FIFA boss says football federations back expanded World Cup

© REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann. A TV team is reflected in a logo of FIFA at its headquarters in Zurich
Football federations are backing plans to expand the World Cup beyond 32 teams, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in Dubai on Wednesday.

The global football federation boss wants to increase the number of teams playing in the World Cup final tournament to 48, arguing that it can be done in the same time frame as the current tournament.

Global football federations are "overwhelmingly in favor" of expanding the tournament, said Infantino, who has also suggested a 40-team World Cup.

Infantino, speaking at a sports conference, said a 48-team tournament was the most financially appealing structure.

The FIFA boss has previously suggested a 48-team tournament but with a one-off preliminary round involving 32 teams, with the 16 winners going into a 32-team group stage and joining 16 teams who would receive a bye.

When he was elected in February, Infantino had promised to expand the tournament from the current 32 teams to 40.

Infantino later told reporters it would be up to the FIFA council members to decide in a "democratic process" on the expansion.


Expanded World Cup has backing, insists Infantino

A 48-team World Cup has the backing of global football federations, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

When running for election to the role, Infantino's manifesto included a proposal to increase the number of teams in the finals from 32 to 40.

And in October, Infantino hinted it could be expanded even further to include 48 countries - a vision he now believes can be realised, as it has the necessary support.

"I am still convinced to expand the participation in the World Cup to more than 32 teams," he said at the International Sports Conference in Dubai.

"We would still consider to increase the competition to 40 or 48 teams. A tournament of 48 teams would have the same period of the current one, and federations are all clearly in favour of a World Cup with more teams."

Any revision to the existing format would not be likely to be implemented before 2026, but a decision on the matter will be taken in January.

UEFA made a similar move in increasing the European Championship from 16 teams to 24 ahead of Euro 2016.

Earlier this month, the European Club Association (ECA) wrote to FIFA imploring global football's governing body not to proceed with plans to expand the tournament.

ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: "In the interest of the fans and the players, we urge FIFA not to increase the number of World Cup participants."

However, Infantino's plans have big backing from the game's emerging regions, including Africa, according to former Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o.

He told the conference: "Mr Gianni Infantino, this trophy is for the 48-country World Cup.

"Do it for us, the poor, those who sometimes haven't had the chance to play in the World Cup. Do it. We will support you.

"I personally support you and all of Africa will support you because you will give us the opportunity to play in the World Cup."


World Cup: Fifa's Gianni Infantino says he has support for expanded tournament

Global football federations are "overwhelmingly in favour" of plans for a 48-team World Cup, Fifa president Gianni Infantino says.

The head of football's governing body outlined his vision for an expanded tournament comprising 16 groups of three teams earlier this month.

The top two teams in each group would progress to the knockout rounds.

A decision will be made in January but any change to the 32-team format is unlikely to come in before 2026.

Fifa's council will discuss the proposal at a meeting on 9 January but Infantino, 46, made expansion part of his election manifesto.

"We have to be more inclusive," he said at a sports conference in Dubai, adding that a 48-team tournament was the most financially appealing.

"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," Infantino said.

"When discussed with the associations in the summits they were overwhelmingly in favour, but more discussions will have to take place."

The number of competing teams at World Cups last changed in 1998, increasing from 24 to 32.

The European Club Association, which represents the region's leading clubs, has rejected calls for the World Cup to be expanded.

Infantino also said experiments around video technology in refereeing at the recent Club World Cup had been "very positive" and that he hoped the system would be used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The system was first used to award a penalty in Kashima Antlers' semi-final win over Atletico Nacional, with the referee alerted by an assistant watching a monitor.

But there was confusion in the other semi-final between Real Madrid and Club America when the technology was used again.

After the referee asked for a consultation following a Cristiano Ronaldo goal, play briefly restarted from a free-kick for an infringement before the goal was eventually allowed to stand.

Infantino said tests in Japan had moved the system in "the right direction" but added "there is still a bit of fine-tuning to be made".

Analysis

Richard Conway, BBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent

Gianni Infantino may well have "overwhelming" support for Fifa's 48-country World Cup plan - but it is not universal.

The European Clubs Association - which represents the biggest teams on the continent - is opposed. European teams provide 80% of the players to a World Cup so they are a significant stakeholder and will place pressure on Uefa.

Uefa is still to make its position clear but other confederations are likely to welcome an expanded tournament.

European nations take up a big proportion of the current 32 slots at the World Cup.

Given there's no chance of any redistribution taking place, Fifa see an expanded World Cup as a way to appease many of its 211 members who miss out on the party. It also fulfils one of Infantino's key presidential manifesto pledges.

Uefa may in the end go along with the 48-country plan given the likely support from the rest of the world. But it will likely want more of its countries to qualify too. Let the horse-trading begin.

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