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FIFA unveils 2026 World Cup bidding process, and possible 40-team tournament

Newly-appointed president of FIFA Gianni Infantino listens to

Newly-appointed president of FIFA Gianni Infantino listens to a question during a press conference in Bangkok on April 28, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images/ CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT

MEXICO CITY - FIFA unveiled the timetable of its delayed bidding process for the 2026 World Cup on Tuesday, with president Gianni Infantino's plans for a 40-team tournament to be decided upon by October and a final decision on the hosts to be made in May 2020.

Soccer's world governing body said it would consider allowing joint bids and review a rule which bans the same continent from hosting two successive World Cups.

This currently prevents China, whose Wanda Group is a major FIFA sponsor, from bidding for the 2026 tournament.

The decisions were among the first passed by the new-look FIFA Council, which was holding its maiden meeting since it replaced the old executive committee under reforms passed in February.

The Council, which has a strategic role, ruled that bidding nations would have to meet requirements on human rights, sustainable event management and environmental protection. Bidders who did not meet "technical requirements" would be excluded, it said.

Infantino was elected as FIFA president in February when one of his main promises was to increase the number of teams in the finals from 32 to 40, a proposal which is strongly opposed by Europe's biggest clubs.

FIFA said that decisions were expected by October on the number of teams, the format for the tournament, the "eligibility of (continental) confederations to bid" and whether to allow joint bids.

At present, the same continent cannot host two successive World Cups following a decision by the executive committee in May last year.

Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, meaning that other Asian countries would have to wait until 2030.

Then, however, an Asian country could face opposition from a joint bid by Argentina and Uruguay, aimed to celebrate the centenary of the competition, which was first held in Uruguay in 1930.

Joint bids were banned in 2011 but Infantino has said he wants to encourage them, possibly spreading the tournament around several countries in a region.


FIFA said that a "consultation process", outlining new standards for bidders, would run until May 2017, followed by a preparation phase running until December 2018 when countries would have to submit their bids.

The bids would be evaluated from January 2019 to February 2020 with a final decision three months later.

FIFA was forced to reform its bidding process after the vote in December 2010 awarded the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively.

That vote is the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities, while Qatar's preparations have also been marred by allegations of abuse of migrant workers in the construction industry. Qatar says it is working to solve the issue.

Under revised statutes, the hosts will be chosen by the 209 members of FIFA at its annual Congress. The Council, however, will still draw up a shortlist of three candidates. Previously, hosting rights were decided by the old executive committee.

FIFA said that Gibraltar and Kosovo's applications for membership would be submitted to the Congress on Friday and that both would be allowed to take part in the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition if accepted.

Benin was suspended with immediate effect due to legal interference in the country's football federation. A decision not to suspend Greece was ratified by the Council.

FIFA Council member Fernando Sarney praised Infantino's leadership on Tuesday.

"Things are getting calmer in FIFA," the Brazilian representative told reporters.

"Gianni is talking about football, he is travelling around, talking to people and trying to put football back into our conversations because before we talked about everything apart from football."


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