UEFA President Calls for World Cup Expansion to Forty-Team Format

By | October 28, 2013

Responding to Fifa President Sepp Bladder’s recent call to expand the number of African and Asian berths to the World Cup at the expense of European and South American nations, UEFA President Michel Platini believes that the tournament should be expanded to a forty team format. This expansion to forty teams would allow for the number of African and Asian representatives in the tournament to increase without reducing the number of European and South American representatives.

Blatter believes that European and South American nations hold an unfair advantage in dominating the make-up of the tournament, despite the having fewer members associations of FIFA than other territories. Pushing towards globalization of the sport, Blatter would like to see the numbers of berths of a territory be more reflective of the number of  FIFA member associations [1]. With only 63 member associations of FIFA, European and South American teams will account for 18 or 19 berths at the 2014 World Cup. Africa and Asia, on the other hand, will only be represented by 9 or 10 teams in total, despite accounting for 100 members associations of FIFA. Blatter believes that, “This flawed state of affairs must be rectified. At the end of the day an equal chance for all is the paramount imperative of elite sport.”

UEFA President Michel Platini, who many believe will be the successor to Bladder as FIFA President, feels that expansion of African and Asian berths should not come at the expense of European and South American nations. Instead, the tournament should be expanded to a forty-team format, with eight groups, each consisting of five teams [2]. He calculates that the length of the tournament would be expanded by only three days with this format. While this would add more berths for under-represented territories, this idea could significantly lower the quality of competition by adding berths to territories whose nations do not have teams of similar quality to that of Europe and South America.

As explained by the Nick Ackerman of Bleacher Report, “Although one of FIFA’s more commendable ideas, both Blatter and Platini have to consider the competitiveness of adding eight teams to the current setup.” With the last World Cup taking place in South Africa, only one of the six African teams in the competition was able to advance past the group stages [4]. This success rate is much lower than for the European (6 of 13) and South American (5 of 5) representatives. Additionally, with European and South American nations dominating the top 12 spots in the current FIFA rankings, it can be argued that these territories deserve the most representatives based on merit [5].

While I believe that Africa and Asia deserve more representatives in the World Cup, I do not agree that it should come at the expense of European and South American nations. I feel that this change could significantly lower the quality of competition in the tournament. I would be much more in favor of expansion, even if this resulted in the inclusion of lower quality teams in the tournament. I believe this format could result in qualification by nations who have fallen short of qualification due to the current format. With a more realistic opportunity for qualification, I believe that these nations will strive to produce a higher quality team that is able to compete on the World Stage. However, until the quality of teams in territories such as Africa and Asia matches those of Europe and South America, it is hard to argue for the number of berths per territory to better represent the proportion of member associations within FIFA.

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-soccer-world-blatter-idUSBRE99O0Z820131025

[2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/28/uk-soccer-world-platini-idUKBRE99R02T20131028

[3] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1827509-michel-platini-calls-for-world-cup-to-be-expanded-to-40-teams

[4] http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/archive/southafrica2010/matches/

[5] http://www.fifa.com/worldranking/rankingtable/

3 thoughts on “UEFA President Calls for World Cup Expansion to Forty-Team Format

  1. Caitlin Moyles

    It seems like there isn’t an obvious answer to the question of expanding the tournament. Is it more important that the tournament better represent the proportion of member associations within FIFA, or for the most competitive teams in the world to qualify, even if that means that certain leagues have no representatives? What exactly is FIFA’s mission—to present the best soccer in the world, or to offer a more democratic representation of world soccer and culture? An additional question arises as to whether adding teams from Asia and Africa would bring down the overall level of competition—is it possible to set an objective standard by which to measure the competitiveness of each league? Teams may play better against better competition, so statistics alone may not be a good indicator of the team’s “competitiveness.” Perhaps the most reasonable solution is to expand the league to 40 teams and see the effect of the change over the course of at least two tournaments.

  2. Ian Bruckner

    Jordan, I had not heard of this proposition before but I think you did a great job breaking down the pros and cons. For many of the same reasons you list above, I do not think that expansion would make the World Cup more fun to watch or competitive. More likely, in my opinion, having more teams would dilute the quality of play and just make for a longer tournament that would weigh more heavily on the players, who play the World Cup after arduous club campaigns. As Nick Ackerman says in your post, the reason that Asia and Africa have fewer teams relative to their size is because they have weaker teams. I think the most fair solution to this problem would be to come up with some sort of formula to allocate spots to continents, similar to how UEFA apportions Champions League slots.

  3. Jarrett Link

    Expansion of the entire tournament would be an effective compromise for the soccer federations around the world. European and South American countries should not fear the inclusion of more countries from other parts of the globe if they truly believe they play a superior brand of soccer. In the short run, I think this notion will stand. That being said, after a few iterations of World Cups with a more balanced and diverse group of competing teams, I would not be surprised if we see an African or Asian team lifting the trophy. Additionally, for the fan, a move to expand would be great from an entertainment standpoint. Who wouldn’t want to watch more World Cup matches that will already be watching others?

    All of that aside, I decided to look a bit deeper into the inequities within the FIFA organization itself. Specifically, I researched the background of those who serve on the FIFA executive committee. If my statistics are correct (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_Executive_Committee), then of the 26 who serve on the committee, 10 serve UEFA, 5 represent the CAF, 4 are from AFC member countries, 3 serve CONMEBOL and CONCACAF respectively, and 1 represents the OFC. I find it somewhat interesting that despite a relative underrepresentation, South America retains a relatively high level of power within the organization. This could have something to do with the fact that Julio Grondona, from Argentina, is second in command as Senior Vice President, only trailing President Sepp Blatter, from Switzerland. In any case, a possible solution to inequities within FIFA that could lead to a more balanced World Cup, among other things, would be to balance the executive board proportionate to the number of member nations within each federation. UEFA will likely continue to benefit most from FIFA legislation if they continue to be overrepresented on the executive board.


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