Opinion: Expanded World Cup just another money-maker
LOOK no further than FIFA's announcement of an expanded World Cup format for an example of everything wrong with the commodification of sport.
I more than most have been an advocate for the positive influence a commodified product has on improving sport at both a professional and grass roots level; as a spectacle at its pinnacle and a vehicle for health and well-being at its base.
I can sit here and wax lyrical on the benefits increased revenue streams have on grass roots participation but FIFA's announcement on January 10 to expand from a 32 to 48-team format is one based purely on the greed of FIFA boss Gianni Infantino and his colleagues.
FIFA admitted to as much, when Infantino cited the organisation's own analysis predicting revenue increases of up to 20% from the $5.5billion expected from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. On face value this seems a win-win for all parties, with more countries afforded the chance to compete on the biggest sporting stage on the planet, and FIFA bringing in more money to then put back into their product.
But this is FIFA, the same sporting body whose former president, Sepp Blatter, returned for a fifth term even amidst the corruption scandal that eventually led to his eight-year exile. The same body investigated for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering spanning 24 years that led to the arrest of 14 FIFA officials in May 2015.
This watered-down format will have a flow-on effect to the World Cup qualifying stages. Normally a dour contest between nations vying for their place in the spotlight, with the 2026 format in place these previously meaningful contests for middling countries like Australia and Japan suddenly become far less important.
Comfort breeds complacency and not just on the pitch but off it as well. The high stakes of qualifying aside, we will inevitably see a drop-off in interest from players and fans alike.
The urgency of the decision also raises eyebrows, with Infantino's campaign promise of a 40-team World Cup one of the key contributing factors towards his succession of Blatter last February.
If this was an organisation other than FIFA and a competition other than the World Cup, then providing a chance for minnow nations to compete would be a promising one.
But consider for a moment the restructured pool play, with 16 groups of three teams playing two games each before moving into a 32-team knockout format.
What possible good can come from nations like Thailand and Faroe Islands paying out the proverbial to book their place in the big dance, only to leave as quickly as they arrived following straight-set defeats to superpowers like Spain and Argentina?
If FIFA truly cared about bringing minnow nations to the football trough, they would funnel a greater amount of the $US1.1billion USD of total revenue from 2015 into their much-lauded development projects. $US161million USD doesn't really cut it in comparison.
I'm not naturally a pessimist and concede some good will come from the format changes. But football purists - the ones that wait four years to see arguably the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet - have a right to feel short-changed.
But 10 years is a long time in sport and FIFA may yet surprise us.