October 13, 2016 - 10:12 AM
ZURICH - FIFA wants to decide in January if the 2026 World Cup will expand from its 32-team format, with 40 or 48 teams the favoured options.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Thursday he expects a decision when the ruling council meets for the first time next year. The January session is likely to be in Zurich.
"The general feeling is rather positive," toward expansion, Infantino said at a briefing after FIFA's ruling council met. "The level of quality of football is increasing all over the world."
The 2026 World Cup — which many expect to be hosted across North America — could also be run centrally by FIFA from Zurich instead of by the hosts' own local organizing committee.
Infantino outlined plans for FIFA to take "full control of all money flows," and how it spends hundreds of millions of dollars on each tournament, before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It follows FIFA paying $453 million to Brazil's 2014 World Cup committee, and budgeting to spend $700 million on Russian operations running the 2018 tournament.
The World Cup is FIFA's prize asset earning around 85 per cent of its revenue, and shapes as a defining issue for Infantino before his term ends in less than three years.
The promise of extra World Cup slots is likely to appeal to the 211 member federations who vote, and FIFA would expect more matches to drive up the price of broadcasting and sponsor deals to fund Infantino's campaign promises of increased grants to members.
Infantino was elected in February having pledged during his campaign to add eight teams to the tournament.
In a recent speech in Colombia, Infantino suggested a 48-team tournament with an opening playoff round of 16 matches. The 16 winners would advance to join 16 seeded teams in a balanced 32-team group stage before the knockout rounds.
The 40-team format is problematic. The typical format of four-team groups would likely mean four of the 10 runners-up do not advance to a round of 16.
Groups of five teams would unbalance the fixture schedule and create integrity issues, by leaving some teams idle for the final round of games. It would also add an extra fixture to create an eight-game program for the finalists, which would be unpopular with clubs releasing their players to national team duty.
Expanding the World Cup also revives a difficult debate on how to spread the extra places by continent.
UEFA, where Infantino was the CEO-like general secretary for six years until February, has long been under pressure from other regions to relax its quota of 13 of the 31 qualifying slots.
Infantino said discussion on allocating the extra places must take place between FIFA's six continental confederations.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016