SINGAPORE (Reuters) - FIFA President Gianni Infantino has defended his latest proposal for a 48-team World Cup, saying it would not extend the tournament beyond the existing length nor require any more venues.
A source in FIFA said on Wednesday that Infantino had changed his mind over his plans for the future of the World Cup and has now recommended a 48-team tournament with 16 groups of three.
Infantino's latest suggestion, the source said, was among four proposals which have been sent to FIFA Council members who will decide in January on the format and number of teams for the 2026 World Cup.
The Swiss, speaking at a FIFA summit in Singapore on Thursday, said changes from the existing 32-team format did not mean a longer tournament or more stadiums.
"What I can say already now just to be very clear is that all these formats can be played in the same number of days as currently, 32 days, with the same number of stadiums then currently, 12 stadiums, and that the team qualifying or the two teams qualifying for the final of the tournament will play seven games," he told reporters."This means that there is no additional burden for the players because if you play the final, you play seven games in 32 days exactly as it is the case now so there is no downside for the player.
"There is no downside for the clubs because the calendar is not impacted but there is a big upside for football, because it allows eight or 16 more teams, more countries and more regions in the world, to participate in the top competition of the world which is the World Cup."
Infantino had previously suggested a 48-team tournament but with a one-off preliminary round involving 32 teams, with the 16 winners going into a 32-team group stage and joining 16 teams who would receive a bye.
This remained an option but was no longer the favoured one, the source said.
When he was elected in February, Infantino had promised to expand the tournament from the current 32 teams to 40.
This was also among the proposals, with either eight groups of five or 10 groups of four, while the fourth suggestion is to maintain the 32-team format.
Critics, including Germany coach Joachim Loew, have said that adding another 16 teams would dilute the quality of global soccer's showpiece event but Infantino disagreed.
"I think that the value and the quality of football has grown incredibly all over the world," he said.
"Let's not forget in the last World Cup, for example, two of the historic big countries like England and Italy have been eliminated by Costa Rica, which is not really known as a powerhouse of world football.
"This shows that the quality is certainly wider than many people say or think."
Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty