KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —– Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini appear to be engaging in a nimbly engaging game of political pingpong with the media serving as the table.
Blatter is FIFA president considering running again in 2015 when UEFA leader Platini might otherwise have thought of taking over.
Tournament organisation has long been an issue both have batted around for the sake of an impressionable constituency in the 209-member football world.
Platini has just served up the idea of a 40-team World Cup in a rally which has been running since the summer of 2012. That was when the Frenchman came up with his idea of taking the group stage of Euro 2020 out and around the entire continent.
Blatter was openly critical, to Platini’s irritation.
Then Blatter stirred the pot a little further at a recent conference organised by the Central and North American Confederation (CONCACAF). He paid lavish compliments to his hosts and talked both then and in a new FIFA weekly magazine column about the need to increase the World Cup representation of regions beyond Europe and South America.
This is a standard courtesy of Blatter: he made similar comments earlier this year while attending the congress of the Asian Football Confederation . . . and last year to the Africans at CAF.
It assures him positive local and regional media coverage at the cost of a minor dust storm in Europe (which, when all is said and done, represents only one quarter of the voting membership of FIFA).
This is fertile territory for Blatter because, as FIFA president, he has a brief to address issues on global terms. Platini, as president ‘only’ of UEFA, cannot talk of giving away European slots; that would be political suicide.
Hence he returned Blatter’s volley with the notion of expanding the World Cup – already overblown for commercial and political gain at the expense of the quality of the football – into a 40-team monster.
Currently the finals feature 32 teams playing in eight first-round groups of four with three further knockout steps before the final.
‘Dead match’ time
Platini, according to The Times, thinks that eight groups of five teams would mean extending the finals by only an extra three days (for the extra ‘dead’ matches, presumably) and would delight millions more around the world.
Congress, he suggested, could vote for it next year in time for Russia in 2018. This may have come as interesting news to secretary-general Jerome Valcke, in Kazan this week to check out preparations for the scheduled 32-team finals.
Of course the Russians did not bid for a 40-team World Cup with the extra demands on infrastructure: trains, planes and hotels. Still, if FIFA can play fast and loose with the timing of a World Cup (viz. Qatar) then it can rip up the 2018 contract as well.
Maybe even the vote should be rerun – then Qatar 2022 can be re-voted as well.
Anyway, why restrict the finals to 40 teams? Let the finals go to 64 to maintain the mathematical perfection with 16 groups of four teams. Then it might be better to take the first round groups all around the world, just as Platini is doing with Euro 2020.
Meanwhile, frankly, there are more serious issues to be resolved.
In case anyone missed it, that’s the point.