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FIFA to expand US$25b soccer vision with more clubs

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino is weighing inviting as many as 36 teams to participate in a new Club World Cup as the head of global soccer's governing body seeks to secure more support for a plan to inject US$25 billion into the sport.

[LONDON] FIFA President Gianni Infantino is weighing inviting as many as 36 teams to participate in a new Club World Cup as the head of global soccer's governing body seeks to secure more support for a plan to inject US$25 billion into the sport, according to a person familiar with the proposals.

Mr Infantino is working with London-based asset manager Centricus to find corporate investors to back two new tournaments, one for clubs and another for national soccer teams, the person said, declining to be identified as the deliberations are confidential. He is set to offer an update on the proposal to the body's council members on Sunday in Moscow, before the World Cup matches begin.

Plans for the two tournaments are currently fluid, and no final decisions have been made on the formats or the investors who may participate, the person said. Representatives for Centricus declined to comment, while a FIFA spokesman didn't immediately respond to questions beyond pointing to an agenda for the weekend's council meeting.

Widening participation from the 24-club tournament first envisaged may help Infantino win more support for the investment plan, which was initially backed by a consortium of investors including billionaire Masayoshi Son's SoftBank Group Corp. The proposed overhaul, which would reshape global soccer, has come under fire in recent weeks from some quarters who are concerned about a variety of issues including a lack of information on the sources of funding.

SoftBank is interested in underwriting the entire US$25 billion investment plan, but no agreement has been reached yet, the person said. FIFA is consulting with its federations and council members in order to find the right format and the source of the financing, the person said. A representative for SoftBank declined to comment.

Mr Infantino plans to tap companies and hedge funds for financing while excluding sovereign wealth funds, the person said, which may also help alleviate concern about any wealthy nations winning undue influence over the sport.

Under the current plan that's being evaluated, FIFA would receive US$3 billion from the investor group for each club competition - compared with US$37 million from the existing seven-club tournament - and $2 billion for each international event in a new Nations League, the person said. If the profits exceed projections, any surplus would be shared with the investors, according to the person. The investor consortium would own 49 per cent of a separate new entity that would organize the two tournaments, the person said.

FIFA, which would own the rest of the joint venture, would continue to be solely in charge of governance as well as arranging the World Cup every four years and its other tournaments, the person said.

Potential investors identified by Centricus are being screened by Mr Infantino, the person said. The UK investment firm, which manages more than US$20 billion in assets focused on private equity and also offers advisory services, raised funds for SoftBank's almost US$100 billion Vision Fund, according to its website.

The FIFA council has also approved plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from the current 32, starting with the competition scheduled to be held in 2026, the body said in January.

The FIFA president has been criticized in recent months from groups including the Union of European Football Associations, which governs the sport in the region, as well as the World Leagues Forum and the Professional Football Strategy Council, which includes representatives from soccer clubs, leagues, players and the UEFA, for not disclosing enough information about the investment plan and for pulling it together too quickly.

Some clubs were initially told they could earn as much as US$100 million from participating in each tournament, though they may receive less if the group is widened, the person said.

"The possibility of increasing the number of teams would make it more attractive in persuading stakeholders to back the competition," said Trevor Watkins, global head of sports at law-firm Pinsent Masons LLP.

While Mr Infantino originally told FIFA council members that there was a deadline for their vote on the investment proposal as one of the investors wanted a quick decision, the timeframe has now been relaxed, the person said.

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