By Drew Farmer
The FIFA World Cup could see the tournament expand in the year 2026, and if it does, African will receive two additional places.
Currently, the World Cup finals features 32 teams with five places going to African national teams. If FIFA president Gianni Infantino is successful with his current proposal, Africa would have seven of the 40 teams in the tournament, theoretically improving the continent’s chance of finally winning a World Cup.
Only three African nations have made it as far as the quarter-finals of the tournament. Cameron was the first African nation to make it to the quarter-finals at Italia ’90. In 2002, Senegal duplicated Cameron’s feat from 12 years earlier, as the Lions made it to the quarters in Japan and South Korea. Ghana was the last African nation to make it deep into the tournament as the Black Stars were just two wins from the championship game.
The European Championship tournament this past summer saw the competition expand from 16 to 24 teams. The expansion of the tournament saw first time nations make the competition along with teams that had not featured in the championship for some time.
What resulted was a tournament enjoyed by many, as more nations had a vested interest in the competition. While the European Championship was expected to be watered down thanks to the inclusion of more “minnows”, what happed was really the opposite. Most of the so-called minnows held their own, and it was an unlikely Portugal that defeated the favoured French in the final match.
The same thinking is behind the expansion of the World Cup, although that was not the initial reason for Africa’s possible additional places. There are 211 FIFA members currently, and according to an article in the Guardian in late 2015, many outside the European region are opposed to UEFA holding so many places at the World Cup. UEFA has 14 places reserved for its members at the next World Cup in 2018.
With the current World Cup model, the African and Asian confederations are said to strongly support the addition of eight more teams at the tournament. While Africa only receives five places, Asia has four and a half. South American also receives four and a half places. Meanwhile, North and Central American teams make up three and a half. Finally, there are no guaranteed places for Oceania.
There are still hurdles in the way of the tournament’s expansion, however. FIFA president Infantino will be interviewed by the organisation’s ethics committee about allegedly breaching the group’s ethics code. The possible breach is in connection with the World Cup-bidding process. Once the investigation is concluded, if there is a formal investigation following the initial talks, the proposal of expanding the World Cup could be delayed further.
Regardless, the discussion of a further two African teams to the World Cup should be seen as a victory for the continent in its attempt to have one of its nations lift the Jules Rimet trophy.