FIFA council 'rather positive' toward 48-team World Cup - Gianni Infantino

The prospect of an expanded World Cup 40 or 48 teams moved a step closer on Thursday after FIFA president Gianni Infantino revealed that the organisation's highest decision-making body supports the idea in the belief that it will increase the global popularity of the game.

On the first day of the two-day FIFA Council meeting in Zurich, the issue of increasing the number of teams for the 2026 tournament and beyond was one of the main items on the agenda.

Following discussions amongst the 36-member body, Infantino told the media: "The general feeling amongst them is rather positive towards expansion. We had a very good discussion. The feeling of the FIFA Council is that giving more teams a chance to qualify for the World Cup is beneficial for football development.

"When a team qualifies for the tournament the whole country is in football euphoria. More youngsters want to play the game, companies want to get involved in sponsorship and the benefits to football as a whole are immense."

The FIFA Council will make a final decision on the format of future World Cups next January.

"We are focused on 40 or 48 teams," Infantino said. "We need to do more analysis on how the tournament will work before we settle on a preferred option."

Earlier this month, Infantino raised the prospect of a 48-team World Cup that would see 16 teams eliminated after one knockout match.

Infantino denied that teams travelling to play one match and then return home if they lose was an unrealistic exercise, given the costs involved or that an expanded tournament would dilute the quality of football.

"Teams already travel from one part of the world to another to take part in play off matches," he said. "I also believe that the quality of competition will not be diluted [with an expanded tournament]. In fact you will see better and more competitive games."

Infantino also unveiled "FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future," which sets out the organisation's strategy over the next decade as it attempts to transform itself and overcome the corruption scandal that has blighted its reputation.

Under the new programme, agreed by FIFA Council members, world football's governing body is to overhaul how it administers football development money to its 211 members and the way in which it runs World Cups, two of the key areas which have been affected by corrupt practices.

Over the next decade, FIFA is to invest $4 billion in football development through its member associations. It is also committing another $315 million to further develop the women's game with the aim of doubling the number of female players across the world to 60 million by 2026.

The "FIFA 2.0" document has set a target to increase total participation in football; players, coaches, referees and fans from 45 percent to 60 percent of the world's population.

Infantino revealed that all development funds will now be distributed through its FIFA Forward Programme and member countries applying will have to meet a set of strict criteria and adhere to financial guidelines imposed by FIFA. Greater monitoring will also be introduced on how the money is spent.

In the past, 10 different development programmes existed with six different sets of regulations, making it difficult to track how funds were being utilised. Decisions on how the money is distributed to FIFA members will now be made by the organisation's Development Committee, half of which is made up of independent members.

Infantino said: "It's clear that the control mechanisms needed to be improved and this is all part of the transparency process we are putting in place. FIFA's members are very happy because at the end of the day they are getting four times more funding to invest in football development."

Under the new regulations, FIFA plans to do away with local organising committees for World Cups, which are responsible for implementing and managing the event and are primarily made up of local staff. Staring with the 2026 tournament, FIFA will administer the tournament centrally with its own officials.

FIFA is also examining new ways in how World Cup tickets are sold and is reviewing its use of external ticketing agencies. A consultation process is also underway for a new bidding process that will begin with the race to secure the 2026 tournament following the high profile controversies over the awarding of the 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar tournaments.