UEFA President Michel Platini has called for football’s top competition, the World Cup, to increase its numbers from 32 to 40 countries.
The former French playmaker’s proposal has come after current FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that more countries from Africa and Asia should be able to qualify for the tournament, at the possible expense of the European nations.
In reaction to the Swiss’s comments, Platini responded in The Times as saying, “Instead of taking away some European [nations], we have to go to 40 teams in the World Cup.”
Under the current qualification system Europe holds the lion’s share of allocated placements, boasting 13 slots, while Africa has 5 and Asia 4 as well as a playoff place.
When the World Cup began back in 1930 there were only 13 countries competing, a figure that has incrementally grown over the years until 1998 where it reached its current figure of 32.
Platini has proposed as an alternative that FIFA “add two African, two Asiatic, two American and one from Europe.” Such a set-up would look to increase the number of teams able to qualify from various football confederations, with a hope of expanding both the tournament and the game of football itself.
Such an increase would see the tournaments group stage change from eight groups of four in its current structure to eight groups of five teams resulting in an extra game in each group.
The 58-year-olds plans are however only an idea, although implication of such a system could have a hugely significant impact on world football. By introducing extra qualification spots and increasing the number of countries involved from various football federations, the balance of continental involvement would be greatly improved. As a result the already global game will be directly reaching millions more fans all over the world and in countries that have in the past had difficulty in reaching the finals.
With nations from Africa, Asia and America all beginning to regularly reach the competitions latter stages in recent history; most notably South Korea, Ghana and Uruguay, there must surely be a call to provide more opportunities and encouragement to these continents. Such action will both broaden and deepen the games roots however also enhance a sense of equality amongst global football.
An obvious concern is that this will open the door to the world’s lower ranked sides; however teams will still have to qualify for the finals on merit like always. Essentially it is giving sides an opportunity to ultimately represent their continent as part of an equal presentation of global football. As seen in this summer’s Confederations Cup the competitions minnow side Tahiti generated a massive amount of neutral support and respect from the people of Brazil and across the world, while also providing a quite romantic story through their sole goal of the tournament, coming against Nigeria in a 6-1 defeat.
Although in all reality such teams will struggle to progress through the group stages, it is purely their involvement on the World’s biggest stage that is significant as it is the appearance of these nations that help make part of the competitions story and history.
It is easy to forget that these countries truly are part of the fabric of football, and in turn add to the sports overall enjoyment and entertainment. For many of these sides it is a rare and proud moment for them to be involved in something as socially and culturally relevant in the game of football and the world as a whole. Taking part in a major international competition like the World Cup gives countries a chance to cast aside socio-political constraints, and in many cases put their nation on the map and into public consciousness.
An added bonus for fans, were this newly proposed structure to come into effect, would be that the tournament would consequently extend a further three days. With more teams coming into the competition you therefore have more games to be played, which will almost certainly, as Platini states, “make more people happy.”
Although Platini’s expansion proposal is unlikely to be implemented by current FIFA president Blatter, the 84’ European Championship winner is expected to challenge Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2015, meaning these plans could well become a reality in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
What benefits would the World Cup gain from expanding from 32 to 40 teams?