A 48-team World Cup in 2026 is a boost for CONCACAF

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

A big­ger World Cup in 2026 will boost North Amer­ica’s chances of host­ing the tour­na­ment, the pres­i­dent of the CONCACAF re­gion told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino ear­lier this week raised the prospect of adding an­other 16 teams to make it a 48-team tour­na­ment, a move that would re­duce the pool of coun­tries with suf­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture.

“From a 2026 per­spec­tive, pick a num­ber (of fi­nal­ists) and North Amer­i­can can han­dle it,” Vic­tor Mon­tagliani, pres­i­dent of the North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and Caribbean soc­cer con­fed­er­a­tion, said Tues­day in an in­ter­view. “A CONCACAF bid would be strong re­gard­less of what num­ber we fi­nally set on.”

The World Cup was last staged in the CONCACAF re­gion by the United States in 1994. The Amer­i­cans are eager to get an­other shot at host­ing in 2026, po­ten­tially link­ing up with neigh­bors Canada and Mex­ico.

“Is there an op­por­tu­nity to com­bine the three coun­tries? Per­haps. We don’t know that yet,” said Mon­tagliani, a FIFA vice pres­i­dent. “There have been zero for­mal dis­cus­sions. We are not there yet.”

Af­ter the trou­bled bid­ding process for the 2018 and 2022 tour­na­ments, which sparked years of cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions, FIFA will be hop­ing for a smoother vote for 2026. Orig­i­nally ear­marked for 2017, the de­ci­sion by the FIFA mem­ber­ship is now not due un­til 2020.

With Africa, South Amer­ica, Europe and Asia host­ing the World Cups be­tween 2010 and 2022, it had been widely ac­cepted that it should be North Amer­ica’s turn for the first time since 1994.

FIFA’s stat­ues cur­rently pre­vent con­sec­u­tive World Cups be­ing staged on the same con­ti­nent, but China could yet seek to fol­low 2022 host Qatar. Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate Wanda signed up as a top-tier FIFA spon­sor in March say­ing it wanted to be “bet­ter placed” to help de­cide where fu­ture edi­tions of the World Cup are awarded.

“There has to be some sort of ro­ta­tion or else you look what is hap­pen­ing with the Olympics,” Mon­tagliani said, re­fer­ring to Tokyo host­ing the 2020 Olympics be­tween the 2018 and 2022 Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Bei­jing.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing that it keeps on go­ing to one area. It’s not a World Cup that be­longs in one re­gion. So I think so sort of ro­ta­tion needs to oc­cur be­cause the World Cup be­longs to the world and we need to re­spect that.”

Mon­tagliani ap­plauded In­fantino for “think­ing out­side the box” by float­ing the idea of a 48team World Cup.

“There are tra­di­tion­al­ists in the game who I think, if it was up to them, would still have a 16-team World Cup,” Mon­tagliani said in an in­ter­view in Lon­don.

“The re­al­ity is that the World Cup is not just an eco­nomic beast, but a prod­uct that in­spires hope for coun­tries. So if we can im­prove it, make it big­ger with­out los­ing its ro­man­ti­cism, why not?”

Be­fore FIFA set­tles on a new for­mat, Mon­tagliani is sure there will be an “ex­haus­tive process of re­view and cost ben­e­fit anal­y­sis.” The for­mat and bid­ding process will be­gin to be dis­cussed next week when In­fantino chairs a FIFA Coun­cil meet­ing in Zurich.

In out­lin­ing one po­ten­tial for­mat ear­lier this week, In­fantino said, “you could have a tour­na­ment in which the 16 best teams ad­vance to a group stage and the other 16 will came out of a ‘play­off’ ahead of the group stage, and the World Cup could end up with 48 teams.”

The more press­ing is­sues for FIFA cen­ter on the 2018 World Cup with the spot­light in­creas­ingly on Rus­sia over racism and dop­ing in sport, and the in­volve­ment in the war in Syria.

Mon­tagliani sees no need to strip Rus­sia of the World Cup.

“It’s a very del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion be­cause we are a sport,” he said. “You try to as much as pos­si­ble stay out of the geopol­i­tics of the world be­cause it’s a just a dan­ger­ous thing (to mix) and so it is a bit of walk­ing a tightrope.”

The con­tentious dual votes on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups sparked years of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions and FIFA in­quiries.

FIFA said there was not suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to war­rant re­mov­ing their coun­try’s host­ing rights. But be­fore be­ing banned and ousted from the FIFA pres­i­dency, Sepp Blat­ter said last year that Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties would not have in­dicted more than 40 peo­ple in its soc­cer in­ves­ti­ga­tion had it not been for the 2010 vote out­come.

To Mon­tagliani it was the “tip­ping point,” pro­vid­ing an “op­por­tu­nity to clean the game.”

“In some re­gards maybe the best thing that hap­pened in football was Rus­sia and Qatar,” Mon­tagliani said in a speech Wed­nes­day at the Lead­ers sports busi­ness con­fer­ence in Lon­don.

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