FIFA’s new 48-team World Cup: Why European clubs need to shut up

FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino has delivered on one of the key promises that got him elected last year: expanding the world cup to accommodate more countries, especially those in underrepresented blocs like Africa and Asia. All things being equal, the 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams, instead of the present 32. And as expected, the decision has drawn divergent views.

Some section of the crowd have hailed the expansion and termed it a fulfillment of FIFA’s primary objective to grow the game both in terms of reach and finance. Others simply consider it an attempt to fix that which isn’t broken. Under the umbrella of the European Clubs Association (ECA), super clubs in Europe have championed the argument against the expansion.

It has argued repeatedly that “in the interest of the fans and the players”, FIFA must do away with the expansion as, according to the ECA, it is an attempt to “dilute” the quality of the competition and a move that places “commerce and politics” over football.

While it is true that more countries in the World Cup would likely result in mismatched games that would result in cricket scores, the ECA lacks the moral right to make such argument and their claims deserves to be treated with a great deal of suspicion. In the past, the European body has always tried to usurp power, preserve exclusive rights and protection under the guise of acting out of ‘love for the game’.

In 2015, it tried (and failed) to take advantage of the corruption scandal that resulted to a leadership gap in FIFA by alleging that the influence of smaller member nations in the decision making process of the governing body corrupts the game, and sought to take it way by arrogating more powers to itself.

Last year, the top clubs in Europe formed an alliance and forced UEFA to give it special privileges in the Champions League by threatening to exit the competition for one that offers more financial benefits. The English FA has repeatedly rebuffed calls for it to act in the interest of the players by introducing a winter break that would alleviate fatigue problems because it doesn’t want to hurt its ‘massive economic value’.

Given this precedence of self-centered demands and actions that place profit maximization over players and the fans, it smacks of hypocrisy for the European football establishment to turn back and accuse FIFA of same. Or criticize a decision that is similar to those they have either made or agitated for in the past.

To conclude, European clubs are not – in any way – beholden to lead fight for other blocs or wrong to act solely in their own interest. More so, it cannot be argued that there are no valid reasons to oppose the 48-world cup format. But if they must oppose, they shouldn’t do so under the guise of fighting for the game, its fans and players when in reality, they are only seeking to protect their hold on the beautiful game.

Article written by ‘Shina Peter, follow him on Twitter – @Shina_Pitta