LONDON. — FIFA will hold their first virtual Congress this year after the annual gathering of their membership in Addis Ababa was postponed because of the coronavirus crisis.
World football’s governing body had pushed back the Congress in the Ethiopian capital from June to September in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Bureau of its Council has now decided to stage it as an online event.
FIFA said the Congress would take place on September 18.
It is not yet clear what technology and voting systems will be used for the Congress, nor whether Ethiopia will be given the chance to host a future edition of the annual meeting.
Governing bodies in sport have been forced to use video technology to hold key meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, which has severely restricted international travel and prompted Governments to ban mass gatherings.
FIFA are the latest International Federation to announce plans to stage the annual meeting of its supreme body remotely.
The International Rowing Federation’s Congress later this year will be held remotely, while World Sailing is considering a virtual Annual General Meeting, including its Presidential election, if the event cannot be staged as planned.
The Bureau of the FIFA Council, comprising president Gianni Infantino and the heads of each of the six confederations, has also rescheduled two major women’s tournaments which had been due to take place this year.
The Under-20 Women’s World Cup, to be jointly hosted by Costa Rica and Panama, has been pushed back from its initial August and September slot to January 20 to February 6.
The Under-17 Women’s World Cup in India, originally scheduled for November 2 to 21, has been rearranged for February 17 to March 7, 2021.
FIFA confirmed both tournaments would keep their original eligibility criteria.
Meanwhile, English Premiership clubs could be permitted to complete the season at their own grounds following a change of heart from the authorities which would remove a major obstacle to Project Restart, Sportsmail can reveal.
It is understood that positive talks on Monday night chaired by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports involving the police, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and representatives from the Premier League, FA and EFL broke up with the Government advising that the controversial issue of whether individual stadiums should be licenced to stage matches would be a matter for local police authorities.
Sportsmail can disclose that a number of police forces have no issues with matches being played at their original venues, as long as a number of safety criteria can be met.
One of the main reasons for the Premier League initially proposing completing the season at eight neutral venues was fears over fans turning up en masse outside matches to be played behind-closed-doors. Whilst this remains a concern, several clubs have pointed out that it could also be an issue at neutral grounds.
However, Sportsmail has been told that as long as clubs can provide assurances to their local constabularies that they will draft in enough stewarding resources to ensure that the two-metre social distancing guidelines are adhered to, completing the season on a home and away basis is not viewed as an insurmountable obstacle.
Should that be the case — and should the clubs be willing to foot the bill to pay for the officers required — playing matches at their original venues would be possible.
Government sources insisted yesterday that there had never been a fixed view at Westminster about the need to stage all games at neutral venues, but there has undoubtedly been a change of emphasis following a rebellion from several leading Premier League clubs at their shareholders’ meeting on Monday.
As Sportsmail reported, two-thirds of the clubs expressed major reservations about the proposal — a significant increase from the six hardcore rebels who were initially opposed, which led to the Premier League lobbying government again on Monday night.
This subtle change of position was reflected in a statement released by Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the country’s most senior football police officer, earlier yesterday.
As recently as last week, Roberts had told those clubs complaining about the loss of home advantage to ‘get a grip,’ but was more diplomatic yesterday, saying that a range of options were still being explored.
In a statement the National Police Chiefs’ Council Football Policing Lead Mr Roberts said: “Following a positive meeting between police, government and football last night, we will be jointly exploring a range of options to identify a way forward, which minimises any risks to public safety and unnecessary pressure on public services, but facilitates a sensible restart to the season, to support the economic and morale benefits associated with the sport.”
A change of position from the government would also have significant implications for Championship, who are hoping to complete their campaign, but lack the resources to stage the outstanding matches at neutral venues. — Inside The Games/Mailonline.