Liam Morgan

Reading between the lines is particularly important when it comes to a Thomas Bach press conference.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, like dozens of other sports and political figures, is well-versed in the art of saying a lot without actually saying anything.

Cutting through the usual bluster and bombast that has become synonymous with Bach’s dealings with the media, you can tell he and the organisation itself are not the biggest fans of FIFA’s proposal to hold its World Cup every two years instead of four.

Speaking after the latest remote meeting of the Executive Board yesterday, Bach gave several hints that the IOC was opposed to the widely criticised move.

Bach said the IOC was "closely monitoring the discussions" and claimed he did not want to "put fuel to the fire" of the debate happening within football, before adding: "The consequences or potential consequences are becoming clearer day by day thanks to the discussion within FIFA and in particular through the contributions of Continental Associations."

On the discussions, a smiling Bach said the IOC "finds them very interesting". One such Continental Association - UEFA - has been vehemently against and its President Aleksander Čeferin today warned of a possible European boycott of the World Cup if the plan is pushed through in an interview with British newspaper The Times.

It is no great surprise the IOC seems to be in the against camp, with the likes of UEFA and the World Leagues Forum, when it comes to plans that have sparked controversy ever since they were first raised publicly in May.

IOC President Thomas Bach suggested the organisation was opposed to FIFA's biennial World Cup plan ©IOC
IOC President Thomas Bach suggested the organisation was opposed to FIFA's biennial World Cup plan ©IOC

A two-year cycle for the World Cup, if it began after the 2026 tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada, could bring FIFA’s flagship, behemoth product in direct conflict with the Olympic Games.

Los Angeles is due to stage the Games in 2028, before the Olympic circus rolls on to Brisbane four years later.

Let us not forget the Games themselves are an event the IOC protects to such an extent that it suspended a country for not sending a team to this year’s Olympics in Tokyo, so any challenge to this was always going to be dismissed out of hand.

While some will argue it is possible to stage both events in quick succession - you could have the World Cup in June/July, with the Olympics following in July/August - it would only add to the quite frankly ludicrous schedule for footballers worldwide.

There is the well documented case of Pedri, for example, who played a full season for Barcelona, before featuring for Spain at both the postponed UEFA European Championship and then the Olympics in Tokyo.

FIFA's motivation behind the idea is also clear - money. FIFA believes another World Cup equals more revenue, which would then be distributed to Football Associations across the world - the same organisations whose support Gianni Infantino needs to secure re-election.

More generally, I wonder whether the World Cup move indicates FIFA is thinking of reducing its involvement in the Olympics.

The Olympic men's football tournament does not seem to be high on FIFA's list of priorities ©Getty Images
The Olympic men's football tournament does not seem to be high on FIFA's list of priorities ©Getty Images

The relationship between football and the Olympics seems one of obligation. It feels as though a football tournament must be at the Games for no other reason than that, and that the men’s competition - the women’s football tournament clearly matters more - adds little value to the event.

Before anyone says "tell that to the Brazilians": Brazil and football go hand in hand, and their victory at Rio 2016 transcended football itself, so I think that is an anomaly.

FIFA must know a World Cup every two years could have clashed with the Games and would potentially further reduce the need for Olympic men's football. A move to odd-numbered years from 2029, as is most likely if the preposterous idea becomes reality, could also have caused all sorts of issues for qualification and general player welfare.

It appears FIFA has not had any direct consultation with the IOC on the proposals thus far.

The IOC would also have its reasons for reconsidering men’s football’s place at the Games.

Without men’s football, there would be space for the hip, youth-orientated sports the IOC is desperate to add to the Olympic programme and to give additional spots to those new sports who were squeezed into Tokyo 2020.

There were 288 athletes in the men's football event in Tokyo. Sport climbing, which made its Olympic debut in the Japanese capital, for example had 40 athletes across both of its men’s and women’s combined disciplines.

Not only that, but FIFA, one of the richest sports bodies on the planet, pocketed a roughly $25 million (£18 million/€21 million) share from the broadcasting revenue from Rio 2016. That is a drop in the ocean for world football’s governing body but would be a huge sum for most of the other sports at the Games.

Put simply, I doubt there would be too many complaints among FIFA and other officials if men’s football was not in the Olympics at all.

The relationship between IOC President Thomas Bach and FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino will be one to watch in the coming years ©Getty Images
The relationship between IOC President Thomas Bach and FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino will be one to watch in the coming years ©Getty Images

The World Cup debate also adds a layer of intrigue to the Bach-Infantino axis, one which has not always been smooth. After all, Infantino may feel aggrieved about being made to wait before joining the IOC, with his election as a member coming more than six months after he retained his place at the helm of FIFA.

Bach and Infantino are believed to have little more than a business-like relationship, not uncommon considering their respective status in the sporting world.

There is undoubtedly a mutual weariness too, where each is always keeping one eye on what the other is doing. 

Their relationship will certainly be one to watch as FIFA heads towards making a decision which will require little interpretation.