Update: Bigger World Cup coming, France 98 Reggae Boyz weigh in
FIFA will expand the World Cup to 48 teams, adding 16 extra nations to the 2026 tournament which is likely to be held in North America.
President Gianni Infantino's favoured plan — for 16 three-team groups with the top two advancing to a round of 32 — was unanimously approved today by the FIFA Council.
It meets Infantino's election pledge of a bigger World Cup, and should help fund promised raises for FIFA's 211 member federations.
With 80 matches instead of 64, FIFA forecasts the equivalent of $1 billion extra income at current rates from broadcasting and sponsor deals, plus ticket sales, compared to $5.5 billion revenue forecast for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Meanwhile, Jamaica's 1998 World Cup goalkeepers, captain Warren Barrett and his number two, Aaron 'Wild Boy' Lawrence, have expressed opposing views on the development.
Barrett says that many would welcome the change, but he does not see the reason to increase the numbers.
"I think that is watering it down a bit. For the World Cup, the most prestigious tournament in the world, teams need to work hard to get there. It should not be watered down to accommodate or commercialise the sport. I would rather it stayed at 32," Barrett said.
"If they are increasing it and the format remains the same, maybe I would support it. If you are going to have that knockout stage, I won't agree with that. If teams are going to play one game and get knocked out and go home, it makes no sense. For the group stage, you have at least three games, so you get a chance to make it to the knockout round. I would stick with that format," he added.
Barrett's number two during the '98 campaign, Lawrence, holds a contrasting opinion as he believes that it would be good for developing football countries and aspiring players from these countries.
"I don't think it will water it down because you would give more countries a chance to showcase themselves. You have countries with good talent and ability, and they never got a chance based on how difficult it is in their region. So you will see more football, and more countries will get an opportunity to show their skills on the big stage,"said Lawrence.
"It will be more challenging for the Caribbean teams. Teams like Costa Rica, Mexico, and the US might not mind, but for smaller nations like us, Trinidad, Haiti, Cuba, and the top teams in the Caribbean, will find it a lot more difficult to qualify. I certainly wouldn't welcome that change," Barrett added.
FIFA projects an increased profit of $640 million despite some extra operating costs and prize money for teams.
FIFA's six continents should find out by May how many extra places they will each get.
UEFA wants 16 European teams at the tournament, which is strongly favoured to be played in North America.
Africa and Asia could be winners in a bigger World Cup with up to nine places each. They had only five and four teams, respectively, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Still, FIFA said it expects the standard of soccer to drop compared to the 32-team format locked in for the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
FIFA must break with tradition to make its new format work after an original 48-team plan — with an opening playoff round sending 16 "one-and-done" teams home early — was unpopular.
Instead, three-team groups will replace the usual groups of four to create simple progress to a knockout bracket. However, it leaves one team idle for final group games and could risk collusion between the other two teams.
FIFA said it could guard against result-rigging by introducing penalty shootouts after group games that end in draws.