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27-02-15


By Mitch Phillips
LONDON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Europe's leading soccer leagues, flush from spiralling TV deals and inflated to bursting by their own importance, found this week that, for all its recent problems, FIFA at least recognises the literal meaning of the World Cup.

Tuesday's recommendation by a task force of soccer's world governing body to hold the 2022 Qatar World Cup outside of the European summer for the first time brought about the predictable European wailing about "disruption" and "tradition."

It also led to an immediate demand by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the European Clubs' Association, for compensation for his members being forced to release their players during the season for the first time.

This plea came two weeks after the English Premier League secured a TV rights deal worth five billion pounds ($7.75 billion) over three years from 2016 with no indication that the next deal will be anything other than similarly lucrative.

Rummenigge's request was given short-shrift by FIFA's secretary general Jerome Valcke on Wednesday, who, somewhat exasperated by the carping, said: "There will be no compensation. Why should we apologise?

"It's happening once, we're not destroying football."

Valcke gently reminded journalists in Doha following a meeting of a FIFA task force that leagues around the world would have seven years to come up with a plan to make space for a shortened 28-day tournament in November/December.

Many of those leagues already incorporate winter breaks in their schedule.

GLOBAL EVENT

As for compensation, Valcke pointed out that clubs already benefited -- to the tune of 70 million pounds -- from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

As a final reminder that the clue is in the name, Valcke said: "Most confederations say they want the World Cup to end on 23 December."

That is the nub of the matter. While the leagues of England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France provide the bulk of the players at any World Cup, the tournament is a global event.

It is THE global event -- and it does not belong to Europe.

For the first 68 years of their existence, World Cup tournaments went back and forth between Europe and the Americas until Japan/South Korea broke the monopoly in 2002.

Africa finally got a taste of the action at South Africa 2010 while Qatar 2022 will be the first Middle East host.

For one precious month every four years, billions of TV viewers in every country tune in as one to watch. They do in June and they will in November.

WORLD EXPOSURE

The vast majority will never have heard of a single soccer administrator but they will know Lionel Messi -- and the Argentine forward's club Barcelona gain untold benefits from that exposure.

Similarly, would Real Madrid supporters have turned out in their thousands to welcome new signing James Rodriguez if they had not seen him score the best goal of the 2014 World Cup for Colombia?

Would Juan "Cuadrado" shirts have leapt off the shelves of the Chelsea superstore, had the Colombian winger not caught their eye with his incisive wing play in Brazil?

How much of a boost did grass roots and club soccer in the United States and Australia gain on the back of their national teams' impressive World Cup displays last year?

Even the major European nations feel the benefit of a post-World Cup audience, as fans look for their next soccer fix once they have digested the tournament.

As for the disruption, is it really beyond the wit of organisers of the richest leagues in the world, with seven years to work with, to come up with a plan to adjust their current seasonal dates to accommodate one winter World Cup?

Yes, England's unique tradition of a Christmas and New Year fixture feast might have to be ditched for a season but Premier League managers been complaining about the programme for years?

Should the date of a tournament watched by fans in more than 200 countries be dictated by the preference of one league for a seasonal feast, even if it is the most valuable and popular?

"It's difficult to see how a winter World Cup would negatively impact the values of domestic leagues," sports rights expert Julian Moore of Pinsent Masons law firm told Reuters.

"Several European leagues break anyway for winter, and in England I can't see why a mid-season break should hurt provided the World Cup ends before the traditional English festive football period begins."

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