SBD Global/January 11, 2017/International Football

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  • FIFA To Expand World Cup From 32 To 48 Teams, Starting With 2026 Edition

    FIFA voted unanimously in favor of expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, "with the changes set to be introduced" at the '26 tournament after being approved at a FIFA Council meeting in Zurich, according to Jack de Menezes of the London INDEPENDENT. The FIFA Council confirmed on Tuesday morning that it had "unanimously voted" in favor of the new format, which will involve 16 groups of three teams that sees the top two qualify for a knockout round of 32. The 211 member associates "had five available options to choose from," with two 40-team plans, two 48-team plans and the current 32-team model, and "have chosen to go with the 48-team option that will see 16 extra qualification spots created for the 2026 World Cup," which is likely to be held in North America. Only "the third-place nations will be eliminated in the group stage under the new plans," as opposed to the current system that sees two sides from each group sent home. The plans have been implemented by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, with the new format "expected to generate" around $1B extra for the int'l governing body from the World Cup alone (INDEPENDENT, 1/10).

    ECA SPEAKS OUT: In London, Ahmed & McClean reported the plan "had been expected to meet stiff opposition." UEFA had "previously objected to any dilution of its large presence at the World Cup." But after weeks of talks, Infantino "appears to have carved out a solution to suit most parties." He said, "Sixteen more countries, some of which will never have dreamt of participating in a World Cup, will have the chance to participate." On Tuesday, the European Club Association, which represents the continent’s largest club teams, "came out against any expansion over concern it would increase the workload for players." The ECA said in a statement, "We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives." Though the number of matches played would rise from 64 to 80, "no team would play more than seven matches and the tournament would be completed over the same period of time as the current 32-team, month-long version" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 1/10). REUTERS' Brian Homewood reported "another worry" with the new format is that there could be a number of matches at the end of the group stage where both teams "know exactly which result will send them into the next stage." The qualifying competition, meanwhile, "is likely to become a mere formality for many of the strongest teams" (REUTERS, 1/10).

    'MONEY GRAB': The BBC reported New FIFA Now, a campaign group that claims that FIFA needs to reform, labeled the expansion "a money grab and power grab." The group said in a statement, "It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans. It will not help development of the game or provide improved competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations. Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification process for most confederations" (BBC, 1/10). In London, David Conn reported FIFA’s FAs, particularly in Africa and Asia, have historically been in favor of the tournament’s expansion, which Infantino said will "give them all more places in the finals." Precise numbers "are yet to be decided, as are some of the format’s details, including whether drawn first-round group matches could all be decided on penalties." The host for the '26 tournament is "due to be considered" in '20, with a bid featuring the U.S., either "on its own or in conjunction with one or both of Canada and Mexico," the "overwhelming" favorite. Infantino "declined to respond" to reports immediately after FIFA's announcement that La Liga, which claimed it was not consulted at all, "is considering a lawsuit" (GUARDIAN, 1/10).

    TEBAS 'VERY ANGRY': In Madrid, Diego Picó reported issues over FIFA's plans to expand the World Cup will be taken to court by La Liga with league President Javier Tebas "furious with the decision." Tebas: "Infantino behaves like [former FIFA president] Blatter. He also made decisions alone without consulting anyone about them and I'm very angry. It is easy to expand this competition without having to pay the players. The football industry is maintained thanks to clubs and leagues, not FIFA" (MARCA, 1/10).

    MORE TO DISCUSS: SKY SPORTS reported the FA stressed FIFA "must take into account the wishes of players, supporters and leagues" before formalizing plans for a "new-look" World Cup. The FA said, "Following today's FIFA Council decision, we will work with UEFA, FIFA and the other European associations to understand how the 48-team FIFA World Cup will work. The priority has to be consideration of the potential impact on fans, players, teams and leagues, and also recognition of the importance of sporting integrity and commercial viability" (SKY SPORTS, 1/10). ESPN.com's Stephan Uersfeld reported German FA (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel said that he is "not happy" after the FIFA Council "rubber-stamped" plans. Grindel said that FIFA should not forget about football's "important core market" in Europe. He added, "I am not happy with this decision, and most of all I would have wished that all important questions regarding organization had been completely solved. But we now have to accept the unanimous decision and look ahead" (ESPN.com, 1/10).

    'POSITIVE STEP': The BBC reported Scottish FA CEO Stewart Regan said that expanding the World Cup to 48 teams is a "positive step." Regan: "We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations. Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed the impact smaller nations can make" (BBC, 1/10).

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  • Opinions: FIFA's New 48-Country World Cup Is 'All About The Money'

    Less than a year after FIFA President Gianni Infantino "stood dazzled by destiny" at the FIFA congress, he has "swept in the historic, bulky change of a 48-country World Cup," according to David Conn of the London GUARDIAN. It "comes as no surprise, really, that having made it his pitch for votes to expand the World Cup, as he stepped over the fallen careers" of former UEFA President Michel Platini and FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, Infantino has "quickly steered through that promise." With this "crowding of 16 more countries into the flagship summer tournament, Europe’s favoured candidate, the promised clean-up successor to the disgraced Blatter era at FIFA, has done what the European football establishment largely opposes," and the "criticism is obvious." Rooted as ever "in the hall of mirrors which is FIFA electoral politics, Infantino will now involve more countries, which vote for the president, in football’s most prized spotlight." FIFA’s "own projections are that spreading the participants further around the globe and embracing 16 more domestic markets" will add almost $1B to its takings, and $640M profit, from TV companies and the branding sponsors (GUARDIAN, 1/10).

    'OUTRAGE' FROM FANS: In London, Martyn Ziegler opined football fans, "notoriously conservative, are already leaping up and down in outrage." Bleacher Report responded to FIFA’s decision at a meeting in Zurich by posting a picture of a tombstone with the epitaph “The 32-team World Cup 1998-2022. It Seemed Fine As It Was.” The official Twitter account of American Samoa’s football federation tweeted, “Congratulations New Zealand who have qualified for the 2026 World Cup.” Mocked-up pictures of a "massive Panini sticker book have been doing the rounds." Yes, this decision is "all about politics and money" -- but that is "no reason not to embrace it, now it is here" (LONDON TIMES, 1/10). Also in London, Oliver Kay wrote in principal, there is "something to be said for a further expansion of the World Cup." Many feel that a 32-team tournament is "already bloated enough, allowing for such dross as Australia, Cameroon, Honduras and, among the worst of the lot, England at the 2014 tournament." Then again, "we would say that in England, wouldn’t we?" FIFA "has a choice." The World Cup can "either be an elite tournament, for the best of the best, in which case 32 qualifiers is already too many, or it can be a carnival of football, open to greater numbers." Or perhaps, if Infantino and the exec committee are "capable of showing some vision, it could be both" (LONDON TIMES, 1/10).

    WHAT ABOUT 2026?: In London, Paul Hayward wrote a 2026 World Cup of 48 teams "offers a vision of football flying back and forth across Donald Trump’s border wall for a tournament jointly hosted by America, Mexico and Canada." A political reading of the unanimous vote in Zurich in favor of 16 extra teams and a total of 80 fixtures by FIFA’s council "is that football’s overlords have found a new, less grubby way to extract more money from television companies and fans and spread it around the six confederations." But this is a "Zurich-based, parliamentary, horse-trading orientated perspective that takes no account of the public's reaction to being forced to watch 16 groups of three and penalty shoot-outs to determine drawn group stage games." It "ignores the festering resentment about how the World Cup ended up in Russia next year and Qatar five years from now." The "impresarios have good reasons for making these calculations." So far, "the world has just lapped it up" (TELEGRAPH, 1/10).

    THE REAL REASON: In Berlin, Andreas Sten-Ziemons wrote, "What is actually driving Infantino on this issue are power and money, and not -- as often claimed -- the desire to renew or develop football. Infantino has said that he wants to give an opportunity to those countries to take part in a World Cup that would otherwise never get the chance. This may even be true, but what is also true is that FIFA is a professional business enterprise and acts accordingly -- even if it describes itself a non-profit organization" (DEUTSCHE WELLE,1/10).

    RE-ELECTION BID: Also in London, Ian Herbert opined as "if the farce of staging the tournament in the searing heat" in '22 -- "forcing a winter tournament instead -- were not ridiculous enough, Infantino seems likely to get his wish for the 48-team gathering from 2026, with the competition’s old eight four-team groups becoming 16 groups of three." Goodbye to the "notion of World Cup qualification being a privilege; something for which nerves would be shredded." Let there "be no doubt that this is about Infantino seeking re-election to his post in 2019 and needing to convince the 211 to vote for him, as an agent of better times for the smaller countries." Let there be "equally little doubt that it’s all about the money -- like it ever was in the dank swamp-like depths of this organisation." More nations "means more broadcast revenue and more sponsors from the myriad who are present" (INDEPENDENT, 1/9).

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  • Football Notes: Labour Leader Says Wenger Would Welcome National Salary Cap

    Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn believes Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger would "like it very much" if a future Labour government introduced a "national wage cap," which he admitted would be "somewhat higher" than his own £138,000 ($168,000) pay. Corbyn said that he was "looking into" the idea of a salary cap to address "huge levels of disparity" in the U.K. Asked whether the policy would "apply to millionaire footballers," he said, "I think the salaries paid to some footballers are simply ridiculous." When it was suggested Wenger "might not like the idea," Corbyn, an Arsenal supporter, said, "Arsène Wenger is a man who is an accountant at heart and I think he'd probably like it very much indeed" (London INDEPENDENT, 1/10).

    Guinea Bissau's football team "settled a strike over unpaid wages, clearing the way" for its debut appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations. After the news emerged, "thousands lined the streets of the capital of the tiny West African country to watch the squad parade by on Tuesday." The team's build-up "was interrupted at the weekend when players went on strike over unpaid bonuses" (REUTERS, 1/10).

    Members of Uganda's parliament "will donate a percentage of their January salary" to help the team at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. The total amount to be collected from parliament will be $58,451. Uganda's government has given $540,716 -- "well short" of the $2M the Federation of Uganda FAs wanted (BBC, 1/10).

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