FIFA Politics A New Challenge For Ellis Over Biennial WCups

Fifa Politics A New Challenge For Ellis Over Biennial Wcups

LONDON (AP) — Since capping three decades of coaching by a second World Cup with the American women, Jill Ellis…

LONDON (AP) — Since Jill Ellis concluded three decades of coaching by winning a second U.S. women’s World Cup, Jill Ellis has taken time to reflect and take a different path, with new career challenges.

“I’m not saying I’d never be on the sidelines again,” Ellis said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I feel a greater purpose.”

Advice given by the head of a university sports project — “be a voice, be visible, build a community” — led Ellis to assume the role of chairman of an expansion team of the National Women’s Soccer League, with the San Diego Wave following year debuts. Ellis also accepted a leadership role from FIFA to explore a transformation of the women’s game.

At the heart of that project is the idea of ​​doubling the frequency of World Cups – playing the finals of each event every two years. It was a vision that first emerged during the 2019 tournament in France, when Ellis won her second title, with little immediate contradiction.

But resistance has mounted, driven by concerns in men’s football, with European officials complaining about limited consultations before FIFA’s head of global football development Arsene Wenger unveiled potential new men’s calendars for biennial World Cups.

“I hope the people in women’s football are not influenced by the decisions of the men,” Ellis said after a meeting in London of the FIFA technical advisory group she leads. “My hope is that we don’t see the politics of it on the men’s side, we look at what’s actually best for our game.”

UEFA, the governing body that oversees European football, has even threatened to boycott World Cups if FIFA gains more support to restructure the sport.

“Now let’s put politics aside and look at what actually affects and changes lives,” Ellis said. “What is really going to make our sport grow? And I think my job is not to look at it with one region, but to look at it all over the world.”

Concepts for biennial World Cups for men and women have become intertwined despite differences.

Wenger plans to reduce the number of windows for international competitions from five to two annually. But Ellis is exploring cutting out just one period set aside for international competitions to leave five windows, highlighting the different needs of the women’s game with far fewer, well-equipped domestic leagues.

“So many countries around the world don’t have organized (women’s) competitions and infrastructure, so the touchpoint is the national team,” Ellis said. “The international tournaments and the national teams are still the biggest motivation for women’s football.”

That’s why, after her first World Cup win in 2015, Ellis convinced the American Football Federation to create their own tournament, with the She Believes Cup starting in 2016.

“One of the things I looked at is the four-year footprint between World Cups, and we have one big event and that was the Olympics,” Ellis said. “And how was I supposed to get my players used to the idea of ​​competing and being on the podium? And so I went to my bosses and said, ‘We have to create a tournament other than just a friendly match where I control playing time, minutes and points. So it prepares me for a world championship, but it also prepares our players to manage the rhythm of a tournament.’”

This is especially necessary when World Cup qualification is such a breeze for teams like the United States.

Flooding opponents is a hallmark of qualifying in Europe, with few competitive matches for the elite, highlighted by England scoring 32 goals without response in the first four games en route to the 2023 tournament.

“It’s not just about a biennial World Cup,” Ellis said. “We’re looking at creating a reworked path for qualifiers so you don’t see the scores you’ve seen most recently here in Europe. No one benefits if it’s 10-0 anyway. It doesn’t grow our sport.”

While consulting around the world, Ellis also points out that Hong Kong is out of the fray after playing two qualifiers.

“Football in their country could come to a standstill,” Ellis said. “How can we create more events, more opportunities for a country to continue to develop? Are they now moving onto a path to maybe another event, another tournament?”

But leading women’s leagues – including in England, Germany and Italy – say more World Cups would hurt their growth by saturating sponsorship opportunities and argue the calendar won’t fit any other tournament. However, England created their own four-team tournament in February ahead of hosting the European Championship in July.

“What becomes a challenge is that people become very territorial about their own patch of landscape,” Ellis said. “My job is to try to say, ‘Hey, there’s plenty of scenery for all of us, but let’s see how we can grow the game.’ If the game grows globally, I think everyone wins.”

However, Ellis must also overcome opposition from the International Olympic Committee, which is concerned about pressure on players’ welfare, additional men’s tournaments overshadowing women’s events and clashes with other sports trying to avoid being overshadowed by football.

“We’re not central enough,” Ellis said. ‘We are not enough on television. So putting us out there more isn’t about cannibalizing each other. It’s about trying to make room for women’s sports, period.”

FIFA’s endgame is uncertain with a vote on biannual World Cups no longer scheduled for December.

“Now let’s put politics aside and look at what actually affects and changes lives,” Ellis said. “What is really going to make our sport grow? And I think my job is not to look at it with one region, but to look around the world.”

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