FIFA president Infantino open to 40-team World Cup, co-hosts
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 27, 2016 file photo, FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea.
GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
GENEVA (AP) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino is open to a 40-team World Cup in 2026, with several countries serving as co-hosts.
With key World Cup talks due next month, Infantino's comments Tuesday show that FIFA will consider co-hosting by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The North American neighbors have long been expected bidders for 2026, even competing against each other, because the CONCACAF region is favored to host for the first time since 1994. Then, 24 teams played in the U.S.
In his presidential election campaign, Infantino supported expanding the tournament and hosting across a region.
"These two topics will certainly be on the table for discussion," Infantino said, looking ahead to a meeting of the FIFA Council he will chair on Oct. 13-14 in Zurich.
Asked about a potential U.S.-Canada-Mexico project for 2026, the former UEFA general secretary noted that his previous organization chose to hold the 2020 European Championship in 13 different host nations.
"So, there is, I would say, no limit to whatever is good for football," Infantino said on the sidelines of a meeting of European clubs. "We will see, but it's true that CONCACAF did not have the World Cup for a long time."
FIFA rules currently bar back-to-back hosting by continents, ruling out Asian bidders for 2026 after Qatar hosts in 2022, and has previously weighed requiring confederations to sit out two bidding contests.
Infantino declined to suggest if UEFA could encourage its members to skip the 2026 process with Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.
The 2026 World Cup hosting vote is set for 2020, with FIFA member federations choosing from a shortlist drafted by the ruling council.
"For the moment I think everything is open. My opinion on the 40 teams has not changed," Infantino said after meeting the European Club Association, many of whose members oppose releasing more of their players to an expanded World Cup.
While at UEFA, Infantino also helped oversee an expanded Euro 2016 with 24 teams for the first time instead of the 16-team format
"We have seen it again at the Euro in France with eight more teams, what kind of enthusiasm this generated in many, many countries," he said. "We need to realize that these kinds of events are more than just a competition, they are real social events in the whole world."
In Zurich next month, Infantino will lead the first meeting of a FIFA Council being expanded to include 36 members elected by the six confederations.
Two European members have been scrutinized in recent weeks by the FIFA ethics committee.
Wolfgang Niersbach of Germany cannot attend in Zurich while he serves a one-year ban, imposed for failing to report suspected wrongdoing by 2006 World Cup organizers. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was implicated by a World Anti-Doping Agency inquiry report in covering up soccer players' doping cases. FIFA ethics investigators said it would get the report and "examine it thoroughly."
"I have no concerns at all with the council," Infantino said. "It is our job not to let ourselves be distracted from what we have to do, which is implement the reforms and show we are a new FIFA."