Should FIFA increase World Cup teams to 48?

By Frederick Mordi

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In January 2017, FIFA, the world football governing body, will meet to discuss the possibility of increasing the number of teams playing at the World Cup, from the current 32 teams to 48. If the proposal manages to sail through, it will give more countries from FIFA’s 211 members, the opportunity of participating in the world’s biggest single-event sporting competition. The last time FIFA increased the number of teams competing at a World Cup tournament was in 1998, when it added eight more countries to the original 24, bringing the total to 32 countries.

However, the 48-team format is not likely to become effective until 2026, as the current 32-team format will be used both in the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to be hosted by Russia and Qatar, respectively. The idea was part of the campaign manifesto of FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, who insists global football federations are “overwhelmingly in favour” of the initiative.

In Infantino’s own words: “If we can have a format that does not add any additional matches but brings so much joy to those who don’t have the chance to participate, then we will have to think about that.”

Money and politics appear to be the driving force behind the idea. FIFA research claims that by using the 48-team format, revenue could rise by about 20% to $6.5 billion, while profit would potentially increase by $640 million. FIFA, which explains that its decision is not financial, adds that the initiative will help in bringing the beautiful game to all.

However, the European Clubs Association, an influential stakeholder in world football, is not sold on the idea, over concerns bordering on ‘quality.’ While FIFA also accepts that there could be a drop in quality, it insists there is a need to give every nation a sense of belonging. This may be in line with the well-known saying attributed to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who is regarded as the father of modern Olympic Games: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.”

It is also not unlikely that European nations that currently have 13 slots out of the 32, making the continent the highest, will continue to enjoy its dominance. But Africa and Asia may benefit more from the process by getting extra slots.

Since the World Cup started in 1930, Europe has won 11 times: Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006); Germany (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014): England (1966); France (1998); and Spain (2010). South America has won nine times: Uruguay (1930, 1950); Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002); and Argentina (1978, 1986). The other four continents namely Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, and Oceania, have yet to win the trophy. This means that only eight out of over 200 FIFA member nations have won the World Cup, since inception.

Giving more teams the opportunity to participate in the World Cup, will benefit poorer countries and even things out a bit.

 

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