All eyes on Infantino's World Cup proposal

Fifa president Gianni Infantino poses for a picture during a interview with AFP.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino poses for a picture during a interview with AFP.PHOTO: AFP

ZURICH • Fifa president Gianni Infantino's controversial proposal for a 48-team tournament will come under the microscope when the decision makers at football's governing body discuss the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup this week.

The Fifa Council, which meets tomorrow and on Friday in Zurich, still has to decide on basic questions such as the size of the tournament and which continents are eligible.

A decision was due this week under the timeline drawn up in May but Infantino has said that discussions will continue until January.

The number of participating teams is the biggest issue.

Infantino, elected in February to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, promised during his campaign to increase the World Cup to 40 teams, an idea opposed by Europe's biggest clubs. He went further last week, with suggestions to add another eight teams.

French sports paper L'Equipe described the idea as ridiculous and Germany coach Joachim Low said it would dilute the sporting strength of the tournament.

Critics said the move could also be interpreted as yielding to the 211 national football federations which elect the Fifa president.

"He certainly has the example of Blatter holding on to power by pandering to the FAs," said Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace International, which specialises in anti-bribery compliance.

"Some of that is to be expected, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the game, the clubs, the players and the fans," she told Reuters.

Fifa must also effectively confirm whether or not European countries will be able to bid.

At present, continental confederations must wait eight years between hosting World Cups but Fifa could decide to increase this to 12.

With Russia hosting the tournament in 2018, that would mean Europe having to wait until 2030 before bidding again.

The hosts were originally due to be chosen next May but the whole process was put on hold last year because of the corruption scandal that led to Blatter's downfall.

That date will now mark only the end of the consultation phase and the final decision will be made in May 2020.

Fifa was forced to reform its bidding process after the 2018 and 2022 tournaments were awarded to Russia and Qatar at the same vote in 2010. That vote is the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities and Infantino has said that this time round the process must be "bullet proof".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'All eyes on Infantino's World Cup proposal'. Print Edition | Subscribe