FOOTBALL

World Cup expansion labelled 'political'

An association comprising some of the top soccer clubs in Europe has criticised The FIFA Council's backing for an expanded 48-team World Cup.

It was confirmed on Tuesday that FIFA president Gianni Infantino's idea to increase the number of participating nations at the finals from 32 to 48 had been approved by delegates in Zurich, with the plans set to be enforced from the 2026 competition onwards.

However, the European Club Association, a body representing the interests of clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid, has blasted the move, claiming it is motivated by political rather than sporting intentions.

A statement from the body, which represents 220 teams across the continent, said: 'The European Club Association reiterates that it is in principle not in favour of an expanded World Cup.

'We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives. Questionable is also the urgency in reaching such an important decision, with nine years to go until it becomes applicable, without the proper involvement of stakeholders who will be impacted by this change.

'We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable.

'ECA will analyse in detail the impact and the consequences of the new format and will address the matter at the next meeting of its Executive Board scheduled for the end of January.'

PA