By ROB HARRIS
LONDON (AP) — FIFA plans to postpone the Club World Cup until early next year due to hosting challenges linked to the pandemic, people familiar with the planning said.
Coronavirus restrictions led to Japan withdrawing from staging the seven-team tournament this December, and South Africa then abandoned a bid due to the need to get more of the country vaccinated.
FIFA is now exploring staging the event in January or February, the people told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing talks.
Qatar is an option — like in February when Bayern Munich won the delayed 2020 edition in Doha — to help the Gulf nation test venues for the men’s national teams’ World Cup that starts in November 2022.
FIFA is already due to stage the Arab Cup competition in December in Qatar as part of World Cup preparations. The Club World Cup could attract a more global fanbase, with Chelsea qualified as Champions League winners. It will disrupt a Premier League weekend for the west London club, as would have been the case if the tournament was contested as planned in December.
An extended 24-team Club World Cup was due to debut this year in China but it was shelved because the pandemic required the rescheduling of national team competitions in June and FIFA was unable to raise the necessary funding for the planned quadrennial event. So the seven-team format was extended for another year, with the six continental club champions joining the domestic league winner from the host nation.
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell celebrates after scoring his side’s third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)