10/01/2017 13:39 SAST | Updated 10/01/2017 14:17 SAST

FIFA Greenlights Bloated, 48-Team Format For 2026 World Cup

Maybe Bafana Bafana will finally qualify for the tournament, without having to spend billions to host it?

Ruben Sprich / Reuters
Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo poses with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

The FIFA Council, a supervisory and strategic body that 'sets the vision for FIFA and global football', has unanimously approved a plan to expand the number of countries competing in the FIFA World Cup to 48 from 2026 onward.

The tournament format will be 16 groups of three sides each followed by a 32-team knockout phase. The total number of games will expand from 60 to 80, but the competition will still be played out over 32 days.

This change away from the current 32-team format is the brainchild of FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who declared last year that the motivation was to bring the joy of the World Cup to more countries. "In a 48 team format, the quality would be higher because the 32 teams would have a play off. The quality would improve and not decrease in any way," he said in October.

According to the Guardian, FIFA's own research indicates that the new format will bring in an extra $1 billion (R13,7 billion) in revenue. The organisation reportedly made a cool $4,8 billion (R65,7 billion) from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and is apparently in excellent financial health.

Furthermore, this new format will almost certainly increase the number of allocations for Asian and African countries. This marks Infantino's first major policy change, after he was elected to football's highest administrative position in February 2016, following the almighty corruption scandal that toppled former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and a number of other high-ranking officials.

Blatter's 17-year reign was cemented in large part due to massive handouts to African and Asian countries, which helped him get those votes during elections. Arguably, Infantino appears to understand the need to be seen to be looking after football's global South.

When asked last year what he thought of the plan, the president of the Nigerian football association Amaju Pinnick said, "So far everybody's excited about it. I wouldn't say there's 100 percent support but all my colleagues I've spoken to – all my colleagues – are excited about it. I'm not going to say 100 percent because I haven't spoken to everybody, but certainly most of Africa is excited about it."

Well, perhaps Bafana Bafana might finally make another appearance at a World Cup without having to shell out £2,4 billion (R39,8 billion) first. We live in hope.