Earlier today, FIFA Council did something big - expanding the World Cup, the grandest soccer competition in all the world, from 32 teams to 48 teams.
FIFA Council unanimously decides on expansion of the FIFA World Cup to a 48-team competition as of 2026. https://t.co/zPRIt5lU0w— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) January 10, 2017
While details are sure to come out and put a little more structure to the idea, this decision is fascinating. Before I was an FC Dallas fan, I enjoyed the intensity and drama of the World Cup. Four years between competitions seemed like forever. There really is nothing like it. The Olympics have some drama, but they are a snooze fest compared to the preparation, anticipation, and qualification to compete on the world’s stage.
Is this decision good or bad? Here’s some quick hot takes:
This decision is good for the USA. TRUE
Yes, the USA is already in a bit of a hole on the journey to qualification for the next World Cup, so long term, anything that can expand the number of teams from CONCACAF is good for us. It lets us squeak in when our talent pool is riddled with injury, or we find ourselves bereft of leadership. It’s probably also good for Canada, who might earn some trips now and help bring some focus on both young Canadian and US players in Major League Soccer.
This decision is good for making money. TRUE
FIFA is reported to rake in piles of cash for this decision. It makes sense. More viewers, more nations, more TV sets, more advertisers, more venues = more money. I don’t know if represents a cash cow for host nations, maybe making it harder in the end for some to be able to host it all. Does this help the US who could more easily put in a host bid now? FIFA is notoriously corrupt, too, so while the money might be good, will it actually get used to help the sport grow? I really don’t know.
The decision will help the intensity of the competition. FALSE
The World Cup is probably over-expanded as is. There are enough teams that struggle to get out of the group stages. Adding a bunch more won’t necessarily make the competition more rich or satisfying. While yes, it will get more eyeballs and add some drama as a few plucky upstart national teams will get some shining moments, the better national teams will still rise to the top in the end. Maybe it just delays the inevitable a little while longer.
The decision is good for players. MAYBE
For young and promising players in a weaker national team who normally would not get in, this is good news. They get a chance to show their skills and ability on that grand stage, maybe landing a new contract somewhere else. For more established players, it’s no real change. Maybe it’s a negative if they have to play more games or come up against a side that will be more desperate and reckless as they try to advance. I don’t know. It’s probably, in the end, a wash.
The decision helps the sport of soccer on the international stage. FALSE
A statement like this one is much too big to really wrestle with, but in my opinion, how does expanding the World Cup really help grow the game? Smaller nations are not going to be overwhelmed with fresh young talent on this news. Might it give a boost to larger nations with a young, underdeveloped soccer culture (like China and USA)? Unlikely, especially when the work that needs to be done in those countries is on a smaller level overall. I don’t see this helping grow the sport as much as helping grow FIFA’s bank accounts.
The decision is good for the fans. TRUE
Despite the concern of being able to catch all those games, more soccer is ultimately a good thing. Maybe it means my national team stays in a bit longer. Maybe it means more of my friends and neighbors will tune in to watch. Can the World Cup get even bigger for its fans? In about ten years, we will find out.
We’ll have a few years before this kicks in (reportedly by 2026), so these questions and others will get sorted out in between.
What do you think the effect will have on soccer? Where did I get it wrong? Where did I get it right? Tell me below.