Without any concrete reasoning to demonstrate that the expansion is for footballing reasons, FIFA’s latest motion reeks of pure greed. Football’s governing body has an appalling reputation in regard to transparency, with this latest move only highlighting the fact that removing former president Sepp Blatter from the head of its table hasn’t stopped the organisation’s blatant disregard for the game’s integrity. It’s a move that appeases the select few who will make a profit as a result.
Where does the trend stop?
The first World Cup featured 13 teams, and has grown ever since. From 1934 up until 1954, 16 teams competed (except for 1950), until 1982 where the tournament was expanded to 24. France ’98 was the first 32 team tournament and that’s the number it has remained at since. There is nothing wrong with the tournament’s evolution thus far, but the trend is only going one way. It’s not difficult to envisage FIFA wanting to expand further 15/20 years from now for exactly the same reasons as they gave this time around, with scant regard for the end result affecting football itself.
Every side that qualifies will have to budget and plan for a potential stay of several weeks, assuming that they progress through the tournament. But failure to qualify from the group stage means bringing all their players to the host country for a pre-tournament training camp with all the associated hype, before turning around and heading home after two games. As a result, 16 teams will actually be involved in the tournament for less than a week before packing their bags again.
Money, money, money
FIFA have claimed that although the decision has not been driven by money, it will generate £521m more than a 32-team tournament. For a non-profit organisation that has an abhorrent track record of grassroots investment and that has had systematic corruption allegations made against it, what exactly is this money going to be used for other than to line their pockets? How many other non-profit organisations have an emergency cash reserve that currently sits at over £1 billion?
Qualifying will be further diluted
The current qualifying system in Europe has been diluted enough to make it almost procession-like. Lower ranked sides now have a greater opportunity to make it to the ‘finals’ but the vast majority of the process becomes a series of meaningless games following on from one another.
Quantity doesn’t mean quality
The number of tournament matches will rise to 80 from 64, but the eventual winners will still play only seven games because of the way the tournament will be structured. What is better about more games featuring teams of a poorer quality? As much as fans love watching football, 80 games in 32 days is a hell of a lot to stomach. A tournament should be about intense drama and quality, not a bloated fixture list.
In theory, the World Cup should represent the highest quality of football on the planet. There will always be underdogs, and seeing them exceed expectations is brilliant, but the tournament increase simply moves what would be qualifying-standard games into the tournament proper. Viewers will still have to wait until the last 16 before any remotely competitive games are played.