Major changes to the way the World Cup will be run have been unveiled as part of FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s wide-ranging strategic plan for football.
FIFA revealed it would work to implement a new, more efficient operating model for the organisation’s highest-profile event, moving from a Local Organising Committee managed by different in-country staff for each edition, to a centralised management operating structure.
The move could see future hosts restricted to infrastructure development and providing security, including those for the 2026 World Cup, which could yet be expanded from its current 32-team format to 48.
Infantino claimed he expects a decision on the expansion is likely to be made in January, when the ruling Council next meets in Zurich.
The 46-year-old Swiss, whose election manifesto included a pledge to increase the number of nations to 40, said the feeling was “rather positive” toward expansion in today’s Council meeting in the Swiss city.
Under the plans, 16 of the 48 nations would exit the World Cup after one knock-out round.
The remaining countries would then compete in the same format as the current tournament, with the 32 teams taking part in a group stage followed by a knockout phase.
Infantino said the discussion must include allocating the extra places between FIFA’s six Continental Confederations.
Key decisions on the World Cup will now be left to FIFA’s administration in an operating model similar to that for the UEFA European Championship.
Russia and Qatar were chosen to host the next two World Cups, in 2018 and 2022 respectively, despite being ranked as the most high risk by a FIFA technical group.
According to the plans, warnings of this type will no longer be overlooked.
Infantino also outlined an intention to spend $4 billion (£3.3 billion/€3.6 billion) over the next decade in football development and increase total participation in the sport from 45 per cent to 60 per cent of the global population.
Additionally, he has set the goal of doubling the number of female football players worldwide by 2026 to 60 million.
All actions taken are geared towards achieving FIFA’s three key objectives; to grow the game, enhance the experience and build a stronger institution.
“We live in a time that presents us with a wealth of opportunities to make the beautiful game bigger, better and more meaningful to the world,” said Infantino, who presented a blueprint called “FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future”.
“Our vision – to promote the game, protect its integrity and bring the game to all – will set the path forward for our work.
“A three-part strategy supports this vision.
“We will invest in the game, its players and its future; we will innovate to improve the player and fan experience; and we will take greater ownership of the business operations for our showcase events.
“This will enable us to deliver on our commitment to the game and its billions of fans.”
It is the first time in FIFA’s history that it has published a roadmap for how to attempt to most effectively grow the game, enhance the football experience for fans and players and build a stronger institution.
Speaking at the launch of the vision, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said that the administration is eager to work with the football community on the restructuring of football and FIFA.
“This is a living document, and we look forward to engaging with the member associations, the confederations, our commercial affiliates and other stakeholders as we continue our work to fulfil our mission,” she said.
“With the organisational improvements we have made and the reforms we are implementing, FIFA is a stronger institution today than it was a year ago – and it will be even stronger a year from now.
“This vision will further energise the FIFA administration as we plan for the future.”
Infantino is due to convene a series of meetings with Member Associations, the Confederations and other stakeholders during the next several weeks and months, during which he will discuss “FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future” with the leaders of the international football community.
“It is essential that a broad spectrum of stakeholders participate in our discussions of this important topic – and that we at FIFA are optimally informed and supported as we look to the future,” he said.