Friday, October 14, 2016

Why Africa Must be Wary of the 48-team World Cup Proposal....

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, has promoted the idea that his 48-team World Cup is designed to satisfy wishes and hopes of continents like Africa and Asia that have a large number of FIFA membership. Reportedly, Africa is nursing the idea of having 8 teams at the enlarged tournament scheduled for 2026.

However, with details of the 48-team tournament becoming clear, the question is how beneficial is this proposed enlarged tournament for CAF and Africa? I think it is a case where CAF must look carefully before accepting the proposal without adjustment. It seems to me that this new format will do more to hurt than help in spite of hopes of increasing Africa's World Cup allocations.



1. The 48-team World Cup will have an elimination layer of 16 games after continental qualifiers.

2. The World Cup tournament proper will involve 32 teams as has been the case for a while. This 32-team World Cup will use the current format used in recent World Cups.

3. To get to the 32 teams mentioned in #2 above, 16 of 48 teams will automatically reach the World Cup proper. The other 32 teams will play elimination games to determine 16 teams that will join the 16 automatic qualifiers at the tournament proper.

4. The 16 automatic qualifiers will be chosen based on FIFA ranking. 


Why Concerns For CAF?
Rarely has CAF or AFC teams received a top 16 FIFA ranking. Yet that ranking will be used to select the automatic 16 qualifiers to the World Cup. Take the current FIFA ranking as an example (October 2016), the confederation distribution is shown below. In essence, UEFA will have 10 automatic qualifiers or 77% of its current automatic qualifiers (using 2014 World Cup as baseline),  CONMEBOL will have 83% of its current automatic qualifiers. How many would CAF have? The answer is 0%! 

Clearly, this is a massive fleece and yet CAF members of the FIFA Council are about to vote yes to this proposal giving members of its confederation zero automatic qualifiers to the World Cup proper. In essence, this proposal stands a chance to push back the gains of the continent.

Now, of course, you may argue that Africa may have 8 qualifiers among the other 32 teams. However, none of those 32 teams is granted automatic pass to the World Cup proper. All they get is an assurance of a single game at the tournament site. Only 16 of those 32 teams will win those single game eliminations and get to the World Cup proper. It is quite possible, therefore, that all CAF representatives lose elimination games which means that CAF may not be represented at the critical group stage of World Cup games!
Top 16 FIFA Ranked Teams Come From Following Confederations
UEFA = 10

Number of Reps from Each Confederation at the 2014 World Cup
UEFA = 13
AFC = 4
CAF = 5

What Could Have Been Better?
There is of course a better alternative. The initial alternative offered by Infantino had 40 teams that go into the tournament proper. That would have increased group matches from a total of 32 to 48 games. i.e 6 games in each group of four teams to 10 games in each group of five teams. The proposed 48-team increases the games by only 16 elimination games. The difference is remarkable and perhaps justifies a move to 48 teams, instead of 40, with the proposed structure that includes a round of 16 elimination games to save costs. Understandable.

However, everyone knows that the real party occurs when the group games begin. Why then create a situation where certain federations are denied one of the automatic places? Sure, the argument would be that it is a fair process because it depends on a country's place on FIFA's ranking. Yet, FIFA ranking has not been the fairest ranking system because it has co-efficients that have in-built advantages for UEFA and CONMEBOL teams.

What should have been fair is a system that assures all confederations atleast an automatic place. For instance, such a system could assure CAF, UEFA, AFC, and CONCACAF three automatic places each with one automatic place to OCEANIA.  The other three spots would go to the host nation and the two teams that played in the last World Cup final. Let the rest of the teams battle in the 16 elimination games. This will remove the legacy of in-built advantages to UEFA representatives. After all, it is those UEFA privileges that lead to perennial cries about unfairness. As the proposal now stands, that perennial cry will persist.

Hopefully, CAF's representatives on the 36-member FIFA Council are not sitting listlessly while UEFA fleeces them. By January, when FIFA make decisions on this proposal we hope that CAF insists on adjustments that assure fairness.