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Jerry's World

Contiguglia’s support of biennial World Cup will hurt American soccer.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, January 25, 1999) -- One has to think the main motivation for United States Soccer Federation president Robert Contiguglia's support of the misguided FIFA proposal to have the World Cup every two years, rather than the present four, is to curry favor from the world soccer governing body.

There is no other reasonable explanation.

Hopefully, this is just posturing by all parties involved, and there is no serious inclination to double the number of World Cups. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the world governing body, is engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle with European club powers as well as the International Olympic Committee on issues regarding the primacy of this revered quadrennial event, and he has to show his muscle. We have no problem with this, for now.

Some clubs want to form a super, super league that would transcend the present expanded European Champions League -- which itself is threatening to overshadow various countries' regular leagues -- and perhaps some day be so rich that participating players would forego even the World Cup. The IOC wants to boost soccer at the Olympics by eliminating the under-23 age restrictions (with three exceptions), would could lead to a "World Cup" every two years in everything except name.

FIFA obviously doesn't want to lose control of the world's most popular sporting event. Hence, the Blatter proposal.

He doesn't want the risk the possibility of star players boycotting the World Cup. And he doesn't see why FIFA should, in effect, share the World Cup with the Olympics.

Let's make our position clear: we don't want players boycotting the World Cup, and we don't want a World Cup every two years. If Blatter's threat somehow accomplishes this, fine. U.S. Soccer long has been in his corner, backing him in the FIFA presidential election last year. But Contiguglia's public support of doubling the number of World Cups is stunning.

No country would be hurt more by this than the United States, which would see its embryonic Major League Soccer, playing a primarily summer schedule, interrupted every year and have no chance of becoming a first-class league.

Money is at the heart of this, not advancement of the sport. Top players already have too many games when league contests, special tournaments, and national team matches are added together. Between the World Cups, furthermore, are continent-wide championships around the world.

For the last couple years Ronaldo was the posterboy for world soccer. He's now a part-time player, slowed by injuries many feel were brought on by overwork and overexposure. He is 22 years old.

Think of the injuries and the pressure with a World Cup and preparation for it every two years. The rich European clubs are not satisfied with the European Champions League, which in itself detracts from the prestigious English Premier League, the Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga, and Spanish First Division.

They want more, and nothing will stand in their way -- even the World Cup, some critics say. If the International Olympic Committee had its way, there would be no age restrictions for the soccer -- and de facto there would be a World Cup every two years, one under the FIFA auspices, the other under IOC's.

The FIFA compromise is three exceptions to its under-23 age limit. We'd be happy with no exceptions. Why are they needed? The calibre of play for all-under-23s would be just as good. They would be the core of the participant's next World Cup team.

Contiguglia said the desire for the United States to again host the World Cup in 2010 or 2014 was a major factor in his support for added World Cups. The event again doubtless would be popular, but it wouldn't help the growth of U.S. soccer if Major League Soccer was in disarray as a result. Just the opposite.

Blatter has been good for the development of soccer with his rules proposals in recent years, and may go down in history as one of the sport's great advocates. But not if his two-year World Cup proposal is anything but a negotiating ploy.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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