FIFA Council Approves Expansion of the World Cup

Jan 11, 2017

FIFA Council Meeting in Zurich Enlarge image FIFA Council Meeting in Zurich (© picture alliance / dpa) On Tuesday, January 10th the FIFA Council gathered in Zurich to vote to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 teams. An initiative of current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, the new structure has been strategically decided as to not conflict with the number of days for the famous soccer tournament.

Compromising On Expansion

The proposal for an expanded first round group of teams has been a process since the election of a new FIFA President. It debuted as a campaign promise of Gianni Infantino, who in February replaced former banned President Sepp Blatter. His original proposal included an expansion to 40 teams, which in his October revision grew to 48.

The expanded group will play in sixteen sets of three in the first stage of the World Cup, with the top two teams of each group continuing on to a round of 32 teams. It will be a busier schedule of games with 80 games played in comparison to 64, however the increase of games will not add extra days to the competition.

FIFA Enlarge image (© Colourbox)

Justifications For Revision

The unanimous vote from the FIFA Council comes after outspoken members of the soccer community have challenged the proposal. German football association’s President Reinhard Grindel expressed concerns that an increase in the number of teams would dilute the quality of games played. Others have voiced general reservations to changing what has been the premier soccer tournament for decades, attracting an estimated 715.1 million television viewers for its final match. 

The expansion was driven out of a desire to include more teams in the World Cup. Often, the World Cup is dominated by a cycle of the same soccer powerhouses. As such, the expansion offers an increased chance for smaller footballing nations from FIFA’s 211 national associations to perform on an international stage. The UEFA Euro in 2016 highlighted the excitement of diversity in soccer when the Icelandic team beat England to win the respect and recognition of the world.

The increase in the number of teams and games played also comes with a financial incentive. More games played means more ticket sales, advertisements, and stadium refreshment sales. It additionally leads to more memorabilia and broadcasting. All of this could potentially earn the tournament an extra $1 billion in income.

Though the change is making waves within the soccer world, it will not be affective for the coming FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018. Rather the change will kick in starting with the 2026 tournament. The location for the 2026 competition has not yet been chosen, however rumors have spread of the games likely taking place in North America.

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