The year 2006 was a hectic one for international football. 804 international matches in the men’s game proved, once again, that national teams are a major draw, not only at 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in Germany, but also at other competitions such as the African Cup of Nations, for example.
At the same time, there was also less commotion surrounding the release of players for international matches. That was certainly a step in the right direction, and one that would not have been possible without the coordinated international match calendar, which, ever since its adoption at the FIFA Congress in Zurich in 2000, has been continually updated, enhanced and adapted to meet the needs of all concerned. The pre-World Cup rest and preparation period that FIFA introduced at the end of 2004 upon the recommendation of our Football Committee has also been widely accepted, with people recognizing that it helped to ensure that the players were in good shape at the FIFA World Cup TM.
Women’s football, meanwhile, also set new records with 448 international matches in 2006 and 134 associations now active in the game. A number of scheduling problems did, however remind us that we will have to keep a close eye on developments in this area, but various additions to the calendar should help us to avoid the problems that the men’s game experienced just a few years ago.
One issue still remains unanswered though – where, when and how often should football be played? In many areas of the world, traditions, the climate, the media and financial considerations are often crucial factors. Clubs and leagues try to gain the best possible position for themselves within their own area while also trying to strengthen or even improve their position within the football pyramid.
That may well be understandable and, to a certain extent, it may also be a legitimate aim as the clubs are the lifeblood of football, the foundations of our entire game. On the other hand, even though it may be a legitimate aim, it does not mean that their demands should be accepted to the detriment of the other members of the football family.
The Working Group for Competitions of the FIFA Task Force “For the Good of the Game” has been discussing these divergent interests for some time. Fortunately, we are now seeing signs, albeit relatively small ones, of reconciliation. All members of the football family are taking part in these discussions, so it is obviously easier to listen to the various points of view and to find common ground.
Looking ahead to the preliminary competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM, we can once again expect new records to be set in international football. Even so, we have to ensure that the qualifiers are arranged in accordance with the coordinated international match calendar. At the same time, however, the leagues and clubs need to take time to reconsider their own demands and competitions. After all, football will only be able to progress if we all show solidarity and mutual respect for each other.