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FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

Is the time finally right for Australia to host the FIFA World Cup?

In a story that caught the eyes of the Australian football community last week, sport and government officials are said to be planning a bid to host the 2030 or 2034 FIFA World Cup down under.

The idea to host the world’s biggest sporting event in Australia is a key part of a strategy that looks to bring a selection of major events to the country, on the back of Brisbane securing the 2032 Olympic Games.

FA CEO James Johnson explained that the governing body has not yet decided to bid for the World Cup, but suggested it is a part of the vision they have for the game.

“It’s an aspiration (hosting the World Cup), that’s part of our vision,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The next time I think we could realistically host it is 2034 because 2026 is in North America, 2022 is in Asia, 2030 – I think – will go to Europe or South America. There’s an opportunity to bring the World Cup back to Asia, the Asia-Pacific area, in 2034.”

A factor which should strengthen Australia’s case to be the home of a future World Cup is the hosting of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2023.

In a pattern which Australia is hoping to follow, Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and used it as a stepping stone to eventually win the right to host part of the 2026 World Cup, alongside Mexico and USA.

Australia, alongside co-hosts New Zealand, are set to sell a record number of tickets for the 2023 tournament.

FIFA have opened an office in Australia to assist with the dealings in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which gives FA access and the opportunity to open dialogue with FIFA administrators and pursue their future ambitions.

The FA CEO knows however, it is imperative that Australia delivers a world class tournament to stand any chance of winning the right to host a future World Cup.

“What I can say is we’ve got an opportunity with the 2023 Women’s World Cup – I think we will deliver an outstanding tournament. If we can deliver the best ever Women’s World Cup tournament, it does put you in a good position to take on more FIFA competitions,” Johnson said.

Australia was awarded the 2023 Women’s World Cup under a new FIFA voting process, which is also set to give the country more of a chance to win a further vote this time around in 2030 or more likely 2034.

Under Australia’s previous World Cup bid in 2010, they secured a singular vote from FIFA’s council.

However, the new voting method gives all 211 national member associations a chance to vote, rather than the previous secretive process which was conducted by FIFA council members.

Australia may have further success with this system due to the transparent nature of it and minimization of influence from FIFA’s top dogs.

One of those head honchos is Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, who has steered the ship in the organisation after replacing Sepp Blatter in 2016.

Johnson believes Infantino’s approach to competitions would mean Australia is going to have to find a partnering country for any future bid for a World Cup.

“If you look at the way Gianni is wanting to run his competition strategies, he wants cross-nation competitions. I don’t see any future World Cups being run by one country,” said Johnson.

“It is something that would need to be done with other countries in the region, both in the Asia and probably Oceania region.”

FA have previously held discussions with Indonesia about hosting a World Cup and they, alongside New Zealand, are the most likely candidates to partner with Australia if they bid.

Sharing the bid with another country like Indonesia will have its benefits, such as improving relations between both countries and also halving the costs of an expensive exercise.

There will be difficulties that need to be worked out, but this may be Australia’s best chance to host a World Cup in the foreseeable future.

Channel 10 and Paramount+ have hit the ground running

Channel 10 and Paramount have hit the ground running by promoting the A-League to both casual fans and bolted-on supporters, and Australian football will only continue to benefit from their commitment towards promoting the beautiful game.

Fans are already relishing the increased accessibility created by a new broadcast deal. To watch all the A-League games previously, it would cost $25 a month for a Kayo Sports basic subscription, compared to the $9 a month a fan will pay next season for a Paramount+ subscription.

Paramount+ has created an ingenious way to win over A-League members through collaboration with their clubs. The offer – with assistance from Australian Professional Leagues (APL) – subsidises and reduces the cost of a subscription to Paramount+ for A-League members and is a winner with nothing but positive feedback from supporters. Currently, the best was an early bird offer from Melbourne Victory for $60 a year (which has now expired), however most clubs are offering a yearly subscription for around $75.

This has helped alleviate fears that there are too many platforms to watch football, and that costs could become too high. This move by ViacomCBS will certainly garner goodwill and positivity from the people who make up the backbone of A-League support.

While Foxtel was a great partner to the A-League for many years, which allowed an Australian top-flight league to stay relatively stable during its tenure as a broadcaster, in recent years football in Australia has stagnated. The ability to introduce the A-League to not just sports fans, but also casual fans is the biggest strength of the partnership between the league and Channel 10.

Studio 10 featured an interview with Adelaide players Stefan Mauk and Kusini Yengi, and we are surely going to see more of these exclusives featured as we approach the beginning of the A-League regular season. We are already seeing cross-promotion of the A-League through their other shows and news programs. Melbourne Victory’s former talismanic striker Archie Thompson is appearing on Celebrity Masterchef, in a crossover attempt to win over casual viewers. When the A-League season begins, you can only imagine how this coverage will expand and feature in the channel’s line-up.

The coverage of football in Channel 10’s news bulletins and programs has changed recently. The A-League has never seen transfers and news being prioritised in the way they are now on a free-to-air commercial station, and this can only be good for the game. Each night the network makes up around 17% of all TV viewership Australia-wide, and the possibilities for cross-promotional activity have only just scratched the surface. 10 News First regularly draws over 500,000 people for their nightly show, and introducing A-League stars with the league itself to these viewers can produce growth and exposure like Australian football has never seen before.

The new broadcast deal for next season is an opportunity for the A-League to refresh itself, and ViacomCBS are certainly giving it their all to ensure this happens. Channel 10 appears to be going all-in on ensuring the opportunity to market Australian football to a new audience is not being wasted. A challenge for the A-League and Channel 10 will be finding a way to reach the large number of lapsed fans who have stopped following the A-League for various reasons.

The next step for Paramount+ and 10 is ensuring they have the right broadcast team in place for games.  Fox Sport’s A-League commentators have been maligned in recent years, however there are passionate and skilled play-by-play announcers who are waiting to be picked up. Simon Hill is currently freelancing for Optus Sport and would be a shrewd pickup as lead announcer for A-League games. Rumours of his acquisition by 10 circulated earlier this year, and he is proven quality who is dedicated and knowledgeable about Australian football.

Australian football could see a change in fortune if ViacomCBS can continue to expand upon this level of promotion for the A-League. By engaging new fans, ensuring lapsed fans are reached, and continuing to offer value to the committed and faithful, Channel 10 and Paramount+ can build upon the strong foundations that they have already laid before the season has even kicked off.

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