In­fantino: FIFA to de­cide in Jan­uary on ex­panded World Cup

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

FIFA wants to de­cide in Jan­uary if the 2026 World Cup will ex­pand from its 32-team for­mat, with 40 or 48 teams the fa­vored op­tions. FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino said yes­ter­day he ex­pects a de­ci­sion when the rul­ing coun­cil meets for the first time next year. The Jan­uary ses­sion is likely to be in Zurich. “The gen­eral feel­ing is rather pos­i­tive,” to­ward ex­pan­sion, In­fantino said at a brief­ing af­ter FIFA’s rul­ing coun­cil met. “The level of qual­ity of foot­ball is in­creas­ing all over the world.” The 2026 World Cup — which many ex­pect to be hosted across North Amer­ica — could also be run cen­trally by FIFA from Zurich in­stead of by the hosts’ own lo­cal or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee. In­fantino out­lined plans for FIFA to take “full con­trol of all money flows,” and how it spends hundreds of mil­lions of dol­lars on each tour­na­ment, be­fore the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It fol­lows FIFA pay­ing $453 mil­lion to Brazil’s 2014 World Cup com­mit­tee, and bud­get­ing to spend $700 mil­lion on Rus­sian op­er­a­tions run­ning the 2018 tour­na­ment. The World Cup is FIFA’s prize as­set earn­ing around 85 per­cent of its rev­enue, and shapes as a defin­ing is­sue for In­fantino be­fore his term ends in less than three years. The prom­ise of ex­tra World Cup slots is likely to ap­peal to the 211 mem­ber fed­er­a­tions who vote, and FIFA would ex­pect more matches to drive up the price of broad­cast­ing and spon­sor deals to fund In­fantino’s cam­paign prom­ises of in­creased grants to mem­bers. In­fantino was elected in Fe­bru­ary hav­ing pledged dur­ing his cam­paign to add eight teams to the tour­na­ment. In a re­cent speech in Colom­bia, In­fantino sug­gested a 48-team tour­na­ment with an open­ing play­off round of 16 matches. The 16 win­ners would ad­vance to join 16 seeded teams in a bal­anced 32-team group stage be­fore the knock­out rounds. The 40-team for­mat is prob­lem­atic. The typ­i­cal for­mat of fourteam groups would likely mean four of the 10 run­ners-up do not ad­vance to a round of 16. Groups of five teams would un­bal­ance the fix­ture sched­ule and cre­ate in­tegrity is­sues, by leav­ing some teams idle for the fi­nal round of games. It would also add an ex­tra fix­ture to cre­ate an eight-game pro­gram for the fi­nal­ists, which would be un­pop­u­lar with clubs re­leas­ing their play­ers to na­tional team duty. Ex­pand­ing the World Cup also re­vives a dif­fi­cult de­bate on how to spread the ex­tra places by con­ti­nent. UEFA, where In­fantino was the CEO-like gen­eral sec­re­tary for six years un­til Fe­bru­ary, has long been un­der pres­sure from other re­gions to re­lax its quota of 13 of the 31 qual­i­fy­ing slots. In­fantino said dis­cus­sion on al­lo­cat­ing the ex­tra places must take place be­tween FIFA’s six con­ti­nen­tal con­fed­er­a­tions.

FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view on the oc­ca­sion of the "World Sum­mit on Ethics and Lead­er­ship in Sports"

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