an indictment on Tuesday following an investigation that began in 2015.

Both men "are accused of unlawfully arranging a payment of CHF2million from FIFA to Michel Platini", the OAG said.

Former FIFA president Blatter and ex-UEFA president Platini are now set to face a hearing before Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court (FCC).

The case centres on a payment made by FIFA to Platini in 2011, authorised by Blatter, which the OAG alleges "was made without a legal basis".

The indictment alleges that Platini demanded this CHF2million payment more than eight years after his work as a consultant for Blatter between 1999 and 2002 had come to an end, and that it "damaged FIFA's assets and unlawfully enriched Platini".

According to the indictment, Platini had allegedly been paid by FIFA an annual fee of CHF300,000 for his consultancy work. This amount had been agreed upon in a written contract, the indictment said.

Blatter was originally banned from footballing activities for eight years, reduced to six, by FIFA in 2015 following an Ethics Committee investigation that described the payment as "disloyal". Platini was also given an eight-year suspension.

Each man denied wrongdoing, with Blatter insisting there was a "gentleman's agreement" over the payment.

Blatter has been charged with fraud, misappropriation, criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document. Platini has been charged with fraud, participating in misappropriation, participating in criminal mismanagement and forgery of a document.

Five substitutions could become a permanent part of football following a recommendation by the International Football Association Board's (IFAB) advisory panels. 

The limit on the permitted number of substitutions was increased from three to five in May 2020 as football prepared to return following its hiatus amid the outbreak of coronavirus. 

An extension on the rule was granted last May for all top domestic and international competitions scheduled to be completed by December 2022.

However, IFAB's Football and Technical Advisory Panels (FAP-TAP) met on Wednesday and declared that competitions should be permanently able to make up to five substitutions per game.

The decision on whether to make use of the rule will fall to the individual competitions, though.

An IFAB statement read: "In May 2021, due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global football, The IFAB Board of Directors approved a further extension to the temporary amendment (introduced in May 2020) giving all top domestic and international competitions scheduled to be completed by 31 December 2022 the option of allowing teams to use up to five substitutes. 

"Following a number of requests from confederations, associations, leagues and other key stakeholders for this option to be introduced permanently in the Laws of the Game (2022-23 edition), FAP-TAP recommended that competitions should be able to decide on increasing the number of substitutes according to the needs of their football environment, while the current number of substitution opportunities (three plus half-time) should stay the same." 

Diego Simeone claims players and coaches are powerless as FIFA chiefs push for the World Cup to take place every two years.

The Atletico Madrid head coach spoke on the matter on Saturday, a day ahead of his team's clash with early LaLiga leaders Real Sociedad.

Simeone, who played at three World Cups for Argentina, says the power-brokers in the modern game are not those who are directly involved in games, but those with balance sheets as the priority.

"As much as one may comment on the proposed situation, the final decision is not for the players or the coaches," he said.

"I put myself in the position of a player of mine; I would always go to play with my national team, it is difficult to say 'no' to him.

"People who have to make decisions manage badly in the eyes of the players, they are getting worse and worse. But I am not going to put myself in something that cannot be changed.

"We can complain, express anger, protest, but television rules, money rules, clubs grow, clubs need money, national teams need money.

"We are in the middle, we can protest, complain, but life is like that for everyone."

FIFA head of global development Arsene Wenger is leading the push for more World Cups in both the men's and women's games, but there has been major pushback from UEFA and CONMEBOL, the European and South American confederations, plus players' union umbrella group FIFPRO.

A number of coaches and players, on an individual basis, have also criticised the plans.

Simeone can see why switching the World Cup from a tournament that takes place every four years could hold appeal, purely on the premise it represents the peak of a player's career.

"As a player I would have liked to play a World Cup every year. That's normal," he added. "As a coach we obviously prefer to have the players."

Gianni Infantino hinted FIFA is prepared to dial back on plans for a biennial World Cup and says hosting its premier international tournament in a single nation is a "thing of the past".

FIFA, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, had been promoting the idea to change the World Cup format and proposed the tournament takes place every two years.

Wenger's proposal would see a major tournament held every year, however, UEFA and CONMEBOL quickly retaliated, vocally opposing the plans and expressing scheduling concerns.

Speaking after a FIFA council meeting, president Infantino announced he would convene with football's governing bodies on December 20 to debate any potential football calendar reforms once again.

However, Infantino refused to commit to holding a vote on any of the proposals as he suggested the divisive plan would have to benefit all stakeholders.

"We have to see how we can approach the different opinions of different parties," Infantino told reporters on Wednesday. 

"We need to look at sporting and economic merits, then we can have a reasoned discussion about World Cups and perhaps other competitions. 

"I do not know what the outcome will be. We will continue with the objective of reaching a consensus with solutions that work for everyone's benefit. 

"By hosting a global summit later this year, we will now have the opportunity to present one plan and to provide feedback to all our FIFA member associations."

The 2026 World Cup is set to be hosted by Mexico, Canada and the United States, and Infantino also revealed his preference for multi-nation bids hosted by a continent, as opposed to a single country.

When asked about the possibility of South Americans co-hosting the 2030 edition, Infantino responded: "The World Cup is the biggest competition, the biggest event on earth, and several countries would like to organise a World Cup. 

"I myself as FIFA President am very interested to hear the continent is interested in hosting the World Cup, there is so much passion in South America for football. Everybody would like to see a new World Cup in South America.

"You mentioned Brazil, and I think that World Cups held in one single country are probably a thing of the past.

"I think probably we'll see more World Cups held by two or three different countries. If we do so, every region in the world can not only dream, but really plan to organise a World Cup."

The Club World Cup will be held in the United Arab Emirates in early 2022, FIFA has confirmed.

The annual tournament featuring the champions of six global confederations, along with the hosts' national champions, was originally scheduled for Japan in 2021.

The Japan Football Association (JFA) were preparing to stage the competition for the first time in five years, but a rise in coronavirus cases in the country led to questions as to whether hosting would be profitable.

The JFA subsequently pulled out following discussions with FIFA in September, with president Gianni Infantino announcing on Wednesday that the UAE - who have staged the tournament four times before - will instead play host to the tournament.

The exact dates of the rearranged Club World Cup are still to be announced, though FIFA indicated the competition will be staged in 2022, with Champions League winners Chelsea set to feature.

Thomas Tuchel's Blues will face Egyptian side Al Ahly and New Zealand's Auckland City, who are part of a 10-team roster for FIFA's showpiece club event.

FIFA, in 2020, had already selected Japan as host for the seven-club event after an expanded 24-team tournament - originally scheduled for China in June 2021 - was delayed due to coronavirus issues.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants discussions to be held over FIFA's plan to stage the men's World Cup every two years instead of four. 

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been travelling across the globe in a bid to drum up support for making the World Cup a biennial competition. 

The proposal, which is set to be voted on in December, has been met with criticism from federations at a continental and national level, as well as players' and supporters' unions. 

The IOC suggested it is simply a money-spinning exercise for FIFA and said it shared concerns raised about the impact on other sports, gender equality and player welfare. 

An IOC statement read: "A number of international federations (IFs) of other sports, national football federations, clubs, players, players associations and coaches have expressed strong reservations and concerns regarding the plans to generate more revenue for FIFA, mainly for the following reasons: 

"The increased frequency and timing for the World Cup would create a clash with other major international sports. This includes tennis, cycling, golf, gymnastics, swimming, athletics, Formula 1 and many others. This would undermine the diversity and development of sports other than football. 

"The increase in men's events in the calendar would create challenges for the further promotion of women's football. 

"The plans ... would create a further massive strain on the physical and mental health of the players." 

The release continued: "The IOC shares these concerns and supports the calls of stakeholders of football, international sports federations and major event organisers for a wider consultation, including with athletes' representatives, which has obviously not taken place." 

Fabinho revealed he and Alisson are set to miss Liverpool's Premier League clash with Watford due to international commitments with Brazil.

The Reds duo were part of Tite's squad for October's World Cup qualifying fixtures against Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay, the latter of which will be played in the early hours of Friday morning in United Kingdom time.

Fabinho believes they will not have time to return from South America in time for Saturday when Liverpool face the Hornets in the league for the first time since losing 3-0 in February 2020, a result that ended their 44-game unbeaten run in the top flight.

"I believe that this first match against Watford, it will be very hard for us," he told reporters in Brazil. "I don't think we'll play. Neither Alisson nor myself.

"The match against Uruguay will be Friday overnight there [in the UK] and the match against Watford is at 12:30pm [BST on Saturday].

"With all of what is involved with travel, I don't know how much time we'll have between one game and the other. I believe that we won't be playing."

Fortunately for manager Jurgen Klopp, Tite opted to leave Roberto Firmino out of the Selecao squad, meaning he will be available for the trip to Vicarage Road as Liverpool look to make it 18 league games unbeaten.

Fabinho also revealed the club are considering flying him, along with Alisson, straight to Spain for their Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to avoid the 10-day quarantine on their return to England.

"We will also need to quarantine, but the club is still studying whether it is better to go straight to Spain to play against Atletico and quarantine there, without staying in a hotel in England," he continued.

Similar issues occurred in the previous international break, with Brazil calling for a domestic ban for their absent players when Premier League clubs agreed not to let them travel for matches amid concerns about the need to quarantine when they returned.

However, FIFA eventually confirmed South American stars could feature following September's internationals.

UEFA has set out plans for Euro 2028, despite ongoing talk of the World Cup being moved to the same year as part of contentious plans.

FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger is pushing for a revamp of the international football calendar that would see the global tournament staged every other year.

European football governing body UEFA has strongly opposed the idea, which would lead to its own showpiece international tournament played in 'odd' years from 2025.

Should the plans get the go ahead, the first of FIFA's biennial World Cups would be held in 2028.

However, UEFA is expecting the European Championship finals to be held in seven years' time as originally planned, with the bidding process being laid out on Tuesday.

Any countries interested in hosting the tournament have until March 2022 to declare their interest, with the winning bid to be announced in September 2023

UEFA will welcome single or joint bids for the competition, which will once again feature 24 teams.

Germany will solely host the 2024 competition after seeing off Turkey in the voting process.

England manager Gareth Southgate is unconvinced by the idea of having the World Cup every two years, questioning the feasibility of continuously adding to the football calendar.

The idea of a biennial World Cup had been floated in the past, but in recent months it seems to have become a much more likely next step for the competition.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger publicly backed the idea back in July and, as FIFA's head of global football development, the Frenchman has argued a revamp of the international football calendar is both "what the fans want" and a necessity for the improvement of player wellbeing.

FIFA has been carrying out a feasibility study on the prospect of a World Cup every two years and last month held an online summit to discuss plans.

But FIFA's Wenger-backed proposals have been met with antipathy from many key stakeholders, such as confederations, officials, leagues, players and clubs.

UEFA has been particularly scathing in its response to the idea, with president Aleksander Ceferin openly in opposition and vice-president Zbigniew Boniek rather callously questioning the mental sanity of such a proposal.

Southgate was less forthright but still expressed a hint of disagreement.

"I don't know how far things have progressed. There seemed to be a lot of things not in the original proposal I was shown; it is hard to keep track," he told reporters on Monday ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Hungary.

"We all want high-level games; the Nations League showed the quality and that is exactly what we want to be involved in, but you can't just keep adding to the calendar."

England midfielder Mason Mount was in attendance with Southgate and agreed with the idea that players should be consulted when such proposals are being drawn up, though he seemed to be open to playing a major tournament every year.

"I'd love that, but after the Euros and everything we went through, it [recovering mentally] probably did take longer than anything else," he said.

"You reflect on how it went – it was obviously such a big heartbreak to go all the way then fall at the last hurdle was difficult."

On player consultation, he added: "To have the players' input would be positive, I think.

"We want to play in as many top tournaments and games as possible, we want to be involved. To speak to us would be positive and help shape the future."

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised UEFA and FIFA for their attitude towards player welfare due to the number of fixtures being crammed into the calendar.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the back of his national side's 2-1 loss to Italy in the Nations League third-place play-off on Sunday.

Both teams rested a number of players for the match at the Allianz Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard absent for Belgium due to muscular problems.

Courtois also played a full part in the semi-final defeat to France three days earlier and has questioned why his side had to face Italy in what he felt was a meaningless match.

"This game is just a money game and we have to be honest about it," he said in his post-match interview. "We just play it because for UEFA it's extra money.

"Look at how much both teams changed [line-ups]. If both teams would have been in the final, there would have been other players in the final playing.

"This just shows that we play too many games."

The international calendar is potentially facing further changes, with a biennial World Cup being proposed by FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger.

UEFA has already made clear it is against the plans and Courtois has added his name to a growing list of dissenters.

"They [UEFA] made an extra trophy [the Europa Conference League]… it is always the same," he said.

"They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League, but they don't care about the players, they just care about their pockets.

"It's a bad thing that players are not spoken about. And now you hear about a European Championship and a World Cup every year, when will we get a rest? Never."

Courtois added: "In the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It's something that should be much better and much more taken care of.

"We are not robots! It's just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us.

"Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play until the latter stages of June again. We will get injured! Nobody cares about the players anymore.

"Three weeks of holiday is not enough for players to be able to continue for 12 months at the highest level. If we never say anything it [will be] always the same."

UEFA's chief of football Zvonimir Boban said those in the game must fight FIFA's proposal to stage the World Cup every two years because if it succeeds it would "hurt everybody." 

FIFA held an online summit last month to discuss moving World Cups from occurring every four years to every two, which has already been met by strong opposition within UEFA.

Former Milan and Croatia star Boban said the idea was "even worse than the Super League," which was foiled earlier this year by wide-ranging public backlash from fans and European clubs.

"Every normal person who understand and respect football, cannot accept the biennial World Cup idea," Boban said via Gazzetta dello Sport. "You would cancel 100 years of history of the World Cup, the best competition in the world.

"Football cannot be revolutionised unilaterally without a good consultation with all the parts involved and ordering other institutions to do other things: UEFA must organise Euro every two years, domestic league must cut the number of teams, this and that.

"The most absurd thing, even if probably clubs don’t realise it yet, is the two windows for international breaks. Three games in a row and a player is dead. Two games you can recover, three not. Travels don’t hurt footballers, too many games in a row do."

While several UEFA officials have spoken out against the plan, Boban's opposition is notable given his ties to FIFA president Gianni Infantino. 

Boban worked as FIFA's Deputy Secretary-General from 2016 to 2019. 

"It is such an absurdity that I could never imagine that could come from a president I still love after working with him for three years or from a football person like [Arsene] Wenger," he said. "This is idea is so crazy that we really have to fight against it because it would hurt everybody."

Boban said UEFA would never propose holding the Euros every two years, "even if it meant more money". 

"It would be bad for players, leagues, clubs as well as for the appeal of competitions," he added. "It does not respect anybody. It would destroy football's institutions together with the footballing pyramid that was built thanks to decades of work."

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