ECA Chairman Rummenigge speaks during a news conference following ECA's General Assembly in AthensEuropean Club Association (ECA) Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge speaks during a news conference following ECA's General Assembly in Athens, Greece March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
By Karolos Grohmann
ATHENS (Reuters) - The decision-making process that led FIFA to increase the number of teams at the World Cup to 48 starting with the 2026 tournament is unacceptable, European Club Association (ECA) chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Tuesday.
The ECA, an organisation representing 220 soccer clubs, opposes the world governing body's decision which Rummenigge, the former Germany international who is also Bayern Munich's chief executive, has previously dismissed as "nonsense".
Rummenigge said on Tuesday there were also issues with transparency in that specific FIFA process, without elaborating.
"I believe it is quite clear FIFA knows we are unhappy that they increased the number of (World Cup) participants by 50 percent," Rummenigge told reporters after the ECA general assembly.
"This is a fact. The way of the decision-making and the transparency was not acceptable from our point of view.
"They are using our players, our employees in favour of the World Cup," he said. "We have every right to find a solution."
FIFA voted in January to increase the size of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 from 2026, fulfilling a campaign promise of its president Gianni Infantino, who was elected last year.
FIFA says the tournament will not last longer than it does at present but big clubs in particular are angry at the prospect of losing even more players to their national teams.
Clubs have already complained about what they say is a crowded calendar of international matches for which they must release their players on a regular basis.
"I would call now especially on FIFA and (European soccer's governing body) UEFA to reduce the number (of international matches). We (have) arrived at a point where players have to play too many games," Rummenigge said.
These organisations should "think more about football and not financial and political issues," he added.
Last year the ECA supported controversial changes to the Champions League club competition, which critics said put finance before football.
European body UEFA rearranged the group stage slots in favour of its four top-ranked leagues -- Spain, England, Germany and Italy -- by guaranteeing them four places each among other changes.
"The club competition reform is without a single doubt very good news for all clubs in Europe," Rummenigge, whose association has threatened to set up a pan-European league of its own in the past.
"Everyone in European club football... will benefit from this reform. The reform will make the Champions League more emotional and stronger than ever before."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Catherine Evans and Ken Ferris)