‘It will lead to rapid infrastructural development in Africa’
The decision by world football governing body (FIFA) to expand the World Cup from its present format of 32 teams to 48 in 2026 has been described as ‘excellent’ for Africa continent and the football family in general.
FIFA’s ruling council yesterday unanimously approved the 48 teams expansion with a format of 16 groups of three nations. The landmark decision to expand the tournament, contained in a tweet from Fifa’s official account yesterday is the latest overhaul of the World Cup, which has seen its global popularity and financial might surge since the inaugural edition in 1930.
That contest, won by Uruguay, had just 13 countries.
The World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 1982 in Spain before moving to its current 32-team version at France 1998.
Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu said the 48-team format would be more beneficial for African countries saying: “It is an excellent decision, and I see African countries benefiting more,” he said. “I am saying this because the expansion will lead to rapid infrastructural development for smaller African countries who will see the expansion as opportunity of qualifying for the World Cup. I am sure FIFA must have taken into consideration the financial implication before throwing the window open.
“Also, I see the expansion as a way of providing a platform for two or three African countries to come together and co-host the World Cup in the nearest future. We should applaud FIFA for this decision,” he stated.
Adelabu, a sports scientist, who played for the then IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan in his active days, however urged African countries to capitalize on the new FIFA format to make a statement in world football.
The decision marks a major coup for the body’s president Gianni Infantino who has made enlarging football’s showcase event the centrepiece of his young administration.
The controversial proposal had faced criticism from some of the sport’s most powerful voices, including warnings that it would dilute the quality of play and overburden already exhausted players.
But Infantino had in recent weeks voiced confidence that his flagship project would be approved.
The Fifa chief has noted that a bigger tournament would beef up Fifa’s coffers.
And a confidential Fifa report seen by AFP projects a 48-team tournament would bring a cash boost of $640 million (605 million euros) above projected revenues for next year’s finals in Russia.
But Infantino has also argued that more World Cup berths would help drive football’s global growth by boosting “inclusion” in the “biggest social and sporting event”.