By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa will be looking to double the number of places it has at an expanded World Cup, the continent's football association presidents have told soccer's world governing body FIFA.
Africa wants at least 10 spots in the 48-team World Cup that FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed from 2026 as the continent gave a ringing endorsement to the expansion plans.
“All associations back the idea to expand the World Cup and there is the hope that Africa can have 10 places in future,” South African FA chief Danny Jordaan said on Wednesday.
That would be double the five places the continent has at the next two finals in Russia next year and Qatar in 2022.
Europe is seeking a minimum of 16 places, up from 13, and wants its sides to be separated in the 16 opening round groups of three teams, with the top two advancing to a 32-team knockout phase under plans approved by FIFA last month.
Asia are expected to get eight to nine places, compared to 4-1/2 now, and South America, which has 10 member countries, a total of six, also up from 4-1/2.
The CONCACAF region, made up of the Caribbean, Central and North American countries, would get 6-1/2 places, compared to 3-1/2, with Oceania, the small Pacific Islands confederation, having one automatic place at the finals instead of 1/2.
Inter-continental playoffs between countries with 1/2 a place would determine the additional spots at the finals.
The final allocation of places must be passed by the FIFA Council.
The subject of the expanded World Cup featured prominently at a three-day summit between FIFA chief Infantino and more than 50 presidents of the African FAs.
The talks were behind closed doors but FIFA officials told Reuters on Wednesday that Infantino had outlined plans for an expanded World Cup and new development assistance for member countries.
It is the first time a summit of this type has been held, giving Africa's FA representatives informal contact with the FIFA leadership, including the world governing body's recently appointed general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura.
“It has been a very good idea and a chance for the associations to also speak directly to the FIFA leadership about their issues and concerns,” said Ahmad, the president of the Madagascar Football Federation.
Ahmad, who uses just one name, is running for the presidency of the Confederation of African Football against long-standing incumbent Issa Hayatou of Cameroon next month.
The summit comes three weeks before the CAF elections in Addis Ababa on March 16 and the FIFA event in Johannesburg has been dominated by intense lobbying, delegates said.
“Most of the business at this summit is actually outside of the conference room, in the corridors and the hotel lobby as different candidates try to persuade associations to vote for them,” said one African FA chief, who asked not to be named.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)