FIFA has unanimously decided that 48 nations will compete during the 2026 World Cup tournament.
The new format will have a final comprising 16 groups of three teams each. The top two teams from each group will move to the next round, where 32 teams will compete for the knockout stage. FIFA Council voted in favour of the proposal unanimously at its meeting in Zurich today.
The council of 37 members had been asked to select their favourite from five proposals: two involving a 48-team set-up, two 40-team tournaments, and the current 32-team format. The council voted in favour of the 48-nation tournament, which will be the biggest change in the tournament since the 32-team format was introduced in the 1998 World Cup.
The move by FIFA does not come as a surprise since President Gianni Infantino had suggested this plan as part of his campaign for the top job at world football’s governing body last year.
In an internal report, FIFA had said that it could introduce three-team groups at future editions of its World Cup. The proposal was made in an in-house research project into how it could enhance the popularity of one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world.
The challenge for FIFA will also be to finish the World Cup in 32 days so that it does not disturb the calendar for other events in the football calendar.
The change in format could help increase revenue by nearly 20 per cent to $5.5 billion during the 2018 World Cup to $6.5 billion for the 2026 edition. The operating cost could also increase to $2.3 billion from $2 billion because the number of games could increase to 80 from 64 earlier. However, according to estimates, its profit could increase by $640 million too. Additional income from the sale of broadcast rights is also estimated to grow by $505 million.
But it not yet clear how many places will be given to each confederation in the final line up.
Russia is supposed to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Qatar is in line for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The host for the championship will be chosen by 2020.