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Not quite above board

Andreas Sten-Ziemons
Andreas Sten-Ziemons
January 10, 2017

FIFA has approved the expansion of the World Cup, something that will be feted in some quarters and met with disgust in others. The arguments from both sides have often been hypocritical, writes Andreas Sten-Ziemons.

Schweiz Zürich - Fifa Präsident Gianni Infantino während
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Bieri

Let's start with what is supposed to be the most important thing at the World Cup - the games themselves. Their quality will likely suffer from expansion. The enlarged Euro 2016 in France demonstrated this. Many of the games were extremely boring and not played at a high standard. So there are widespread fears that the same thing will happen in a bloated World Cup with 48 teams.

However, this doesn't apply to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who has even said the quality of the World Cup will be enhanced by its expansion, even though he can not explain exactly how or why. But what would you expect him to say - he has to sell his product. After all, the World Cup has long ceased being about the football anyway.

What is actually driving Infantino on this issue are power and money, and not - as often claimed - the desire to renew or develop football. Infantino has said that he wants to give an opportunity to those countries to take part in a World Cup that would otherwise never get the chance.

Millions more in revenue

This may even be true, but what is also true is that FIFA is a professional business enterprise and acts accordingly - even if it describes itself a non-profit organization. Sixteen new World Cup participants are 16 additional sales markets for TV, licensing and sponsorship contracts. According to a FIFA document, the extra profit that a 48-man World Cup with 80 instead of 64 games would likely generate is around 600 million euros ($636 million). What could be a better argument? Not just that, but this would mean at least 16 more happy nations that would be happy to give Infantino their vote at the next FIFA election.

Sten Ziemons Andreas Kommentarbild App
Andreas Sten-Ziemons

In Infantino's defense; he did not decide to expand the World Cup on his own. He only has one vote in the FIFA Council, so his idea must therefore have fallen on fertile ground in many places - and that is not surprising either. It's only natural that the federations from Africa, Asia, America and Oceania are interested in getting more of their teams to the World Cup. The rejection of the idea is just as natural for (mostly European) associations, which have been well served by the way things were up until now. It's all but impossible for Germany not to qualify for the World Cup - or even to get knocked out in the first round. So why would they want to give up a piece of the cake? And why would the others voluntarily do without?

Opposition from European clubs

The big European clubs have already expressed their opposition to the idea, arguing that a 48-team World Cup would increase the burden on the players. After all, there are already way too many national team matches on the schedule, they would argue. However, in the format of 16 groups of three, which has been approved, the teams would still play a maximum of seven games at the World Cup. The duration of the World Cup would also remain the same.

What the club bosses really meant, though, is that they just don't like having to regularly hand over their best players to the national teams in the summer, and be forced to take them back in less than top physical shape. Not just that, but this also gives them less time to take their top players on marketing tours to far away lands - and the clubs really don't want to do without these trips to China, the United States, Qatar, or other lucrative new markets. The sporting value of these tours are doubtful at best and they definitely don't give the players a much-needed break.

Get rid of the Confed Cup!

I think it would be a good idea to compensate for the expansion of the World Cup by cutting back the international schedule elsewhere (which of course will never happen). The top candidates for me are the international friendlies that that follow the regular season and the Confederations Cup, which is about as welcome as tonsillitis in the summertime. Do away with it! This way, the weary players from the strongest nations would at least get one summer off. Joachim Löw's decision to take only his B-team to the World Cup dress rehearsal in June and July is absolutely right. I would even go further and send a C- or D-team to Russia to give all of the players who will be part of the World Cup squad one year later a chance to recharge their batteries.

And if FIFA were to complain that this lack of sporting quality had damaged their product, Löw could simply say that he wanted to give players who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a tournament a chance to take part: after all, the quality of the tournament would be increased by second-rate players taking part. Gianni Infantino (see above) would certainly understand this. 

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