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SBD Global/January 11, 2017/International Football

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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