The World Cup is set to increase from 32 teams to 48 in 2026, after a decision was made by FIFA on Tuesday. They met in Zurich, Switzerland where they unanimously decided to expand the tournament for the first time since 1998. But what does this all mean…?
There will now be 16 groups of three teams and the top two teams will qualify for the knockout stages. Despite the increase of teams, FIFA say that the tournament will start and finish within 32 days and tournament matches will rise from 64 to 80 – although the eventual winners will only play a maximum of seven games. There are also talks about there being 3 host countries instead of just one and Mexico, USA and Canada are in the running.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has always been open about his desire to increase the amount of teams allowed in the tournament and spoke of his wishes to make the World Cup “more inclusive”, he said:
“For many other countries it’s a chance to qualify, to participate. Its one month every four years and it stays at one month.
“So there’s actually not a big change, except for the format and for giving many more teams a chance to participate.
“We have to look at football as more than just Europe and South America.”
There has been a lot of critics for the new World Cup format, with some people regarding the extra team’s inclusion as pointless and unnecessary. There’s often a lot of scepticism that comes with change, people never like it, but it’s usually something to embrace. It’s great for these extra countries to be a part of the world’s biggest sporting event and the most watched competition on television, as well as playing a crucial role in the development of their football teams.
For many countries who are on the outskirts of World Cup qualification, now being able to play a part in this competition is huge for their sporting culture and their country. It brings a sense of pride and unity like no other.
However, one critique of the new format comes from the European Club Association (ECA). The ECA represents all clubs at European level and looks after their interests. The association thought FIFA was making a political point, rather than a ‘sporting decision’. A spokesperson for them said:
“We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives.
“Questionable is also the urgency in reaching such an important decision, with nine years to go until it becomes applicable, without the proper involvement of stakeholders who will be impacted by this change.”
As well as the inclusion of lower-ranked teams and allowing them the experience of participating in such an amazing occasion, FIFA’s own research pointed out that the tournament is likely to increase their profit to £521million. Comments like these aren’t likely to bode well with fans or teams, as it seems to hint at a double meaning for the expansion – is it to make the World Cup more inclusive? Or to put more money in FIFA’s pocket?
My only question for the people at FIFA would be what was wrong with the current format? I can’t see any flaw in the set up or rules? If it’s not broke… DON’T FIX IT.