If FIFA were a person, what would their New Year’s resolution be? Perhaps they would wish to turn a new page after multiple scandals gripped their organization by starting an investigation into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar or searching for alternative banking options that do not run through Panama. Much like you and me, however, FIFA’s resolutions, if they existed at all, went out the window fairly quickly.
2016 had its shares of highs and lows, well rather a few more lows than usual (except for Ludacris, he was just excited to see “how low” it could go). FIFA had their fair share of these, and their members were looking forward for a fresh start. Yet soon after the turn of the year, the governing body of soccer chose to lose any sense of respectability.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced an “expansion” to the World Cup, the premier tournament that FIFA hosts every four years. While the current structure of the tournament includes the inclusion of 32 teams, FIFA looks to include 48 teams starting in 2026.
With this expansion, FIFA expects to turn over an additional $6.6 billion profit in 2026. In exchange for this hefty pay raise for the members of FIFA, however, many of the qualities that make the World Cup so unique and enjoyable for fans are being abandoned.
First of all, the general expansion to 48 teams is the most egregious aspect of the move. The World Cup is an elite tournament, and participating nations earn that badge of “eliteness” through a grueling qualification process. Adding an additional 16 teams will simply reduce the overall quality of the tournament. While the expansion will create more guaranteed qualifying positions, this will only resolve to dilute the competitiveness of the tournament.
European and South American teams have maintained domination of the World Cup and, when faced against paltry token opposition that will be guaranteed qualification, will run them to the ground. The seeding system for the group stages will inevitably result in heavily lopsided match-ups, such as four-time world champion Germany being grouped with a team like South Africa, who have only qualified for three World Cup tournaments. Care to imagine how that would go?
Restructuring the group stage to groups of three will also be incredibly detrimental to the quality of play in each group stage match. The new structure will allow the top two out of three advance. Therefore, a country doesn’t specifically have to be the best out of their group–they simply have to avoid being the worst.
In soccer it is much easier to avoid being the worst rather than being the best. By playing very defensive, yet boring and somewhat ugly soccer, an average team can get a result of in the form of a draw against a largely superior opponent. This pushes the World Cup into a competition of “getting by” not battling for a win.
As someone who enjoys watching top quality soccer, I believe the World Cup is the best opportunity to introduce the beautiful game to other people. The joy of seeing players play with passion for their countries is unmatched by professional club soccer. That passion will be corrupted, I’m afraid, by these changes. National teams will become more incentivized to play a dirty, ugly and scrappy style of the game that sucks the fun out of the sport. And what do we, the viewers and fans who make this game so special, get in return? Nothing,the profits will be shared among a select few FIFA members. That is all.
Except, well, maybe not. There will be millions of people from countries like Indonesia, Morocco or even Tahiti (well maybe not million) that will be so incredibly overjoyed to see their nation represented at the World Cup. But regardless, FIFA needs to realize the effects of restricting the World Cup: the good, the bad and the ugly.