World Cup expansion formats under scrutiny

LONDON • The prospect of an expanded football World Cup in 2026 involving 40 or even 48 teams is edging ever closer and the tournament could be co-hosted by two countries.

Fifa's ruling council will decide on the expansion from its 32-team format in January.

The governing organisation's president, Gianni Infantino, said that the feeling in Thursday's meeting was "rather positive" towards increasing the number and that he favoured co-hosting.

The World Cup format is part of Fifa's activities that are under review, a shake-up that could affect the payment and perks of the 36 Fifa council members.

The members were presented with a document detailing 10 possible ways of staging an expanded tournament.

One of these, previously revealed by Infantino, would involve 48 teams, with 32 taking part in a play-off and the winners joining 16 seeded countries who would then play the competition under the same system as at present, with eight groups of four.

Under this format, 16 countries would be eliminated from the tournament after one match.

Another option outlined in the document would have 40 teams in 10 groups of four, with the winners and six best runners-up going through to a round of 16.

In both cases, it is likely that the expansion would lengthen the World Cup from 32 to 39 days.

Infantino said: "The general feeling was that it was positive... but whether it will be 40 or 48 (teams), we'll have to see at the next meeting in January."

He denied that expansion would dilute the quality of the tournament, adding: "In the last World Cup, England and Italy were eliminated by Costa Rica (and Uruguay in the group stage) - the level and quality of football is increasing all over the world."

The luxury lifestyles of Fifa's most powerful officials may also be under threat with changes being mooted to their US$300,000 (S$416,300) annual salaries, first-class air travel and US$500 daily allowances for themselves and their partners while on Fifa business.

The allowances are the most likely to change - David Gill, Britain's Fifa vice-president, has never claimed his allowance during his 16 months in the post.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'World Cup expansion formats under scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe