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A 48-team World Cup, but who can host it?

Paris (AFP) – FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams starting with the 2026 tournament prompted one major question: who can host the global showpiece in its revamped format? 

North America is the favourite and in pole position with other former candidates relegated to outsiders. Several harbour ambitions of organising the 2026 World Cup but certain constraints limit the numbers. 

While the format for the finals faces an overhaul — 16 groups of three before the last 32 — the basic framework will remain similar, with a 32-day timeframe and 12 venues, assured FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, the man behind the reform.  

The main limitation will be the choice of host countries, with the winning bid to be revealed in May 2020, taking into account FIFA’s rotation principle — it said in October the hosts of the 2026 edition would come from different confederations to those hosting the 2018 and 2022 events, effectively excluding Europe (Russia) and Asia (Qatar).

However, a European nation could still be selected “in the case that none of the received bids meet the technical and financial demands”, the FIFA Council added.

China President Xi Jinping’s vision of transforming the country into one of the game’s superpowers includes the goal of hosting and one day winning the World Cup, but it too will have to wait its turn. 

In May 2015 senior Chinese officials spoke of lodging a bid for the 2026 and 2030 events, a source told AFP during the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress in Bahrain.

– Joint North American effort –

With Asia and Europe sidelined, and South America eyeing a joint bid between neighbours Argentina and Uruguay in 2030 to commemorate the competition’s 100th anniversary, North America are firmly in the hunt. 

With co-hosting a recent admission, and even encouraged by Infantino, a tandem or tri-nation bid (US, Mexico and Canada) “is a possibility”, CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani confirmed.

Also playing in their favour is the fact the World Cup hasn’t visited the North and Central America region since the US hosted the 1994 tournament, while the three countries in question already boast the required infrastructures.

“To organise such a World Cup is positive on the condition that there aren’t too many construction costs,” Jean-Francois Brocard, university lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Law and Economics of Sport (CDES), told AFP.

“We saw it with Euro 2016. The expenses incurred were more than offset by the revenues. When you increase the number of teams, that multiplies the costs, but the revenues as well.”

Mexican FA supremo Decio De Maria their intention to bid for for 2026 last March. Mexico has twice hosted memorable tournaments, first in 1970 when a magnificent Brazil side featuring Pele and the late Carlos Alberto waltzed to the title, and the 1986 World Cup won by Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

The US fell short in their attempt to land the 2022 showpiece controversially awarded to Qatar, but has since made it known they would be interested in staging the 2026 finals.

– Trump, Morocco –

However, Donald Trump’s election as US President could make negotiating a joint bid trickier after angering Mexicans with his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But other failed 2018 and 2022 contenders appear out of the running due to FIFA’s desire to rotate between continents — removing England, Portugal-Spain, Belgium-Netherlands, South Korea and Japan from the equation.

Whether the same applies to Australia is another point of contention. The Socceroos have established themselves as a force in Asia since leaving Oceania in 2006 and on that basis would also be ineligible.

But geographically speaking, Oceania is the only continent yet to welcome to the World Cup to its shores.

Morocco is also an option. Overlooked on four occasions (1994, 1998, 2006, 2010) it looks the lone feasible African candidate with South Africa having played host to the 2010 World Cup.

In November Infantino said Morocco had “all the resources to host a World Cup”, but it still has issues with the number of suitable venues and the repercussions of backing out from hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations over Ebola fears.

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  1. Craig Meace

    June 10, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Joel Charles, what you think is irrelevant. The next world cup, in 2022 is the last 32 team tournament. They are going to 48 teams in 2026. Get used to it.

  2. Larry Kern

    November 21, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    I think that in the future most World Cups will be held in countries that have a dictatorship that can invest the money in spite of the financial damage that might occur to it’s people. Russia and Qatar come to mind…sure do hope I’m wrong, but I think Brazil might be the last held in a democratic nation for quite a while.

    • Vitaly

      April 28, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      Are we discussing futball or politics?

  3. Eddie

    November 20, 2017 at 11:14 am

    What format for matches of groups and more games on tv like fox and telemundo?

    • Paul

      November 20, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      FIFA’s plan for the 48 team World Cup is an initial play-off round with the top 16 nations being exempt. The play-offs would take place just before the main groups, and be at the location of the World Cup hosts. The play-offs look likely to be one off knockout games. The 16 winners from the play-off round join the top 16 nations at the next stage (group stage) the draw for the groups having taken place well before the tournament starts, as is the case at the moment.

      Any nation capable of hosting a 32 team World Cup would also be able to host a 48 team event since 16 teams will depart before the group stage begins.

      • Eddie

        November 21, 2017 at 11:08 am

        Thank you. But,what the bracket for 48 teams. What look like ?

        • Paul

          November 21, 2017 at 6:30 pm

          I don’t understand your question. if you mean groupings then it should be 8 groups of 4, pot 1 seeds and pot 2 seeds, plus 2 others frpom the play offs in each group.

      • Vitaly

        April 28, 2018 at 8:43 pm

        The stadiums would require a lot of maintenance and the grass needs time to heal and regrow! We would not want to watch such events on the field that has been plowed with boots and best games of the best teams finals!

  4. Joel Charles

    November 20, 2017 at 12:44 am

    I hope they don’t go to 48 teams. 32 is perfect. Next thing you know they will have a 64 teams, NCAA Basketball style tournament, 32 is Perfect. The co-host is not good because you have to allow 2 teams that didnt have to qualify, on that basis if you have 48 teams, there are only a few countries that will be able to host it: The U.S, Canada, Russia and China, maybe Brazil and Australia. Honestly, nobody else, only those 4-c countries are big and rich enough to host a 48 teams world cup.
    I heard a sports talk show host mention that the usual world cup participants who did not qualify this year (Italy, U.S, Holland, Ghana,….etc) are discuss doing their own side tournament. I hope they were joking, that would be be a lousy idea. who wants to see the losers play? they should force these countries to watch every minute of every match, so they won’t have time for such foolish ideas

    • Vitaly

      April 28, 2018 at 8:34 pm

      I totally agree! It’s going to be a lot of confusion. I think 32-team set up is just right as we all know there was a huge addition of new independent states. 8 countries addition is almost perfect ratio. It’s hard to host 32-team football for a lot of European countries as it is, I can’t imagine 48! FIFA has to really think this over before making such an important decision!

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