Simon Hill has slammed FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2026, calling it proof that football’s governing body still suffers from the same problems it has struggled with in recent years.
The new format will see 16 groups of three teams each take part in the World Cup Finals from the 2026 event, with the top two teams in each group moving to the knockout stages.
This means 16 teams will be eliminated from the tournament after only playing two matches, compared to the current minimum of three group stage games each team plays.
Hill called the expansion “frankly ludicrous” and says that the motive behind the move show FIFA at its core is far from a transparent organisation.
“This is basically to appease a lot of nations around the world because it will create more money, which will be distributed to them and therefore in the end, they will vote for the guy who got them that money: Gianni Infantino who is the new FIFA president,” he said on SEN’s The Run Home.
“This is the same old FIFA operating on the same old principles as (former presidents) Sepp Blatter and Joao Havelange. It’s why the governing body needs to be ripped up and started again in my opinion.”
Blatter and multiple top FIFA officials were suspended in 2015 following investigations into bribery and money laundering.
Hill says that likely beneficiaries from the four added places Asia would receive as part of the expansion are indicative of FIFA’s intentions with their plan.
“If you have eight and a half teams qualifying out of Asia, guess which two nations are ranked eight and nine in Asia at the moment? China and Qatar,” he said.
“Those are the sort of nations that FIFA would absolutely love to have at the World Cup. China has qualified once, Qatar has never qualified. “If you get those two nations in the World Cup, guess what happens? You’ve got a whole lot more money.”
The Fox Sports football commentator says Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop’s response, in which he welcomed the move as a sign of the worldwide growth of the game, is a disappointing tell-tale sign of the issues international football faces.
“I think it’s a probably politically expedient statement and I think sums up the problem with football at world level,” Hill said.
“Countries like Australia – and we’re by no means alone – feel as though they have to toe the right political line because obviously they don’t want to be punished, either financially or otherwise, by head office.
“This is why the structure is all wrong. It needs outsiders to come in for an interim period, maybe as long as 10 years, to run the game on behalf of the game and for the good of the game rather than to line association’s pockets.”
Hill also believes that the quality of the action on the pitch will decline as well, both in the Finals itself and in the long World Cup qualification process leading up to the one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
He considers this could have major ramifications for the FFA, despite the proposed expansion making Australia’s qualification path easier.
“To blow it out to 48 teams is not only going to dilute the quality of the Finals itself, but it’s also going to make large swathes of qualifying redundant,” he said.
“That is actually going to cost FFA potentially a huge amount of money.
“If this qualifying method was in place at the moment, Australia would almost be qualified already. That means we have three home games coming up that would essentially be dead rubbers.
“How on earth do you sell that, not only to TV broadcasters, but to the public? They would be glorified friendlies.
“You would be left with B-teams… How on earth does that help the development of the game?”
The football caller says his opinion would be no different if Australia had not already established itself as a regular World Cup participant, expecting the reduction in qualification difficulty will make a place in the competition feel less special.
“Qualifying for a World Cup is supposed to be difficult,” Hill said.
“The reason why (the World Cup qualifier) against Uruguay in 2005 resonated and still resonates with so many people is because we had to wait such a long time to qualify.
“It was so difficult to qualify that when we got there, it felt like winning the World Cup itself. It was such a great night and finally we achieved something. It meant something tangible because it was damned difficult to achieve.
“If we’re going to play every four years, play two games and then come back home, it takes something away. It’s supposed to be special.
“If everyone gets a ticket for taking part, what’s the point?”