Elite enraged by enlargement
European leagues fear burnout after FIFA expands World Cup
Spanish league president Javier Tebas suggested on Tuesday he might launch a legal challenge to FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams, starting in 2026.
Tebas claimed Europe’s most powerful and richest leagues were not consulted on the decision and that it was based on FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s need to fulfill promises that got him elected last year.
“An institution involved in sporting politics is also taking decisions that affect the politics and economics of Europe’s big leagues and these decisions can’t be taken without consensus,” La Liga boss Tebas said.
“We will see if we will present a case to the competition commissioner of the European Union and also to the competition institutions in Switzerland.”
The new format envisages 80 matches — 16 more than the current set-up — but crucially will still be played over the same 32 days, a nod to opponents who fear player burnout.
Two teams from each group will advance to a 32-nation knockout round.
A FIFA report seen by AFP estimates a 48-team tournament would bring a $640 million cash boost above projected revenues for next year’s finals in Russia.
Africa and Asia could be the big winners with a rise in their number of World Cup places. Currently, five African teams qualify while Asia has four or five.
A source close to FIFA said Europe could get 16 places, an increase of three, with Africa earning nine.
Te bas believes the big European leagues where the vast majority of star players ply their trade should have more of a say, with opponents to the plan citing player burn-out as one of the major drawbacks.
“I think the leagues should have their opinion heard because 75 percent of the players in the World Cup are playing in the big European leagues and this type of organization has an effect,” said Tebas.
“Secondly, FIFA is an institution that takes political and sporting decisions, but also business decisions on TV rights which could affect us, so I am not in favor of the expansion of the World Cup.”
FIFA on Tuesday voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 in a victory for its president Infantino.
In a deeply divisive development which will enrich scandal-tainted FIFA’s pockets, its ruling council unanimously adopted an expanded format with 16 groups of three nations that will bring “benefits without negatives”, said Infantino.
“We have to shape the World Cup of the 21st century ... football is more than Europe and South America,” the FIFA chief, who had pushed hard for the change, said after the vote.
“Many more countries will have the chance to dream.”
It represents the first major alteration to the World Cup since the tournament was boosted from 24 to the current 32 teams for the 1998 tournament in France.
But its many critics oppose the latest expansion and it was branded a “money grab and power grab” by New FIFA Now, a group campaigning for reform of soccer’s world governing body.
Infantino was elected 11 months ago, promising to repair the damage done during Sepp Blatter’s tenure.
Enlarging the World Cup was the centerpiece of that vision, but opponents say a bigger tournament will dilute the quality of play and overburden players physically, particularly in Europe’s money-rich leagues.
The powerful European Club Association (ECA) also stated its strong opposition, describing the current 32-team model as “the perfect formula”.
“We understand this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable,” the body, which represents Europe’s elite clubs, said in a statement.