The FIFA Council has unanimously decided in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup™ to a 48-team competition as of the 2026 edition. World football’s supervisory and strategic body held its third meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on 9 and 10 January, and decided on a new tournament format with the 48 national teams split into 16 groups of three. The top two teams from each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage.
The new 48-team competition format has been drawn up in such a way that there is no reduction in the overall number of rest days and a guaranteed maximum of seven matches for the teams reaching the final, while the current 32-day tournament duration is kept, so as not to increase the length of time for which clubs have to release their players.
The decision was taken following a thorough analysis, based on a report that included four different format options. The study took into account such factors as sporting balance, competition quality, impact on football development, infrastructure, projections on financial position and the consequences for event delivery. Over the course of its next meetings, the FIFA Council is set to discuss further details regarding the competition, including the slot allocation per confederation.
At its most recent meeting in October 2016, the FIFA Council had already discussed the scenarios to expand the competition format of the FIFA World Cup. By then, it had also defined a set of principles for countries to bid for the right to host the 2026 edition – a process that is currently scheduled to culminate in May 2020.
The first day of the FIFA Council meeting saw the members split into five working groups dedicated to specific themes: women’s football, technical development, competitions, commercial matters and legal and corporate structures.
On 10 January, as well as deciding on the expanded format, the Council agreed on a set of key dates related to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ :
· 14 May 2018: Deadline for participating member associations to release a list of 30 players;
· 20 May 2018: Recommended final day of club competitions, with the exception of the UEFA Champions League final. Special exemptions may only be granted by the FIFA Council;
· 21-27 May 2018: Official rest period to be respected by clubs and participating member associations;
· 28 May 2018: Start of the release period for all participating member associations;
· 4 June 2018: Submission of final list of 23 players.
The Council also approved the early adoption of the IFRS15 standard in FIFA’s financial reports.
Furthermore, as part of the ongoing consultation process, the composition of the new committees has been decided and will be communicated once the respective members have been informed.
The next meeting of the FIFA Council is scheduled to be held in Manama, Bahrain, on 9 May 2017 ahead of the 67th FIFA Congress.