World Cup changes proposed for 2026

The World Cup in Qatar is in full swing, proving a magnet for football fans worldwide.

And for those who like sports betting it has proved a big attraction. Over 20 million Americans, for example, are set to bet over US $1.9 billion on it by the time that the tournament is over.

They have been helped by liberalisation of the laws on sports betting in the USA following a landmark Supreme Court judgement in 2018 reversing a decades long ruling which had previously largely restricted the practice to Nevada.

As a result the average American cannot watch any TV programme nowadays without being bombarded by adverts for online bookmakers, offering online casino bonuses, and other sports betting bonus offers (Bet365 links is one such version of these).

However, whist organisers are already looking forward to the next World Cup which will be jointly hosted by the USA, Mexico and Canada, and, are considering how to deal with a major challenge, which is the expansion of the number of teams from 32 to 48.

When the World Cup was first played in Uruguay in 1930 only 13 teams entered it, in part, in an era before online bookmakersof the difficulties for European teams to travel to South America prior to the advent of transatlantic air travel.

By 1934, when the tournament,, it had been expanded to 16 teams, and this remained the format until 1982, when a further 8 teams were added.

The current number of 32 teams competing in the final dates from 1998.

There are several reasons why there will be 48 teams taking part in 2026. In the first place, it is part of the platform for FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who has garnered support from Football Confederations like Africa, Asia and CONCACAF with his promise that every country should have the chance to win a World Cup one day.

More games also means more money for FIFA, who earn the vast majority of their revenues from staging the World Cup (one of the reasons they want the competition to take place every two years not four).

(And more games would also be good news for sports bookmakers, and other betting sites, who stand to make even more money from bets placed on the outcome of live sports football)

However, it all poses a conundrum in terms of ensuring sporting integrity during the group phases.

The current number of teams allows for 8 groups of four teams, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the knock-out stages.

And, although the first two games in each group are played consecutively, the third games are played at the same time to prevent manipulation.

An example of what could happen is a match between West Germany and Austria in 1982 that became known as the “Disgrace of Dijon” before the current system came into force. Both teams went into the final game knowing that if the Germans won by a single goal, they were both assured of qualifying.

The Germans scored after ten minutes, and, thereafter, both teams sat back for the rest of the game, hardly trying. Anybody who had placed a sports bet on any other outcome that day would have lost their money.

Now, with the prospect of the 48 teams being split into 16 groups of three each, with the top two advancing to the knockout stages, the possibility of such manipulation raises its head again. Two teams will go into the final group game knowing exactly what they have to do, whilst the other watches on, helpless to prevent the outcome.

Already novel solutions to incentivise teams under this format are being proposed, including the award of bonus points, and staging penalty shoot-outs before games, giving the team that lost them every incentive to go for a win.

From the point of view of the sports bookmakers and betting sites either one of these would be an excellent solution, because it would offer even more revenue making opportunities, and the chance to entice more punters with attractive sports betting bonus offers and promotions.

However, for those who love live sport, and, when they grew up playing soccer as a child dreamed of playing in the World Cup, there is a sense that what is often referred to as the beautiful game, is being robbed of its soul by such meddling with the rules.

Football has such universal appeal because of its simplicity. Once that is lost, will it also lose some of its attraction?

Certainly it seems live sport enthusiasts will be robbed of some of the drama seen in this World Cup, with Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, Belgium losing to Morocco, and Japan defeating both Germany and Spain,

It is hard to argue that the World Cup will not be poorer for it.

 

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