An association comprising some of the top clubs in Europe has criticised The FIFA Council’s backing for an expanded 48-team World Cup.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s idea to increase the number of participating nations at the finals from 32 to 48 had been approved by delegates in Zurich, with the plans set to be enforced from the 2026 competition onwards.
However, the European Club Association, a body representing the interests of clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid, has blasted the move, claiming it is motivated by political rather than sporting intentions.
A statement from the body, which represents 220 teams across the continent, said: “The European Club Association reiterates that it is in principle not in favour of an expanded World Cup.
“We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives. Questionable is also the urgency in reaching such an important decision, with nine years to go until it becomes applicable, without the proper involvement of stakeholders who will be impacted by this change.
“We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable.
“ECA will analyse in detail the impact and the consequences of the new format and will address the matter at the next meeting of its Executive Board scheduled for the end of January.”
Speaking to Press Association Sport in October when the idea gathered pace, Infantino claimed he favoured expansion because he thinks it would “promote football” across the world.
One association to welcome the proposed new format was the Scottish Football Association, with Scotland having not qualified for the finals since 1998.
“We believe this is a positive step, particularly for the smaller nations, and will allow more fans across the globe to revel in their country’s participation at a FIFA World Cup finals,” said SFA chief executive Stewart Regan.
“This will also allow these nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure and youth development, which in turn can yield significant social benefits.
“The exploits of Wales, Iceland, and Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 showed what an impact the smaller teams can have, and how beneficial to a tournament their participation can be. A greater eclectic mix of footballing cultures at the FIFA World Cup will create a bigger and better atmosphere than ever before.”