Expansion will dent World Cup’s image in more ways than one

FOOTBALL’S world governing body FIFA has taken a step backward by choosing to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from its 2026 edition onwards. 

The unanimous decision made on Tuesday by its council, which preferred quantity to quality, will tarnish the tournament’s image due to more reasons than one.

On the face of it, the move appears to give more quota to confederations and help spread the game. But I would say in reality, the vote, done without much of an afterthought, has more cons than pros and will further dilute the tournament’s quality.

The expansion looks like a personal agenda of FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, who just kept a promise he had made during his electoral campaign. The World Cup’s value is likely to take a beating if presidents, from time to time, tamper with the format without taking into account its larger interests.

It goes without saying that FIFA looked mainly at making a few more billions of dollars as income, including from TV rights, sponsorships and tickets. But in doing so, it seems to have forgotten that all these returns are greatly dependant on the event’s quality.

The overall standard of the 32-team quadrennial World Cup, which normally happens at the end of club season, was already at a low ebb, with many one-sided and boring matches in the first round. The event used to come alive only from the quarterfinal stage. And I won’t wonder if a lot of fans stay away from the stadiums for group games.

The growing number of matches (from 64 to 80) may lead to more lopsided ties while 16 groups of three sides each are quite unlikely to evoke any interest initially. Not to mention the longer duration and unwarranted expenses, which’ll take a toll on the host nation’s budget.

Even the continental qualification campaigns, perhaps with the exception of Europe and South America, will be adversely affected as top teams are likely to take it easy.

The big question is how’ll the decision to expand benefit the World Cup? Only time will tell. It may again ruin the image of FIFA, which is still struggling to recover from a series of scandals.

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