Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More on Future World Cup Expansion, Inequality and General Disgruntlement

Prior to the last FIFA Presidential election it seemed that the candidates were competing to hand out as much money as they could to the 209 national football federations, in a vain attempt to out-Blatter the then incumbent FIFA President.

There has been a shift of emphasis in the current election cycle, however, with the issue of the best World Cup Finals format for future tournaments being raised more than a few times over the past few weeks, most often by some of the candidates for the upcoming FIFA Presidential election.

Now that Blatter's days are clearly numbered, some of the election candidates seem to have switched their vote-gathering proposals to increasing the number of teams in the World Cup Finals from the current 32, to 36, in the case of Prince Ali, and 40, in the case of Michel Platini and his last-minute UEFA-backed replacement, Gianni Infantino.

As for the other three candidates, Jerome Champagne appears to favour a rebalancing of the 32 teams rather than expansion, Tokyo Sexwale merely hinted at the possibility of an increased number of finalists without providing specific numbers or details, while Sheikh Salman has not addressed the issue at all, his sole manifesto item apparently being that while various Bahraini athletes may have been arrested and tortured in 2011 and a committee was set up to investigate them, with he himself named as the leader, that committee never actually met. If he has any other proposals on his manifesto, I don't recall seeing them.

I've already outlined the numerous reasons why a 40-team World Cup, in eight groups of five, as proposed by Platini and endorsed by Infantino, is a terrible idea. I won't rehash the numerous points, other than to note it would add at a minimum seven to ten days to the length of the tournament, not a mere three, as suggested by Platini, which would have a further detrimental effect on club football, with the most affected leagues being the big five in Europe, which are, of course, the ones based in the very same countries whose interests you might expect the current UEFA President and Secretary-General to protect.

A quick look at Inafantino's twitter feed shows only one tweet where he hints at his potential ideas if he were to be successfully elected. Clicking on the provided link brings up the 40-team World Cup Finals suggestion and no other plans at all.

Whatever the requirements are to be nominated by five national federations as a possible FIFA presidential candidate, or indeed to be someone given the opportunity to nominate candidates, it seems clear that the ability to think critically or carry out any sort of detailed analysis is not among the criteria.

Indeed, any discussion about increasing future World Cups is practically a moot point, considering it is probably too late to do so in time for the 2018 tournament (think of the wrangling over the breakdown by Confederation of the additional four or eight teams), and with the 2022 tournament scheduled to now last just 28-days, thanks ultimately to the votes cast almost five years ago by a group of 22 men who have for the most part either resigned, been suspended, or been banned by FIFA, therefore being too short to realistically allow for any increase in the number of participants.

This would mean that at the earliest, expansion couldn't occur until 2026, by which time whoever is successfully elected in February next year will already have served two terms when the first expanded tournament is played.

It is for this reason that the whole discussion about an enlargened tournament during this election campaign strikes me as pandering of a type that is every bit as obvious as the time in 1972 when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai agreed to donate Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing to the National Zoo in Washington DC as a gesture of goodwill to First Lady Pat Nixon.

If the candidates are serious about expansion, perhaps they should take a look at the table below, which shows the breakdown of teams by gender in the upcoming four-year cycle of worldwide FIFA tournaments. Here's a clue. Whenever there is a number in red there is a good opportunity for expansion.

In every single instance, the men's tournaments include more teams than their female equivalents, or worse, there is no equivalent women's tournament. This also means, of course, that there are no qualifying matches for the non-existent tournaments.

Why is there no FIFA Women's Confederation Cup, Club World Cup, Futsal World Cup or Beach Soccer World Cup? At a time when women are crying out for an increased share of the administrative table, it seems obvious that they should also have the same opportunities to play in FIFA world tournaments as men do.

This seems a simple way of increasing the participation numbers and standard of women's football worldwide.

But instead, it seems for the most part, the presidential candidates are focused on the men's game. The women's game remains an afterthought.

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