Lausanne - FIFA president Gianni Infantino's plan to expand
the Soccer World Cup faces a key test from Thursday at a meeting of world
football's top executives.
Infantino wants to expand the tournament to 48 teams, a
contentious move that critics say would dilute the quality of World Cup
competition and add new fixtures to football's already packed calendar.
"It is not a secret that I believe in an expansion of
the World Cup," Infantino said last week, opting for a 48-team competition
Infantino has floated a proposal that would see the 16
winners of group qualifying rounds automatically book a place in the showcase
An additional 32 teams would battle it out in a new
pre-tournament play-in round, with 16 nations moving on to the World Cup.
Infantino said for the World Cup proper "the ideal
format is 32 teams", but that would not stop him from seeking to widen
opportunities for more countries while boosting revenues from the cash cow
The powerful 36-member FIFA Council will weigh the idea at
the meeting on Thursday and Friday but a final decision will not be made until
next year, Infantino said.
It has been nearly eight-months since the Swiss-Italian
national was elected to take over world football's governing body amid an
His tenure has faced its share of challenges: he has been
the target of an ethics probe that ultimately cleared him any wrongdoing, a
former top executive blasted Infantino as an autocrat in his resignation letter,
while prosecutors in the United States and Switzerland continue to probe
decades of FIFA graft.
But Infantino has insisted he remains focused on reforming
an organisation that had become globally disgraced under the leadership of
ex-president Sepp Blatter.
The 46-year-old lawyer and former UEFA number two has made
growing football globally and increasing FIFA income top priorities of his
Broadening the World Cup could further both objectives.
A marketing executive who worked with Infantino at UEFA and
requested anonymity said the FIFA chief may be pushing for a 48-team tournament
as leverage but would settle for a 40-team format.
The 40-team idea was studied last year by FIFA's executive
committee - since renamed the FIFA Council - but no decision was reached.
A FIFA Council member, also speaking anonymously, said
broadcasters who pay hugely lucrative rights fees would likely have the final
say on any changes to the World Cup format.
Palestinians children marched on an Israeli settlement this
week chanting "Infantino let us play", in a clear reminder of another
tough challenge facing the FIFA leader.
The Palestine Football Association has written to Infantino
calling on FIFA to demand the Israeli Football Association expel the clubs
based on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are considered
illegal under international law.
Infantino said last week that the issue was "one of
(his) highest priorities."
The Council meeting will hear a report on the Israel
Palestinian issue from the head of FIFA's monitoring mission to the area, South
Africa's Tokyo Sexwale.
Israeli's thorny relations with the Muslim world also
feature in another issue facing the FIFA Council: the venue for the body's next
Kuala Lumpur had been slated to host the May 2017 Congress
but the government of Muslim-majority Malaysia has refused to give entry visas
to Israeli football officials, a stance that bars the country from hosting.
Infantino is scheduled to meet with the media after the
Council wraps up on Friday.