FIFA Executives Meet To Discuss 48-team World Cup Plan

FIFA President Gianni Infantino
FIFA President Gianni Infantino

Gianni Infantino’s plan to expand the World Cup faces a key test from Thursday (today) at a meeting of world football’s top executives.

The FIFA president wants to expand the tournament to 48 teams. Critics say it could dilute the quality of the competition.

“It is not a secret that I believe in an expansion of the World Cup,” Infantino told AFP last week, opting for a 48-team competition by 2026.

The format

Infantino has drafted a proposal that would see the 16 winners of group qualifying rounds automatically book a place in the tournament.

An additional 32 teams would battle it out in a new pre-tournament play-in round, with 16 nations moving on to the World Cup.

Infantino told AFP that for the World Cup proper “the ideal format is 32 teams”, but that would not stop him from seeking to widen opportunities for more countries while boosting revenues from the cash cow tournament.

The powerful 36-member FIFA Council will weigh the idea at the meeting on Thursday and Friday. But a final decision will not be made until next year, Infantino said.

It has been nearly eight-months since the Swiss-Italian national was elected to take over world football’s governing body.

His tenure has faced its share of challenges. He has been the target of an ethics probe that ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing.

A former top executive blasted Infantino as an autocrat in his resignation letter, while prosecutors in the United States and Switzerland continue to probe decades of FIFA graft.

But Infantino has insisted he remains focused on reforming an organisation that had become globally disgraced under the leadership of ex-president Sepp Blatter.

The objective

The 46-year-old lawyer and former UEFA number two has made growing football globally, and increasing FIFA income top priorities of his administration.

Broadening the World Cup could further both objectives.

A marketing executive who worked with Infantino at UEFA and requested anonymity told AFP the FIFA chief may be pushing for a 48-team tournament as leverage but would settle for a 40-team format.

The 40-team idea was studied last year by FIFA’s executive committee — since renamed the FIFA Council — but no decision was reached.

A FIFA Council member, also speaking anonymously, said broadcasters who pay hugely lucrative rights fees would likely have the final say on any changes to the World Cup format.

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