FIFA is to consider expanding the World Cup by eight teams to 40, but a final decision on the change has been deferred.
On a dramatic day of developments in Zurich, the proposal was discussed on Thursday at FIFA’s executive committee as part of a package of reforms for the world governing body.
A decision has been deferred for reports by the organisation’s administration, but there is strong support for the change from Asia, Africa – and FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino, the UEFA general secretary.
It comes after two senior FIFA officials – reported to be FIFA vice-presidents Alfredo Hawit of Honduras and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay – were arrested by Swiss authorities in another swoop at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.
The World Cup move would be a huge change – currently there are 32 teams in the finals – and could mean another 32 matches in the group stage adding another week to the tournament, which is currently 31 days in length, and taking the total number of matches to 96. The change would come into force for the 2026 tournament.
The most likely way of accommodating the eight extra teams would be having eight groups of five teams, with the top two qualifying for the last 16 knock-out round. Under that system, it would mean an extra four matches in each group totalling 32 in all.
The proposal is being seen as a sweetener to persuade members to vote through a package of reforms including 12-year term limits for FIFA ExCo members and the president and making public senior officials’ salaries.
It will also take the pressure off Europe whose 13 places have been the source of envy from other continents.
In May, FIFA decided against any change to the World Cup system and keeping the same allocation of places to the continents: Europe 13, Asia 4.5, CONCACAF (Caribbean, north & central America) 3.5, South America 4.5, Oceania 0.5, host country 1.
Two more senior FIFA officials arrested
Earlier on Thursday, the Baur au Lac hotel was swooped upon for the second time this year, with the New York Times reporting that Hawit and Napout have been detained on orders issued by the FOJ on behalf of the US Department of Justice.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) confirmed that there had been two arrests. Further arrests are also expected in other parts of the world.
It is understood FIFA president Sepp Blatter has not been arrested as part of this latest raid.
A statement from the FOJ said: “On the instructions of the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), a further two FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich today.
“They are being held in custody pending their extradition. According to the US arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars.
“The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.”