The 2026 World Cup will include 48 teams, as the FIFA governing council followed through on talks of expanding the tournament.
Expanding the World Cup is something that has been discussed for some time. Gianni Infantio, who was elected to the post of FIFA president last February, has been a proponent of expansion. In some corners, it has been argued that there are glaring positives to expanding the tournament because it will not only involve more countries in the event, but offer the potential for new revenue.
The counterpoint to that argument was that upping the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams would wind up doing more harm than good, with its one of its biggest downsides being a potential drop off in talent.
Now that the expansion issue has been resolved, it will be interesting to see how it shapes the planning process for the 2026 World Cup. Plans for bidding should intensify in the near future, and there has been signs that leaders in North America would like to stage the event–either with one country taking it on in an individual bid, or by staging a joint effort among Mexico, the United States and Canada.
While that process will take time to play out, one immediate implication of expansion is that the host country will need to offer more resources than before. More from The New York Times:
“It was done in a very good way, and the decision was made on the facts and figures, not on a wink and a nod,” said Victor Montagliani, the president of the Canadian Soccer Association and of Concacaf, the regional confederation of which the United States is a member. “Maybe the time has come that we don’t do things on a wink and a nod anymore.”
The bigger tournament will presumably present new logistical challenges for potential host nations, which will have to accommodate training sites and housing for 16 additional squads and their fans, but also at least a dozen stadiums capable of hosting games.
This would in theory be beneficial to the United States, which is viewed as a front-runner to host the 2026 World Cup, but also for China, which has expressed an eagerness to host as soon as possible.
The World Cup last expanded for the 1998 edition, jumping from 24 teams to 32.