I remember watching this year’s Olympics football finals between Nigeria and Argentina. It was a good tournament, and one of the highlights for me was Nigeria beating Belgium 4-1. However, looking at the makeup of the 16 teams that qualified, it’s pretty straightforward:
2 from South America
2 from North+Central America and the Carribeans
4 from Europe
3 from Africa
3 from Asia
1 from Oceania
So, the places are spread out among all the continents, very fair, very evenly distributed.
So how about the World Cup? Well, the South Americans started, and the Europeans pay the most when it comes to TV money. And the number of qualification places is skewed HEAVILY in their favour. Out of the 32 finalists we will have:
Africa – 53 teams/5 places (9.4%) + 1 place for this year’s hosts
Asia – 43 teams/4.5 places (10.4%)
Europe – 53 teams/13 places (24.5%)
North, Central America and Carribean – 35 teams/3.5 places (10%)
Oceania – 10 teams/0.5 places (5%)
South America – 10 teams/4.5 places (45 %)
So percentage wise, South America has the best deal, while Oceania has the worst deal, with Africa second from bottom. But both Europe and Africa have 53 teams, but Europe has more than twice the number of places in the tournament.
Some will argue that South America and Europe have produced all of the previous winners of the tournament, and as a result, they have every right to hold on to most of the places available. Africa has had 2 quarterfinalists but that’s it. Asia, one semi-finalist, and so if we don’t do well, we shouldn’t get any more places.
But isn’t this just going to be a vicious circle? As long as the tournament favours the Europeans and South Americans, the teams from that region will keep getting exposure to top level competition, which helps to develop the players, giving them opportunities to shine on the World Stage, and sign with top clubs. So teams like Bulgaria and Slovenia will occasionally make the tournament, while teams like Gabon will remain in the backwaters of world football.
I propose a ‘reset’.
South American, thank you for giving us the World Cup. Europe, thanks for giving us leagues for our players to play in.
But it’s a WORLD cup. If FIFA is serious about developing football in Africa and Asia, then our teams need more exposure at the very top level.
Each region should have a number of places based on the number of participating teams. The Olympic model looks very good to me, just double the number of spaces to make 32 teams. They’ll be an extra space (only one host), which can be used for co-hosts or even a wildcard place.
It’s only fair.