Last week FIFA voted to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48. This has raised much debate across the footballing world with many fans adamant that the decision was made for the financial gain of FIFA councillors and the organisation as a whole – and to the detriment of the quality of football at the greatest sporting tournament on the planet.
This, is an understandable reaction considering FIFAs track record of corruption, fraud and money laundering for World Cup bids and presidential elections in the past.
Despite the change in presidency, from the long gruelling reign of the autocratic Sepp Blatter to Gianni Infantino last year, there are still large levels of distrust from the footballing community towards the sport’s governing body. Campaign group ‘New FIFA Now’ have said that the expansion is money grabbing’.
While I can empathise with the critics – a potential profit rise of £521 million implies that it was a financially driven decision, we must acknowledge FIFA’s agenda for diversification of the world game.
Sport, especially football is important for community building in less economically developed countries and first world nations; it is imperative that the professional game tries to incorporate everyone.
However, the current view of the World Cup, is that it is orientated around teams from Europe and South America. The other four confederations are often neglected in this international football tournament with a far smaller allocation of teams – 19 out of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 World Cup were from the two aforementioned continents.
However, the change in format will make it more inclusive. I would tend to agree with new FIFA President Gianni Infantino that the World Cup has entered the modern day. Football is a global game and this needs to be showcased in 2026.
My one issue with this that the quality of football could be diluted as a result of the increase in teams. But one argument against this was shown in the Euros, where the lesser known teams such as Iceland and Wales punched above their weight and we saw some tough contests throughout the tournament. I don’t see why this can’t be the same in nine years time.
There are logistical questions still to be asked – how will qualifying work? And how will this impact the league seasons with the longer tournament?
But the move could be a positive one, allowing teams in Africa and Asia to showcase their talent on the world stage. This is especially relevant with the growth of the Chinese Super League and it could be interesting to see how these two additions to football will work. If this is, like Infantino has said, a move to modernise football, will video technology be the next change to the game?
I think one thing we can all agree on is that the bigger tournament means more football throughout the year – which I love the sound of.