The world of football has received FIFA’s announcement with mixed emotions.
The new format of 48 teams in the 2026 World Cup tournament and how will it work is still unclear. The main issue is the allocation of the extra 16 slots across the different federations.
One proposal that is under review, according to Sky Sports, is that Europe will get 3 more spots, Africa will get 4 more, from South America 6 teams will automatically qualify, Oceania will have one team for sure at the tournament, and finally a playoff decider between an Asian team and a team from CONCACAF.
It is predicted that the financial benefit of this new format will generate FIFA an increase of 25% on its previous revenue, taking the figure to $6.5 billion (Bloomberg).
What worries most is the effect on the level of competition and structure. Looking at the Champions League after the changes initiated by Former UEFA president, Michel Platini, led to the competition being less attractive during the group stages.
The possibility of penalty kicks deciding who qualifies from the group stage has raised scrutiny across the media and FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, was quick to respond that this matter and others will be examined and decided 3 years prior to the tournament.
Another question that was raised is which nation will be able to host such an event? Looking at the requirements for the 2018 and 2022 world cups listed in the FIFA evaluation reports on the bids shows the following:
The requirements for the number of stadiums by FIFA is 12 for a 32 teams World cup. Does this mean that a 48 team tournament will require 18 stadiums? Other than England who proposed 17 stadiums in the 2018 World Cup bid, and the USA who proposed 18 stadiums for the 2022 bid and maybe Germany, I don’t see any other country with this amount of quality stadiums.
The FIFA requirement is for 64 training camps. England has proposed 129 of those, Japan and the USA each offered exactly 64. Other countries in the bidding process also met and even exceeded the requirement but still, those are the only countries who met the stadium requirements.
An additional requirement from FIFA is for 64 hotels for the teams. So logically, a World Cup of 48 teams would require an additional 32 of those facilities. But there is another requirement from FIFA regarding hotels and it refers to available rooms for the accommodation of travelling fans. The FIFA requirement is for 60,000 rooms. There is a thing called rooms contracted in compliance with the FIFA Hotel Agreement, what that is and which hotels fall into that category I don’t know. Anyway, England has 10,700 rooms that fit the bill and the USA has 170,000 rooms to offer.
There are many issues surrounding the new format with the focus on the effect it will have on the level of the competition, but the off-pitch issues are worrying as well. So more nations of the world would be able to compete but never host the party.