When greed takes over soccer

Gianni Infantino, FIFA President speaks after the FIFA Council meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. 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. (Ennio Leanza/AP)

Out of all the things that FIFA could have and should have changed, they changed the thing that was already working fine.

By now you might have heard that the largest and most popular sport tournament in the world has been expanded from 32 teams to 48 teams. Yes, the World Cup is changing its format for the first time since it last expanded to 32 teams in 1998.

On Jan. 10, the FIFA council unanimously approved the expansion of the tournament for the 2026 World Cup. This means that instead of having eight groups with four teams in it, there will be 16 groups with three teams each. The top two teams in each group will then advance to a 32-team knockout stage.

“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,” the FIFA press release said.

It sounds great. What could be better than trying to be fairer, improving the quality of soccer for the fans and maybe even generating more money to develop soccer in countries that need it?  

But if there’s anything I have learned from FIFA in the past two years, it’s that greed is at the heart of the governing body.

So let’s go back to May 2015, when the United States Department of Justice arrested some of the most prominent individuals in the organization on charges of “rampant systematic, and deep-rooted” corruption.

Since then more than 40 members have been charged in this net of corruption; taking down former FIFA president Joseph Blatter, UEFA president Michel Platini and other high ranked officials.

Are fans supposed to believe that even with the new president Gianni Infantino, the corruption is all gone?

What might a 48- team World Cup look like? Well, for starters, there will now be 80 games instead of 64. More games mean more money in tickets, TV rights and sponsorship deals.

The Brazil World Cup brought in $2.1 billion in revenue, according to CNN. The four years leading up to the World Cup brought in $5.3 billion.

But it will not be good for the show. It will take 48 games to eliminate 16 teams. For those who say more soccer games, the better, I want to say those games will likely be 0-0. Low risk, high reward usually isn’t good for competition.

Look at last’s summer’s Euro Cup. Portugal ended up winning the tournament. They didn’t win a single game in the group stage and were still able to advance past the group stage.

The Euro didn’t live up to expectations. But it brought in record profits for that tournament.

It’s clear to me that this is more about the money and not the quality of the game.

I love soccer. I love good soccer more than anything in the world. I don’t love when Germany plays San Marino in the UEFA qualifier and wins 8-0. This is what you will see more of in future World Cups: smaller teams parking the bus, hoping for a tie and big blow-outs.

Grant Wahl also raised a good point: World Cup qualifiers are going to be a joke.

“The top eight CONCACAF teams in the current FIFA rankings are Costa Rica, Mexico, the U.S., Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Curaçao and Jamaica. With CONCACAF promising more qualifying games to tiny island nations, look for World Cup qualifying to become a watered-down mess of easy games with next to nothing at stake for a team like the U.S. or Mexico,” Wahl said.

Part of the excitement of the World Cup is the process leading up to it. This will all be gone. And in the case of the United States, it will keep qualifying to a tournament playing against some of the weakest teams in the world. Team USA won’t be able to get better by playing weak teams.

So the question is: Why is FIFA doing this? One reason is clear to me and that is more money. Money isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it is distributed properly, but based on the history of FIFA, I have little faith they will do the right thing with the money.

This is also about power. Following Blatter’s removal from the presidency, a three-term limit was put in place for FIFA presidents. Infantino will look for re-election and with every association affiliated with FIFA having a vote, doing something for a small nation that will give you a vote is an easy way to secure the vote.

Soccer shouldn’t only be for the rich countries. But it also shouldn’t be given freely, especially in a competition. There are far better ways to help those nations who are developing soccer and improve them to competition level.

If FIFA really wanted to be fairer, increase competition level and impact the development of soccer, it would look to women’s soccer and figure out how to expand it, grow it and reward its players better.

FIFA continues to make questionable choices (The 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will be played in December amidst controversy is another issue). I fear that money matters more than soccer and that greed has taken over the world’s most popular sport.


Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at daniela.marulanda@uconn.edu.