FIFA to reconsider format of 2026 World Cup after ‘best ever’ tournament
FIFA is to reconsider the format of the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada, says president Gianni Infantino.
The teams will increase from 32 to 48 for the competition and were set to be divided into 16 groups of three, with the top two progressing to the last 32.
Infantino said that would be looked at after the “success” of the four-team groups at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“Here the groups of four have been absolutely incredible,” said Infantino.
“Until the last minute of the last match you would not know who goes through.
“We have to revisit or at least re-discuss the format. This is something that will certainly be on the agenda in the next meeting.”
The group stages in Qatar included some exciting final games as countries tried to secure a top-two place to qualify for the last 16.
The four-team group format, with the top two going through to the knockout stages, has been used since the men’s World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998.
The best World Cup ever – Infantino
Infantino was speaking at a news conference in Qatar after attending a FIFA council meeting.
With the third-place play-off and final to go, he said 3.27 million spectators had attended the games compared with an overall 3.3 million at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“Thanks to everyone involved, Qatar, all the volunteers to make this the best World Cup ever,” said Infantino.
“Matches have been played without incidents. It has been a very joyful atmosphere.
“There is something happening when we talk about football becoming truly global, with an African team [Morocco] reaching the semi-final for the first time.
“We also had a woman [Stephanie Frappart] referee a match for the first time.
“It has been an incredible success, approaching five billion in terms of viewing figures. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.”
A number of European nations planned to wear a OneLove armband during matches to promote diversity and inclusion but did not do so because of possible sanctions from world football governing body FIFA.
Germany manager Hansi Flick said his players covered their mouths during the team photograph before their World Cup opener against Japan “to convey the message that FIFA is silencing” teams.
“When it comes to regulations, prohibitions, it is not about prohibiting, it is about respecting regulations,” said Infantino.
“Everyone is free to express beliefs as long as it is done in a respectful way but when it comes to the field of play, you need to respect and protect football.
“There are 211 football teams, not heads of state, and their fans want to come and enjoy football. This is what we are here for. I believe we are defending values, defending human rights, defending rights of everyone in FIFA, in the World Cup.
“But I also believe these fans who come to the stadium and all those billions watching on TV maybe – and we should think about that – they feel everyone has their own problems, they just want to spend 90 minutes without having to think about anything else than just enjoying a little moment of pleasure, joy or emotion.”
‘A legacy of exploitation and shame’
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, along with its stance on same-sex relationships and its human rights record, were among the main controversies overshadowing the build-up to the World Cup.
The chief executive of the Qatar World Cup was criticised by Human Rights Watch for displaying “a callous disregard” when he said “death is a natural part of life” when asked about a migrant worker’s death at the tournament.
Human Rights Watch also said the 2022 World Cup was “ending with no commitment from FIFA or Qatari authorities to remedy abuses, including unexplained deaths, that migrant workers suffered to make the tournament possible over the past 12 years”.
Human rights organisations and a number of football associations have been asking FIFA to establish a compensation fund for migrant workers and their families, as well as the establishment of a migrant worker centre in Doha.
“Unless FIFA and Qatar provide a remedy for the widescale unaddressed abuses suffered by migrants who prepared and delivered the tournament, they will have chosen to leave behind a legacy of exploitation and shame.” said Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Infantino said: “For us every loss of life is a tragedy and whatever we could do to change the legislation to protect the situation of the workers, we did it and it happened. Whatever we can still do for the future, we are doing it.
“We want to bring this experience into the future and make sure we can help and leverage the World Cup and spotlights on it to make lives of people and their family a bit better.”