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

There are plenty of reasons to be angry and worried when it comes to football.

Manchester City have been charged with false accounting to cover up financial fair play breaches. Barcelona, ​​the La Liga league leaders, are facing corruption allegations after paying half a million dollars a year to the vice president of the Spanish referee committee between 2016 and 2018. Juventus, who have already docked 15 points this season, face both a sports investigation and a criminal investigation for false accounting and misleading shareholders. France’s league leaders Paris Saint-Germain are managed by a man who is chairman of the European Club Association, a member of the UEFA executive committee and — wearing his other hat as chairman of bein Sports — one of the biggest bankrollers. game, and has been implicated in an investigation into “kidnapping and torture”.

So yes, this is a game filled time. And all of the above is worrisome because if there isn’t a transparent verdict everyone understands — one way or another — we won’t get closure, we’ll have more complaints and lingering mistrust.

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Here’s what you shouldn’t worry about: the 48-team World Cup in 2026. Not that FIFA has come up with a reasonable format, anyway.

The FIFA Council approved the 48-team format on Wednesday: four groups of 12, with the eight best third-placed teams advancing to a new round of 32.

The quality of the World Cup will be confused! No one will think about the welfare of the players! The number of matches is increasing by 60%! All this greed for money!

I think that is a fair compilation of counter arguments. If there is another valid reason no With 48 teams to go, I’m all ears: hit me up on Twitter.

In the meantime, let’s consider its most cited arguments, starting with quality dilution. Of course, if you have 48 participants instead of 32, the “quality” will be diluted because, most likely, the extra 16 teams will not be as good as the original 32.

But so what? Lower-division teams participate in cup competitions all over the world. Does Wrexham’s presence spoil your FA Cup enjoyment? More broadly, the World Cup isn’t about showcasing the most quality teams in the game, because, well, the best teams are club teams. Why? Because they have the ability to recruit the best players and coaches, regardless of funding and qualifications, and they play and train together throughout the year.

So yes, if you’re serious about “quality”, international football isn’t for you — and neither is lower-division football, and basically every single game except the Champions League knockout stages, the Premier League’s Big Six clash, the Classic And a few other favorite matches. sorry

In fact, the World Cup has not been about quality for a long time. It’s the biggest event in sports and it’s about participation, all countries stop watching the games, find kinship with your neighbor or colleague who annoys you in real life but for 90 minutes, while your team is playing, becomes a member of your circle and a guy. Who you want to embrace if your country scores.

It is a showcase of football from around the world. And while places in the competition have traditionally been dominated by countries in Europe and South America (in the name of “quality”, of course), it’s only right that the rest of the planet gets a shot too. FIFA has 211 member associations, 48 ​​of them participate in the World Cup, meaning 22.7% can participate. In the history of most competitions, this is roughly the proportion of participating countries. When it went from 16 to 24 nations in 1986, it was 19.7%. And when it went from 24 to 32 in 1998, it was 18.3%. I can live with that, if it means most of the world’s fans get to be a part of the World Cup more than once or twice in their lifetime.

And while we’re at it, a nice byproduct of the 48-team World Cup is more meaningful group games. Even if they lose the first two matches, the chances of anyone being eliminated are very low. And while it’s true that you’re more likely to qualify with two wins in your first two games (and therefore want to rest your starters in the last group game), if the organizers are smart, they’ll deliver a plum. Incentives for group wins, such as ensuring that group winners do not have to travel significantly (or at all) to the next round. That wasn’t an issue in Qatar in 2022 because all the games were essentially in Doha, but in 2026 the tournament won’t have to be in the US, Mexico and Canada – and with a much bigger footprint after the next 48-team World Cup arrives. Travel can be a game changer.

As for the player welfare argument, sure, playing 62.5% more matches seems cruel, doesn’t it? But in reality, we’re talking four teams playing an extra game (and for those two teams, it’s a third-place playoff, which no one but family members will ever think of. Quick! Who finished third in Russia 2018? See? ) of the previous format. Under, 24 of the 32 teams played four or fewer matches. Under this format, 32 of the 48 will play four or fewer matches.

Player welfare is not something to be taken lightly, I agree. But having at least three weeks of no matches before a summer tournament, followed by at least three more weeks after the tournament (for teams knocked out before the semifinals, which is the vast majority) is rarely a problem. The tournament is expected to last for 39 days. At most, if your group starts later and you reach the semi-finals, you will play eight games in 33 days, which is regular for many players during the club season, unless they take a month off.

Which brings us to the greed and money argument. No one is going to dispute that a 48-team World Cup will generate more cash, simply because more games are played. Yes, FIFA likes to make money. So are Apple, Google and Tinder. The difference is that the bulk of FIFA’s revenue is redistributed to member associations, more than half of which would not exist without the annual infusion from FIFA. This is why they voted for a 48-team World Cup: it brings in more money and allows them to actually run a federation, tournament, youth and women’s football.

God forbid poor nations around the world return to a World Cup format that allows them to play a game with real dignity.

Of course, critics will point to the numerous FIFA scandals of the past and talk about how this amounts to patronage and pork barrel politics, and that it gives Infantino or whoever is in the big chair at the time the power to swap FIFA funds for votes from poor countries. . And, yes, we all know about the bribery and corruption that took place during the Sepp Blatter era. (We had a reminder of that this week, when a former Fox executive was convicted by a New York court of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure World Cup broadcast rights.)

But it’s more like welfare payments or financial aid for college tuition. If there are people who cheat on welfare or a government financial assistance program, do you close it for everyone? Or do you make it more difficult to defraud the government with more transparent systems and more oversight?

I kind of feel that at the heart of the complaints about the 48-team World Cup is a kind of fundamental conservatism and rose-tinted nostalgia for the game when we first fell in love with it. When — most of us anyway — we were younger, fitter and had less to worry about. But the world changes and with it football.

So, please, save your anxiety and righteous anger for other football-related matters. A 48-team World Cup will be fine. You will like it. Trust me.

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