FIFA Says Saudi State Funds Won’t Pay for New Tournaments

FIFA Says Saudi State Funds Won’t Pay for New Tournaments

KIGALI, Rwanda — FIFA moved to quell months of speculation that Saudi Arabia would invest billions in two new soccer tournaments by writing to its board to say that any possible deal will not include cash from state-owned investment funds.

The claim is detailed in a lengthy document sent to members of FIFA’s governing council before a key meeting here on Friday. Gianni Infantino — amid opposition from European soccer leaders — will ask members to back his contentious plans for a World Cup for clubs and a new league for nations.

The meeting could be explosive, with European officials threatening to walk out before a vote can be taken. Infantino angered many in the game by asking the FIFA Council to allow him to make a multibillion-dollar agreement with a fund whose identity he declined to identify. They refused his request, demanding more information.

Since then, The New York Times has obtained documents that show the offer was made by a Japanese conglomerate, SoftBank, a company that has partnered with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to create the world’s largest technology investment fund. The offer came as Saudi Arabia moved to invest in sports as part of a plan to diversify its economy beyond oil. Saudi sports officials have declined to say whether they are part of the offer to FIFA, and SoftBank has not commented.

Infantino has been particularly focused on Saudi Arabia over the past year, visiting three times. He also met with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

“FIFA would not enter into a joint venture for this purpose whether directly or indirectly with sovereign wealth fund of individual states,” FIFA said in a consultation paper.

In recent weeks the organization has also been privately saying that the links between the SoftBank-led offer and Saudi Arabia are not as strong as has been reported. That effort has grown since grisly details emerged about the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Turkey earlier this month.

FIFA did not say who is financing the offer, though officials had privately said as long ago as April that it was backed by Middle Eastern, Chinese and American money.

Infantino declined to rule out Saudi investment when he met with reporters in June. “Whoever invests in sport generally I think is welcome provided we do the things in an appropriate way,” he said.

Finances are just one part of the problem. Soccer politics is also writ large over the discussions.

While FIFA owns the World Cup, UEFA is considerably richer thanks to its control of the Champions League. UEFA collects $15 billion in revenue over a four-year cycle, or almost three times what FIFA brings in during the same time.

A new Club World Cup and the national-team league could be a major improvement on FIFA’s other men’s events outside of the World Cup. Under the proposals, the little-loved Confederations Cup, a World Cup warm up, would be scrapped, as would the current Club World Cup, an annual tournament in December.

At Friday’s meeting, council members will be asked to choose between two options for the new Club World Cup, should they agree to scrap the current tournament. One is the plan for an expanded quadrennial event, and another is for it to be played annually during the summer.

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