GENEVA: The organisation which represents Europe’s elite clubs has reiterated its opposition to FIFA’s expansion of the World Cup finals to 48 teams from 2026 writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Delegates from UEFA were among those on FIFA Council today in Zurich who voted “unanimously” in favour of the expansion.

In those circumstances ECA may have to reconsider the presence of senior directors Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Andrea Agnelli on the European federation’s executive committee.

The European Club Association had already expressed its opposition to expansion and has repeated that stance even though the proposed format would not mean footballers players any more games.

A statement said: “The European Club Association reiterates that it is in principle not in favour of an expanded World Cup.

“We fail to see the merits to changing the current format of 32 that has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives. Questionable is also the urgency in reaching such an important decision, with nine years to go until it becomes applicable, without the proper involvement of stakeholders who will be impacted by this change.

‘Political’ perception

“We understand that this decision has been taken based on political reasons rather than sporting ones and under considerable political pressure, something ECA believes is regrettable.

“ECA will analyse in detail the impact and the consequences of the new format and will address the matter at the next meeting of its executive board scheduled for the end of January.”

In fact the ECA has come under heavy criticism itself for its ring-fencing of the top clubs’ ‘closed shop’ in the future shape of the UEFA Champions League.

UEFA professed itself happily acquiescent in the decision which it had supported, claiming the credit for having a decision on slots put off to another dat.

A statement said: “During today’s FIFA Council meeting in Zurich, it was clear that all other confederations were overwhelmingly in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams starting in 2026. As a result, UEFA decided to join in supporting the new format of the competition.

“UEFA is satisfied that it succeeded in postponing the final decision regarding the slot allocation of every confederation in the future format of the FIFA World Cup.

“We would also like to state that we are happy that the new proposed length and format of the tournament does not increase the burden on players. We will also ensure that clubs’ interests will continue to be protected.”

Fervent opposition to World Cup expansion was expressed by the anti-FIFA pressure group #NewFIFANow which is headed by the British Conservative Party MP Damien Collins.

Its own statement criticised the move as diluting the “competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans.”

Contrary to the apparent logic of the increase in participation, the statement added: “It will not help development of the game or provide improved competitive opportunities for lower-ranked nations. Instead, it will make a mockery of the qualification process for most confederations.

“It is a money grab and power grab. The aim is to increase revenue in order to fund the extravagant election promises of the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, as well as to consolidate Infantino’s personal position. This is straight out of the Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter playbooks.

“FIFA should be focussed on restoring its reputation and credibility, and strengthening its marquee event, not creating a potentially larger environment for corruption, largesse and backhanders.

“This decision by the FIFA Council today again demonstrates that the wheels are apparently still being greased in the same old way and that FIFA is incapable of reforming itself.”