Fifa will continue to consider the expansion of the World Cup to 40 teams from 2026 – but a final decision has been deferred following Thursday’s executive committee meeting.
The committee discussed the dramatic expansion at a meeting on Thursday about a wider reform package – just hours after two more senior members were arrested in the lobby of the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.
Fifa executives from Asia and Africa were understood to be strongly in favour of the idea. It also has the support of the Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino and some of the other Fifa presidential candidates. But the plan has been sent back to the Fifa administration for further research because it has commercial ramifications as well as statutory ones.
Wolfgang Niersbach, the German Fifa executive committee member, said the main focal point of the meeting was a “very comprehensive reform package”.
He confirmed that the idea of expanding the World Cup was heavily backed by African and Asian members of the ex-co and would be passed back to Fifa administrators for “further consideration”.
The change is being seen as an attempt to appeal to the majority of the 209 Fifa members who feel Uefa currently has too many spots at the 32-team tournament. The World Cup was expanded from 24 teams to 32 in 1994 and the further expansion would allow Fifa to increase the number of slots available to those outside Europe.
Uefa will have 14 places at the next World Cup in Russia, up to 10 more than the next best-represented confederation. The Oceania Football Confederation currently has no guaranteed place.
At present Africa has five places, Asia four and a half, Europe 13, North and Central America three and a half, South America four and a half, Oceania half a place and one goes to the host.
The move was discussed as business continued as usual despite the dramatic arrests of two more executive committee members – the Concacaf president, Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, and the Conmebol president, Juan Ángel Napout of Paraguay. The New York Times quoted law enforcement officials as saying up to 12 people could be charged.
Expanding the World Cup to 40 teams, which would increase the total number of matches to 96, is seen as a potential sweetener to the majority of the 209 Fifa member associations to pass other sweeping reforms such as term limits.