Sport should always be about quality rather than quantity.
A glut of games does not guarantee the quality of the games. Sometimes the expansion of a competition can compromise the quality of the competition, and many of the games become irrelevant.
In the push for more money there are many who will argue that UEFA made a mistake by extending the entry criteria to their Champions League competition beyond national Champions diluted the tournament.
It now seems that the new FIFA President Gianni Infantino is hell-bent on strangling the life out of their quadrennial showcase event.
FIFA continues to leave fans shaking their heads in disbelief. At last week’s meeting of the now expanded FIFA Council they did not, as far as reports go, discuss the corruption within their own corridors, or the fact that some of their former executives are still running from the FBI. No, instead there was discussion about expanding the World Cup finals to include 40 or 48 teams.
Those who remember the days when the World Cup finals consisted of only 16 teams and have seen the competition expand to 32 (1982-1998), are in many cases the ones objecting the loudest. Already in each group there appear to be teams at the finals who are doomed not to win a game.
In fact at the 2014 World Cup final every single team that finished last in the eight pools failed to win a game. Of the 24 games these teams played, between them the eight teams managed five draws. In those same 24 games they scored a collective 17 goals and conceded 52 goals. These games averaged just under three goals a game. The remaining 40 games averaged 2.5 per game.
If you look at the teams that came bottom of those eight pools, one was from the European Confederation, England, one from the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, Honduras. There were two teams from Africa, Ghana and Cameroon, and all four qualifiers from Asia, Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea.
Yet despite this Infantino wishes to expand the tournament. If he gets his way the 48 team tournament, and there is much debate as to how this would work, but if only 16 teams progress to the knock out stages that would mean there would be an increase from 64 games to 88 games at the Finals. If 32 teams go through to the knock out stages that would increase to 104 games.
Only the people counting the money will think that such a move will benefit the game. How can it possibly improve the tournament? The World Cup sadly is already not about the best teams competing at the finals. It is about the best teams from various regions of the world competing at the Finals.
With travel so much easier today there have been some who have suggested that the World Cup finals should be about the best 32 teams playing. That the Confederation qualification path should be abandoned and qualification pools be made up with teams from all confederations, and teams travel home and away. This would mean the best team in each pool is at the World Cup Finals on merit. It would also mean for some of the lesser nations the opportunity to play one of the top teams in the world in their own backyard, which in turn would be a far greater money spinner for them, than many of their current qualifying games.
Sadly as mouthwatering as this prospect sounds it will never happen as World Cup spots have been used as a bargaining tool by FIFA wannabe Presidents for over 40 years. The guarantee of more World Cup slots helping pull in, in Africa’s case 53 votes for a united vote.
The new FIFA President has claimed that qualifying for a World Cup Finals produces “Football Euphoria” and therefore was to be encouraged. The inverse of that he claimed was awful for countries who failed to qualify, and turned their football clubs into “a disaster.”
So rather than have losers, teams not good enough to join the party, let us make the party bigger. That will solve all problems, and make more countries around the world feel better about football, won’t it?
This approach should not come as any surprise, after all in the past twenty years there has been an awful trend come into sport in which children, whether their team wins a competition or not, are all given a trophy at the end of the season. They have not received this for performance, and on merit, but simply for playing the game week-in-week-out.
It would appear that FIFA want to adopt a similar policy in which nations even if they are outside the top 48 teams in the World will be able to go to the World Cup Finals, simply as a reward for playing the game and being a member of FIFA.
Just as the Cricket World Cup has become a drawn out bore, as it went from taking 14 days to complete in 1975 to 43 days to complete in 2015, Football wants to follow suit. In 1966 the World cup featured 16 teams and was completed in 19 days. In 2014 it featured 32 teams and took 32 days to complete. With another 12 teams it will last even longer, the quality will have to be diluted, and the damage that can do the game is immeasurable.
Sadly the sycophants who sit at the trough that is the FIFA Council table will no doubt vote in favour of Infantino’s absurd expansion plan. It would be nice to think when the outcomes from such a vote become apparent the game could hold them accountable, but as we all know at FIFA accountability is a word seldom used.