January 9, 2017 - 12:43 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - FIFA is set to make the World Cup bigger and richer, even if the price to pay is lower-quality football. FIFA President Gianni Infantino hopes his ruling council will agree on Tuesday, January 10 to expand the 2026 World Cup to 48 nations, playing in 16 groups of three teams, ESPN FC revealed.
A decision could be delayed if some council members demand to know exactly how many qualifying places each continent will get before agreeing to scrap the 32-team format. The current format has been successful, popular and profitable since 1998 and is locked in for the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
The prize of 16 extra places, with the biggest increases to Africa and Asia, has "overwhelming" support from FIFA's 211 member federations, Infantino has said.
The promise of extra funding from FIFA could be secured by an expected 20 percent rise in rights fees paid by broadcasters and sponsors.
"Financially, the 48-team format is the most appealing or successful simply because the sporting element is prevailing and every match is important," Infantino said two weeks ago. "The decision should not be financially driven, neither in terms of revenue or costs ... but the driver should really be the development of football and boosting football all over the world."
World Cup champion Germany are not in favour. They argued that diluting the number of European and South American teams -- which have won all 20 titles since the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 -- could "strengthen the imbalance" seen at some tournaments.
"The [German football federation] fundamentally believe that the current 32-team format is the best option," president Reinhard Grindel said last week. Germany have no delegate at Tuesday's meeting, though Grindel is set to join the FIFA Council in May.
FIFA acknowledged the risk of lower standards in a research document sent to members last month, as first reported by The Associated Press.
The "absolute quality" of football, defined by high-ranked teams playing each other most often, is achieved by 32 teams, FIFA said, citing 10,000 tournament simulations made to reach that conclusion.
Still, before Infantino's election last February, he promised voters more World Cup places and increased funding.
FIFA expects $5.5 billion in income tied to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, though 25 of 34 sponsorship slots are unsold. The research document predicted the equivalent of $6.5 billion in revenue from a 48-team tournament in a "16x3" format, which would send two teams from each group to a new round of 32 knockout bracket.