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FIFA’s Current and Proposed Reforms to World Cup Will Impact U.S. Bid

2 Nov, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The FIFA scandal erupted about 18 months ago, and like a volcano, has had periods of activity since its initial explosion. Get ready for a new spew of molten-hot (read: controversial) material as the international governing body releases its new ideas for the World Cup.

How controversial? Let’s just say prospective hosts (and that includes the U.S.) will have quite a bit to talk about. Those changes fall into several categories:

Bidding Rules for 2026: The next World Cup the U.S. can bid on (excluding any improbable changes to the current line-up of Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022) is 2026. According to an article in Soccer America Daily, “the USA has always been the favorite to host all or part of the 2026 World Cup, but that looks more and more likely in light of the bidding rules for the tournament approved by the new FIFA Council. Whether that is the USA on its own or a combined bid involving Canada or Mexico or both remains to be seen.”

According to the article, FIFA has waffled in its delineation of bidding rules. Initially, it excluded European and Asian countries, then just Asian countries, from the 2026 bid process. FIFA's final position in a 2026 World Cup bid process that was to have finished in May 2017 is that Asian countries can't participate -- Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup -- and European countries will be on standby if "none of the received bids fulfill the strict technical and financial requirements." (Hard to imagine the U.S. won’t be able to do that, the article added.)

FIFA has not put out a call for bids yet, but the longer it waits to do so, the better the chances of the country’s success. After all, a U.S. bid will necessarily involve time to work with U.S. lawmakers and government officials. FIFA will have to negotiate terms on all sorts of hosting issue, including visas, customs, taxes, infrastructure support, and U.S. officials won't easily cooperate if they get push-back from the media and government watchdog groups about corrupt FIFA.

A Bigger World Cup: The tournament may be expanded from 32 teams to as many as 48 countries. (Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s current had originally proposed an increase to 40 teams as part of his election campaign, and has also suggested a 48-team tournament.) This idea, Infantino, noted in a New York Times article, was conceived “because the level of football play is increasing” throughout the world.

What could this mean to prospective hosts? In a tournament that size, a preliminary playoff round would be created and would include 16 elimination games. The winners of those games would join 16 seeded teams in a 32-team competition like the one that exists now. Infantino is thought to favor spreading the added spaces around FIFA’s confederations, rather than simply adding more places for established soccer centers like Europe.

It would almost certainly create a new for more venues, at least in the preliminary rounds. That would certainly favor nations who have a number of venues to offer, and whose bids do not rely on building additional fields or stadiums.

However, notes an article in The Blade, the 40-team format is problematic. The typical format of four-team groups would likely mean four of the 10 runners-up do not advance to a round of 16. Groups of five teams would unbalance the fixture schedule and create integrity issues, by leaving some teams idle for the final round of games. It would also add an extra fixture to create an eight-game program for the finalists, which would be unpopular with clubs releasing their players to national team duty. Expanding the World Cup also revives a difficult debate on how to spread the extra places by continent.

However, there is most certainly a benefit to FIFA. More matches means an increase in revenues from broadcasting and sponsor deals to fund Infantino’s campaign promises of increased grants to members.

With One Income Center: FIFA – The next series of changes may ruffle a few more feathers. One of the FIFA suggestions include abolishing the local organizing committee for every World Cup from 2026 onward, with the tournament instead run centrally by FIFA in Zurich. FIFA also said it would introduce a “transparent” and “in-house” ticketing system after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The organization is also considering a new structure “as of the 2018 World Cup” that would hand control of “all money flows” back to FIFA itself.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the sports commissions, CVBs and venues in host countries won’t look favorably on that suggestion. But then again, the World Cup is FIFA’s prize asset earning around 85 percent of its revenue.

It also has the capacity to shape and define Infantino’s term as FIFA president, which ends in less than three years. Accordingly, FIFA has released a white paper, FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future, outlining various initiatives.

Support for Co-Hosting: Maybe this one is intended to balance out the previous idea. According to Yahoo! Finance, Infantino said the 36-member council (formerly known as the FIFA executive committee) also backed plans to allow countries to co-host the World Cup, a move that would ease the enormous financial burden on prospective hosts.

“The view is that co-hosting should be allowed because obviously when we organize events like the World Cup the requirements that we put are high,” he told reporters at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.

Voicing concern that hosting was becoming "increasingly difficult" for individual countries, Infantino said FIFA wanted to ensure that the World Cup becomes “a sustainable event.”

If a new stadium is needed, it should be something that's "useful for the country", the FIFA chief added. “We don't want white elephants.”

This, The Blade notes, follows FIFA having spent $453 million on Brazil’s 2014 World Cup committee, and budgeting to spend $700 million on Russian operations running the 2018 tournament.

All measures are due to be voted upon in January. Any changes would take effect in time for the 2026 World Cup, which the United States, Canada and Mexico have all expressed an interest in hosting.

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