By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) – Football federations are “overwhelmingly in favor” of expanding the existing 32-nation World Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Wednesday.
The global football federation boss wants to increase the number of teams playing in the World Cup final tournament to 48, arguing that it can be done in the same time frame as the current tournament.
“We have to be more inclusive,” Infantino said at a sports conference in Dubai, adding that a 48-team tournament was the most financially appealing.
Infantino is proposing a 48-team format with an initial round of 16 groups of three teams. The top two teams of each group would qualify for a round of 32 knockout stage, then round of 16, quarter finals, semi-finals and final.
There would be little to no impact on players under the proposed format with the winning team still playing seven games in 32 days as they do in the current 32-team World Cup, the FIFA boss argued.
A total of 80 games would be played compared with the current 64 games.
When he was elected in February, Infantino had promised to expand the tournament from the 32 teams to 40.
CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani told Reuters he supported the expansion plans but said he would like to see the proportional number of places awarded to each federation to remain the same as today.
CONCACAF governs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
On Tuesday, Italian and Portuguese football federation presidents Carlo Tavecchio and Fernando Gomes said at the conference they were in favor of the proposal.
“We support the idea in order to increase the number of the teams pending of course the conditions and the formula for the competitions,” Gomes said.
Any changes to the structure of the World Cup, however, are unlikely to be made until the 2026 World Cup, which is yet to be awarded.
The last time the number of teams competing in the World Cup increased was in 1998 when it went from 24 to 32.
The FIFA Council, made of up members of the global federations, is to discuss the expansion in January.
Infantino also said he was hopeful video technology would be introduced in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia following the use of the video assistant referee system at the Club World Cup in Japan.
The tests in Japan were in “the right direction,” he said. “Even though there is still a bit of fine tuning to be made, the tests have been very, very positive.”
(editing by Clare Lovell)