The End of the World Cup As We Know It
Make sure you really enjoy and appreciate this year's World Cup, because it's probably all downhill from there.
Held every four years, the World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet (don’t let anyone try and tell you that the Olympics is bigger), and is one of the only things in modern society that can unite an entire nation, and sometimes the whole world.
Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, the World Cup can captivate a country like no other event, as seen in Australia’s remarkable 2006 World Cup run, where the Socceroos qualified via a thrilling penalty shootout victory over Uruguay, and were robbed by eventual winners Italy.
This year’s World Cup, hosted by Russia is barely two months away, and you are advised to seriously enjoy and appreciate it, because it could be the last great World Cup.
Regardless of results, every World Cup is a beautiful spectacle and an absolute feast of soccer, and while this will probably never change, the tournament will never be the same again after this year.
This is because soccer’s governing body FIFA and their corrupt reputation just might ruin the World Cup forever, thanks to some very questionable decisions.
In December 2010, Qatar were surprisingly awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup, overcoming strong competition from Japan, South Korea, the United States and Australia.
For soccer fans in Australia, hosting the World Cup on home soil would have been a dream come true, and most likely would have given the A-League a huge boost that it still desperately needs today. But the reality is, we never really had a chance, because FIFA were (allegedly) bribed by cashed-up Qatari officials.
Along with their vote-buying allegations, Qatar’s World Cup preparation has been marred by several other issues, including poor working conditions and allegations of slave labour for those building the stadiums, and a proposed ban on alcohol sales during the event (although FIFA are working to resolve this - most likely so they can reap the benefits of beer sponsorship money).
But even if you can look past the corruption, exploitation and potential alcohol ban, the weather in Qatar is already having a negative impact on the 2022 World Cup.
The World Cup is always held in the European Summer (this year’s event begins on June 15 and concludes July 15), but due to Qatar’s extremely high temperatures and humidity in June and July, the tournament has been moved to November/December. This is a major problem, as it is right in the middle of the European (and Australian) club season.
FIFA admitted they “did not consider the heat” when awarding Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup, but they now face the highly problematic issue of holding the event during the club soccer season.
The European season usually concludes with the Champions League Final in late May or early June, and hence the World Cup is perfect for a mid-June start, but in 2022, every soccer league in Europe will have to rearrange their entire schedule to ensure the best players in the world can represent their country in Qatar.
Not only does this inconvenience the domestic leagues, it impacts the World Cup, as players will have less time to prepare, recover from injury and spend time with their national team colleagues, as they will be concentrating on club soccer before the tournament begins.
This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of play at the World Cup, along with lessening the anticipation for the event due to the busy nature of club soccer.
2026 World Cup and Beyond
While the standard of play in Qatar will decrease due to unprecedented scheduling, the standard at every World Cup beginning from 2026 and beyond will also suffer thanks to FIFA’s greed-driven decision to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams.
This is a baffling idea, and could potentially ruin the World Cup forever. We wish this was an exaggeration, but the reality is an extra 16 teams will lessen the quality of play, particularly in the early rounds of the tournament.
50% more teams compared to the current 32 team format means the World Cup will consist of 80 games (currently 64), and while this gives fans many more hours of live soccer to watch, the tournament’s prestige will most likely decrease, similar to Euro 2016.
Euro 2016 was the first European Championships to feature 24 teams, which again, is a 50% increase from its previous 16 team format. This resulted in a less exciting and sometimes utterly boring group stage, as many teams secured their place in the knockout rounds earlier than usual. For many soccer fans, the tournament did not really begin until the group stage had finally concluded. A 48 team World Cup faces the exact same issue.
So why have FIFA opted for such a dramatic expansion? They were considering a slightly smaller increase from 32 to 40 teams, but unanimously voted for the 48 team format, stating that it gives more countries the opportunity to join “the world’s greatest party”.
But should we believe that answer? Probably not. Because the extra 16 teams and extra 16 games will result in an estimated USD $1 billion revenue increase for FIFA. How convenient!
Should We Give FIFA a Chance First?
Judging on past form, probably not, but unfortunately we don’t have a choice. Sure, Qatar might have the resources to host a good event (if you can forget the bribery allegations), and it only takes a few memorable matches to change one’s view on a World Cup tournament, so we’ll still be watching an unhealthy amount of soccer in late 2022.
In regards to FIFA’s revenue-raising call to expand from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, it might be nice to see some lesser-known soccer nations have their moment on the big stage, but sometimes is less is more, not to mention the probability of some embarrassingly one-sided group stage games.
So whatever you do, make sure you really appreciate the quality on show in Russia this June and July, because chances are, it will be the last great World Cup… as long as hooliganism and political unrest don’t overshadow the on-field action!
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