The growing preference for quantity over quality has devalued university degrees and removed standards from television. Now it threatens the world’s greatest sporting event. This week it was announced that football’s world cup in 2026 will feature 48 teams, instead of 32. In defending the decision, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, pointed to the success of the European Championships in 2016, which also saw a 33% increase. This is interesting because Infantino had previously described the changed format of the Euros as not ideal and the standard of football displayed was mediocre and insipid.
The decision to allow nearly half of Europe’s teams to qualify for the Championships reduced the effectiveness of the qualifying tournament. In 1988 you had to win a qualifying group and then finish in the top two of the tournament group to progress to the knock out stage. In 2016 you could reach that stage by finishing third in a seeded qualifying group then third out of four in the tournament group. The pressure to win was removed and, with fewer truly competitive games, standards fell.
The argument is that expansion opens the door to teams that would not otherwise have the opportunity. By this logic, we should lower admission criteria to deal with a shortage of teachers, police or other skilled professionals. That criteria exists for a reason. It filters out the candidates who aren’t good enough. The real problem with the world cup is not the format. It is the disproportionate number of teams qualifying from Europe and South America. The expansion will presumably retain this bias, whilst granting the other federations their demands for more places and increasing revenue. Everyone wins at the expense of the tournament’s quality and reputation.