Soccer leaders in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are "in talks about joining forces to stage the biggest-ever edition" of the FIFA World Cup in '26, according to Tariq Panja of BLOOMBERG NEWS. The U.S. "would be the tournament’s main host with the most games, including the final." Should the plan be approved, the '26 World Cup "would be the first time three countries have staged the same event." FIFA VP and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said there seems to be a "prevailing thought that a confederation-type bid with multiple hosts is probably good" for the event. Panja notes the bid has a "strong chance of success as Europe and Asia are excluded following the selection of Russia and Qatar as hosts of the next two editions," in '18 and '22, respectively. Montagliani said that a formal proposal is "likely to be formulated and presented to CONCACAF’s other members around the time of the next FIFA Congress set for May in Bahrain." Panja notes the '26 host winner will be "picked via a poll" of FIFA's entire 211-nation membership, "rather than just its executive board" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 1/11).
NEW WAY OF DOING THINGS: FIFA yesterday voted to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams starting with the '26 tournament, and in N.Y., Andrew Keh notes the move was the "largest expansion, in percentage terms, for the World Cup since it went to 24 teams" from 16 in '82. Any plan to "increase the size of the tournament field ... seemed specifically tailored to appeal to smaller soccer nations, particularly those in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean that often feel underrepresented at the World Cup." Montagliani said, "It was done in a very good way, and the decision was made on the facts and figures, not on a wink and a nod. Maybe the time has come that we don’t do things on a wink and a nod anymore" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/11). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joshua Robinson notes FIFA's move comes as the organization cited the "need to be more inclusive." FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, "We are in the 21st century and we have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century. It is the future. We have to look at football (as) more than just Europe and South America." FIFA "hasn’t yet decided who will host the first 48-team World Cup, but the logistical demands of hosting such a large event with match venues, practice facilities, accommodation and infrastructure already narrow the field to a small handful." The U.S. is "widely considered to be the front-runner" to host the event (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/11). In DC, Simon Evans notes no decision has "yet been taken on how the 16 extra places will be divided among regional confederations, or how the qualification process will work." Neither will be "easy to work out" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/11).
THE PROS: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the expansion will increase the number of single-elimination games, "so it's more exciting" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/10). In DC, Steven Goff writes, "The World Cup is growing by 50 percent, but will it be half as good?" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/11). ESPN FC’s Gabriele Marcotti wrote FIFA's "mandate is to grow the game, and giving money back to the member associations is probably more desirable than having it sit and accumulate in a Swiss bank account." What will be "more problematic is finding a host nation that can provide 48 acceptable training bases." If the '26 event is held in the U.S., "that won't be a problem." Marcotti: "Elsewhere, it could be" (ESPNFC.us, 1/10). Marcotti said, "It's simply designed to get more nations into the World Cup so that more parts of the world can feel like they're a part of this" ("ESPN FC," ESPNews, 1/10). In Toronto, Kurt Larson writes more money to more member nations "means the growth of the game." The "prospect of more soccer and assisting struggling member nations greatly outweighs the potential for a few early blowouts and cagey group phase games" (TORONTO SUN, 1/11). ESPN FC's Marcotti noted there is a "natural conservatism to the game," and many of the arguments being made "were the same freakouts they had when FIFA moved from 24 to 32 teams and before that when they moved from 16 to 24 teams" ("OTL," ESPN, 1/10).
THE CONS: SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote he is worried the decision to expand will be "seen as the day FIFA ruined the World Cup." Wahl noted growth and "making money aren’t necessarily bad things, but the biggest problem that Infantino needs to fix is FIFA and confederation corruption ... and not the size of the World Cup." Following the blueprint of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and "raising payouts only increases suspicions that the same shady folks at the end of those handouts will continue with business as usual" (SI.com, 1/10). ESPN's Shaka Hislop said, "I'm not sure that is in the best interests of the global game ... (because) it becomes too watered down" ("OTL," ESPN, 1/10). ESPN's Max Bretos said there is "a lot not to like" about the decision to expand. He called it a "watered-down tournament" and a "money decision" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/11). ESPN's Hislop said, "It's a dilution of quality when you have just short of 25% of FIFA's member associations qualifying for the World Cup." Hislop: "There's been no change in terms of FIFA's own constitution and way of doing of business in writing, other than promises. I feel it's there to be exploited and it's only a matter of time" ("ESPN FC," ESPNews, 1/10).