Football fans shouldn’t sweat the 48-team World Cup

When it comes to football, there is plenty to be angry and worried about.

Manchester City have been charged with false reporting to cover up financial fair play violations. Barcelona, ​​La Liga league leader, has been charged with corruption after it was revealed they paid the vice president of the Spanish refereeing committee half a million dollars a year between 2016 and 2018. sports investigation and criminal investigation for false reporting and shareholder misrepresentation. French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain are run by a guy who is also chairman of the European Club Association, a member of the UEFA executive committee and – in a different beIN Sports chairman hat – one of the league’s biggest sponsors. game, and he was implicated in the “kidnapping and torture” investigation.

So yes, these are fraught times for the game. And all of the above is worth worrying about, because if there is no transparent verdict that everyone understands, one way or another, we will not have a closure, we will simply have more accusations and lingering distrust.

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Here’s what you don’t have to worry about: a 48-team World Cup in 2026. At least not now that FIFA has come up with a reasonable format.

On Wednesday, the FIFA Council approved a 48-team format: four groups of 12, of which the top eight third-placed teams advance to a new round of 32 teams.

The quality of the World Cup will be diluted! Someone please think about the welfare of the players! The number of matches increased by 60%! It’s all about money and greed!

I think this is a fair collection of counterarguments. If there are other good reasons No to go to the 48 commands i’m all ears: click me on twitter.

In the meantime, let’s look at the most cited arguments, starting with dilution of quality. Of course, if you have 48 members instead of 32, the “quality” will be diluted, because presumably the extra 16 teams won’t be as good as the original 32.

But so what? Lower division teams compete in cup competitions around the world. Is Wrexham’s presence ruining your FA Cup enjoyment? In a broader sense, the World Cup is not a showcase for the highest quality teams in the game, because the best teams are club teams. Why? Because they have the means and the ability to hire the best players and coaches from all backgrounds, and they play and train together all year round.

So yes, if you’re light on “quality” then international football is not for you, nor is football in the lower divisions, and indeed every game except the Champions League playoffs, the big six clashes in the Premier League. , Clasico and a few other selection matches. I’m sorry.

In fact, the World Cup has long been not associated with quality. It’s the biggest event in sports and it’s about participation, whole countries stopping by to watch games, finding a kinship with your neighbor or colleague who annoys the hell out of you in real life but for 90 minutes when your team is playing , becomes a member of your circle and the guy you want to hug if your country scores.

It is a showcase of football from all over the world. And while places in the competition have traditionally been dominated by countries in Europe and South America (of course, in the name of “quality”), it is only fair that the rest of the planet also gets a chance. FIFA has 211 member associations, and if 48 of them participate in the World Cup, then this means that 22.7% become eligible. For most of the contest’s history, this was roughly the ratio of participating countries. When it increased from 16 to 24 countries in 1986, it was 19.7%. And when in 1998 it increased from 24 to 32, it amounted to 18.3%. I can live with that if it means that most fans around the world will be part of the World Cup more than once or twice in their lives.

And while we’re at it, a nice by-product of the 48-team World Cup is more meaningful group games. It is much less likely that someone will be eliminated even if they lose their first two matches. And while you’re much more likely to qualify with two wins in your first two games (and therefore want to rest your starting players in the last group game), if the organizers are smart, they’ll provide a drain. an incentive to win a group, such as ensuring that group winners do not have to travel much (or at all) in subsequent rounds. This was not an issue in Qatar 2022, given that all games were mostly played in Doha, but with much more coverage in 2026, when the tournament takes place in the US, Mexico, and Canada – and subsequent 48-team World Cups – needlessly travel can be a game changer.

As for the player welfare argument, of course playing 62.5% more matches sounds cruel, doesn’t it? But we’re actually talking about four teams playing an extra game (and for two of those teams, it’s a third-place play-off that no one but the immediate family will ever remember. Faster! Who finished third in Russia 2018? See?). In the previous format, 24 out of 32 teams played four or fewer matches. In this format, 32 out of 48 will play four or fewer matches.

I agree that player welfare is not to be taken lightly. But a summer tournament that was preceded by no matches for at least three weeks, and then no matches after the tournament for at least another three weeks (longer for the teams that were eliminated before the semi-finals, which are the vast majority), is hardly a problem. The tournament is expected to last 39 days. At best, if your group is one of those that start later and you reach the semi-finals, you will play eight games in 33 days, which is already a regular occurrence for many players during the club season, except that they do not have a month’s holiday . before and after.

Which brings us to the debate about greed and money. No one will dispute the fact that a 48-team World Cup will make more money simply by playing more games. Yes, FIFA loves to make money. So are Apple, Google and Tinder. The difference is that the vast majority of FIFA’s income is redistributed to its member associations, more than half of which would not even exist without the annual infusion they receive from FIFA. That’s why they voted for a 48-team World Cup: it brings in more money and allows them to actually run the federation, tournaments, youth and women’s football.

God forbid the poor countries of the world to support such a format of the World Cup, which will allow them to play sports with at least a little dignity.

Of course, critics will point to the numerous FIFA scandals in the past and say that this amounts to patronage and pork barrel politics, and it gives Infantino, or whoever is in the big seat at the time, tremendous power to exchange FIFA funds for more votes. poor countries. . And yes, we are all aware of the bribery and corruption that took place during the era of Sepp Blatter. (We only remembered this this week when The former Fox executive has been found guilty by a New York court of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to secure the rights to broadcast the World Cup..)

But it’s a bit like social security or college financial aid. If there are people who are cheating social security programs or government financial assistance, do you just close them to everyone? Or are you making it harder to deceive the government by having a more transparent system and more vigilance?

I feel there is some underlying conservatism and rosy nostalgia for what the game was like when we first fell in love with it at the heart of the complaints about the 48-team World Cup. When—at least most of us—were younger, healthier, and less anxious. But the world is changing, and with it football.

So please save your worries and righteous anger for other football-related matters. The 48-team World Cup will be just amazing. You will love it. Believe me.


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