By J Hutcherson (Jun 5, 2018) US Soccer Players - The biggest question in world soccer right now isn't who will host the 2026 World Cup. It's not if the World Cup will expand to 48 teams a cycle early in Qatar. It's not even what might happen in Russia. It's whether or not FIFA is overreaching.
It's hard to downplay FIFA's recent moves. They've pushed through a World Cup expansion that may start as early as 2022 that all but wipes out the current qualifying setup. If you're a fan of Concacaf's Hexagonal, there's no reason to hold it if six teams from the region qualify. Whether it happens sooner or later, what was once a marathon to win the honor of playing in the World Cup won't be anymore.
The race for the hosting rights to 2026 has turned into a struggle between Morroco and North America over revenue and time zones. FIFA added to that the potential for a vote to reopen the bidding without Morroco and North America, adding a perhaps unnecessary twist should neither of them win.
FIFA wasn't through, with their current leadership intent on a deal for a revamped tournament and a new one. This is the current sticking point across world soccer for a simple reason. It's not FIFA's plan to bring in outside money for a revamped Club World Cup and a new Global Nations League. It's a third-party wanting more control of their investment than some find comfortable. Namely, European Soccer's governing body UEFA.
It's UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin making it clear there are bigger issues facing his constituents than joining in with FIFA's latest moneymaker. For him, the big picture is not leaving the bulk of those constituents behind. There's more to European soccer than the big clubs regularly competing in UEFA's own club competitions. There's also the not at all insulting concept of FIFA running away with the Nations League, a UEFA idea put into practice that's yet to play its first game. With that in mind, he's holding the line.
"Do you think it's transparent if I say that I have an offer of $25bn but I can't tell you who is offering it and I can't tell you exactly anything about the deal but please decide because it's a lot money?," Ceferin said to ESPN's Gabriele Marcotti. That sentiment should resonate outside of Europe as well. Concacaf also jumped on board the Nations League idea, following UEFA's lead. That tournament also begins in the September international window.
FIFA already appears to be reconsidering how it is positioning its next moves. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has now plainly stated that expanding the World Cup early would require the consent of Qatar. According to AP, he's also pushed back the timeline for the two new tournaments with outside investment. Instead of pushing through a vote from the FIFA Council prior to this summer's World Cup, Infantino will wait. How long is an open question, since it's relatively easy to call a special meeting of the Council.
That's the next step in the latest version of FIFA vs UEFA, and it's a major one. Should FIFA vote to allow outside money a seat at the table for two worldwide tournaments, that changes global soccer. UEFA is already acting with the idea that the change won't necessarily be for the better. Where the rest of the confederations stand is an open question. It's certainly worth pointing out that CONMEBOL raised the issue of expanding the World Cup for 2022, getting it on the agenda.
As for Infantino, he told reporters "everything is open" when asked about a potential cohost for the 2022 World Cup. The way FIFA is currently operating, it's easy to take his words as a broader statement of purpose.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Logo courtesy of FIFA)