To be the President of FIFA—hell, to be a candidate to be President of FIFA—you have to do one thing: promise to expand the World Cup.
Yes, promising to end corruption and then turning a blind eye to corruption when in power helps, but the World Cup is the big party, the event where everybody wants an invitation. Thus, by promising to make the World Cup bigger, you are promising to invite more people. These people then vote for you.
Ergo, we can laugh at FIFA president Gianni Infantino, but we’ve been down this road before. And here are some notable past promises to expand the tournament:
Remember back in 2013 when Michel Platini, probably taking unusual payments from FIFA under the table, said he wanted the World Cup to expand to 40 teams? This was really odd because, at the time, he was the President of UEFA, not FIFA. Of course, Platini was only reacting to the comments of Sepp Blatter, who said the World Cup needed more African and Asian teams. Michel did not want to reduce the number of European teams, so why not just expand the tournament? Forty is a nice, big, round number after all.
Running for President of FIFA back in 2015, Prince Aly Bin Al Hussein of Jordan changed his “soccer manifesto” aka hollow campaign promises at the last minute to include an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 36 teams. Unfortunately, the allure of four extra teams was simply not enough to unseat Blatter. Would five extra teams have done the trick? Six? 42 teams? Maybe.
You probably thought I was joking with that remark about a 42 team World Cup. But you know what wasn’t a joke: Luis Figo and his FIFA Presidential campaign. He ran on the platform that the World Cup should include a whopping 48 teams. Sadly, Figo dropped out of the race before everybody could vote for a bloated tournament devoid of quality in the group stages. The Portuguese winger withdrew his candidacy and issued a disgruntled statement: “This process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man.” Duh.
In 2003, Timothy Collins of ESPNFC reported that the World Cup would expand to 36 teams for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. However, the actual quotes from FIFA officials and the headline for this article are all over the place. Sepp Blatter says the expanded format “would not be ratified” until a vote in June, and only if CONMEBOL could resolve the issue of fixture congestion. Flash forward, and the 2006 World Cup only featured 32 teams. Guess the vote did not go well.
For the record, this idea was the brainchild of now deceased Julio Grondona of the AFA.
D.E.P., Julio. D.E.P., bloated World Cup.
Elliott tweets often about futbol at, you guessed it, Twitter Dot Com. Check out his “Great American Soccer novel.”