The World Cup will be expanded to include 48 teams by the year 2026 under a plan approved unanimously on Tuesday by FIFA’s governing council.

FIFA To Expand World Cup To 48 Teams In 2026

The decision to expand was both political and financial. The move was praised by supporters as an inclusive one, but was derided by critics as simply a money grab by an organization that recently was mired in financial scandals.

FIFA’s new president, Gianni Infantino, had first pushed for the change when he ran for his current post last year, as a way to strengthen the tournament and include more countries. Expansion is expected to be popular in the vote-rich confederations of Africa and Asia that serve as any FIFA president’s power base.

Obviously, this expansion would entail more spending. According to FIFA’s estimates, the World Cup would cost an additional $1 billion in television, sponsorship and ticketing revenue in the first cycle alone.


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Infantino added that although the total number of games played in the tournament would increase from 64 to 80, the tournament’s total length (32 days), the number of games played by the eventual winner (seven) and the number of stadiums (12) would not change.

Critics of the plan argue that including less-pedigreed soccer nations would lead to a diminished tournament, with only about a quarter of FIFA’s 211 member associations earning a spot every four years and more games jammed into an already crowded international calendar. Nevertheless, Infantino continued to push for his plan.

“We are in the 21st century, and we have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,” Infantino said after the council’s meeting. “Football is more than just Europe and South America. Football is global.”

The World Cup has included 32 teams since the 1998 tournament in France, and will maintain that structure for the upcoming competitions in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022. Starting in 2026, however– in a tournament for which the bidding to host has not begun — 48 teams will be placed into 16 three-team groups for the first stage, with the top two teams from each group advancing to a 32-team knockout round. The question of how to allocate the 48 spots among the sport’s six continental confederations has yet to be determined.

Infantino added that specific competition rules– such as a potential introduction of penalty shootouts to break ties in the group stage– would be determined in the years prior to the tournament.

Any plan seemed specifically tailored to appeal to smaller soccer countries, especially those in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean who often feel underrepresented at the World Cup. An expanded field of 48 teams in 2014, for example, might have included Egypt, Jamaica, Jordan, New Zealand and Tunisia. Another country that could benefit from this expansion is China, which has undertaken a large-scale growth of its own national soccer programs. Chinese schools at nearly all levels are now adding or improving the quality of soccer programs in order to potentially turn the country into a powerhouse for the sport.

The topic of expansion had divided the global soccer community since Infantino proposed it as part of his campaign to replace Sepp Blatter, who stepped down as FIFA president in the summer of 2015 amid a corruption scandal that led to the arrests of several members of the organization’s leadership.

The idea faced particular opposition in Europe, which has always had a disproportionate share of the automatic places in the tournament.

Reinhard Grindel, the president of the soccer federation of Germany, the reigning World Cup champion, presented other arguments against the plan last week when he publicly warned that the overall quality of play would be diminished and that the greater burdens on players could cause rifts between clubs and national teams.

“I think that even if you organized a World Cup with two teams, one of the two teams would be Germany,” Infantino said. “I hope that with time we can discuss it, and they can see the benefit for the world.”

Besides the current 32-team format and the new format approved on Tuesday, there were three other options proposed for the council to consider: 40 teams with eight groups of five (88 games); 40 teams with 10 groups of four (76 games); and 48 teams, but with 16 seeds and a 32-team, single-elimination round before a 32-team group stage (80 games).

The World Cup tournament began in 1930, in Uruguay, with 13 teams, but as recently as 1978 it was still capped at 16, with only one entrant each from Asia and Africa.

The Associated Press estimated that a 48-team tournament in 2026 would bring in $6.5 billion in revenue, an increase of $1 billion from the total it has projected for next summer’s tournament in Russia. Potential profit, FIFA added, could increase by around $640 million.

 ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

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