Photo via AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

This past January, world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, voted to expand its quadrennial showcase event, the World Cup Finals, by 50 percent, from 32 nations to 48. 

This isn’t the first time that the organization has invited more countries to compete in its blockbuster tournament; since its first edition,  comprised of 13 teams in 1930, the field has increased in 1934, 1954, 1982, and again to the current format of 32 teams at France 1998. 

Now, from 2026 on, 48 federations – nearly 1/4 of FIFA’s members – will send a representative to the final tournament.  This drastic change will allow the populations of 16 more countries to slow down during every fourth summer, come together as one, and dream for glory.

More teams will create more games, though, and more revenue, which is a worry. FIFA is known to be corrupt, taking advantage of any opportunity to increase cash flow.

All of this begs the question: how much of the change in the tournament format is motivated by a desire to spread the joy of participation in the World Cup Finals to nations on the cusp of qualification, and how much of it has to do with fattening FIFA’s wallet? 

FIFA President Gianni Infantino defends the unanimous decision made by the sport’s world governing body this past January in Zurich, saying that the change in number of participants was based on “sporting merit”, not increases in revenue. He also said the decision will “mark the entrance of the World Cup into the 21st Century.” 

Many people are left skeptical as to whether or not Infantino is hiding FIFA’s true intentions, though, because no matter what he says, the fact remains that FIFA is poised to increase the revenue it earns as a result of this tournament by over $650 million.

There are disagreements as to whether or not the quality of play will be increased by the presence of additional teams, or if the talent on display will be diluted by this influx of perennial outsiders. 

FIFA defends the decision by pointing to major upsets at recent tournaments as a case for the inclusion of “smaller” nations.  It’s also up in the air as to what impact this change will have on the qualification portion of the tournament, where each continent has a certain number of spots allocated to it for the final tournament.  This may very well diminish the quality of play on display during the qualifying tournament; for example, six of the ten members of CONMEBOL, South America’s governing association, will qualify for the tournament. 

What will motivate Argentina to risk Lionel Messi, or for Brazil to play Neymar on match days where he may not be 100%, when not every match is vital?  Many people fear qualification will be less arduous for many nations, who will then not be accustomed to the intense levels of international competition when the World Cup Finals begin.

The tournament will still take place in the same 32 days that the current iteration of the tournament takes to complete.  Despite the increase in overall matches, from 64 to 80, the eventual winner will still only play on seven occasions, lift the same trophy, and receive the same adoration from their supporters. 

Hopefully, the level of play during the tournament rises along with FIFA’s revenue, so that international soccer’s governing body is not the only benefactor. If not, the global game will soon be ruled by those fortunate enough to be at the very top, if it isn’t already.

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