Big changes have been announced regarding the world’s most popular sporting tournament. The FIFA World Cup will be expanding to 48 teams in 2026, according to an ESPNFC report.
The FIFA Council unanimously decided on a 48-team #WorldCup as of 2026:
16 groups of 3 teams. Details to follow after the meeting.
— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) January 10, 2017
— CNN (@CNN) January 10, 2017
The vote was put in place in Zurich, Switzerland during a FIFA Council meeting and was unanimously voted into effect. The changes come as part of FIFA President Gianni Infantino plan to reinvigorate the World Cup to fit modern times.
Infantino’s preferred option for change was for a 2026 competition featuring 16 groups of three, followed by a 32-team knockout, increasing the number of games from 64 to 80 but remaining inside a 32-day schedule. There were also options to have a 40-team tournament, with 10 groups of four or eight groups of five, but the only other 48-team makeup would see a 32-team one-game knockout round with the winners joining 16 already-qualified teams.
Infantino has also suggested that penalty shootouts be brought in to settle the results of all drawn games, thereby minimizing the risk of teams colluding in their final group games to eliminate others from the tournament.
The Swiss has repeatedly said his main motivation for expansion is to give more nations a chance of experiencing the joy of a World Cup, which will bolster international football in developed markets and help its growth in new ones.
The six continents that make up FIFA have not heard yet on how many extra places they will receive as part of the expansion, but rumor has it that Africa and Asia are the two areas that will receive the most new slots in the 2026 World Cup.
He had a few statements about the vote:
“We have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,” said Infantino, who also promised funding increases for FIFA’s 211 member federations at his election last February.
“No guarantees have been made,” Infantino said. “The only sure thing is that obviously with 48 teams everyone will have a bit more than they have today.”