JOHANNESBURG – News which has dominated global football in the recent days, apart from the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, has been the increase of Fifa World Cup teams from the current 32 to 48.
After intense debate and deliberations, new Fifa President, Gianni Infantino made good his promise to increase the number by a staggering 16 teams. However, this will only come into effect in 2026.
And the questions which have been grappling football pundits are; is the 48-team competition sustainable and good for the game?
What is the good number for Africa and how will the increase help improve the world’s biggest showpiece?
The debate around the number of African countries participating at the World Cup has been a matter of debate over decades.
In 1966, Fifa had a membership of 70 countries of which 16 teams played in the World Cup.
In 1982, Fifa membership increased to 109 countries and the World Cup participating teams increased from 16 to 24. The membership increased to 174 in 1998 with the World Cup participating teams increasing to 32.
In 2017, Fifa membership will be 211 and now the question is, should the World Cup take this into account and increase participating teams from 32 to 48? Is this realistic?
In 1982, there was an increase from 16 to 24, in 1998 from 24 to 32 and in 2026 there will be an increase from 32 to 48, a massive jump.
So the main question people are grappling with on the African continent is what is the right number the continent must receive now that the number has been increased to 48?
From a total number of 54 countries in Africa, only five countries qualify for the Fifa World Cup.
If Fifa considers increasing the number of teams participating at the World Cup on the basis of increase membership and further consider that plus/minus 20 percent of total membership should participate in the World Cup, then Africa needs to make three points.
Argument has been that European teams go all the way but majority of African teams drop in the initial stages.
Majority of broadcast revenue comes from Europe and therefore high number of European teams guarantees high broadcast revenue.
The majority of commercial partners come from Europe and therefore from a marketing point of view, the marketing returns will be generated in Europe.
This basis has been fundamentally transformed as a result of the globalisation of the economy and the shift in the economic dominance resulting in the formation of Brics which includes the three biggest economies in the world China, India, Russia.
Two of these countries also have the biggest population, China, India and all Africa having a billion people.
So the Brics have a major share of the global economy as well as the biggest population sizes.
We, therefore, see the shift in the current sponsors of Fifa—Hyundai (Korea), Sony (Japan), Satyam (India), Emirates (Middle East) and so on. Only European major sponsor remaining is Adidas.
It is therefore clear most revenue now comes out of Europe and the future of broadcast revenue is in the USA, Mexico, China, India and Asia as a whole, including Africa. In order to capture these markets, greater consideration to increase the World Cup slots should go to Africa and Asia.
Other factors that favour Africa in particular is the commercial and financial attractiveness, the global economy has experienced major shifts with Fifa partners coming from the Middle East and Asia; with new broadcast revenue and digital media becoming more significant as revenue streams.
China and India as well as the Brics economic bloc have become major players.
Broadcasters are looking at major markets; China with over 1,3 billion population, India 1,1 billion and Africa with 1 billion.
There is a direct relation between media and broadcast interest in the World Cup and the participation of the Country.
The additional commercial revenue will certainly help Fifa to sustain the current grant of US$1,2 million per member association per year.