This year’s World Cup in Qatar has been “the best ever”, Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, football’s global governing body, has said.
This was down to the “unique, cohesive power that this World Cup has shown”, Infantino said on Friday in Doha, after a FIFA council meeting.
Describing what he called “the transformative legacy of this World Cup”, he told a news conference that “many people from around the world have come to Qatar and have discovered the Arab world, which they didn’t know or they knew only for what was portrayed to them.”
Football is ‘truly global’
Infantino hailed the wide spread of countries making it to the tournament’s knockout phase, as well as the first female referee at football’s showpiece event.
Morocco made history as the first Arab and African team to reach a World Cup semifinal, losing to defending champions France, who defeated the Atlas Lions 2-0.
“Teams from all the continents moved to the knockout phase, showing that there is something happening when we speak about football becoming truly global for the first time,” he said.
“I think Morocco’s performance has been exceptional. Fantastic … They played from the heart but also with an undeniable quality. Reaching the semifinals of the World Cup doesn’t happen by chance,” Infantino noted.
He congratulated Morocco, but also Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia.
“This puts on display the level of African football. I am very happy. The moment of African football was always about to arrive. And it finally did. And the fact that, in the next World Cup, the number of African teams participating will almost double will help that.”
There was a nod, too, for the first woman who refereed a match, Stephanie Frappart from France.
“The World Cup has been an incredible success on all fronts,” Infantino added.
“The main one being the fans, the behaviour, the joyful atmosphere, the bringing of people together. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.”
The World Cup in Qatar has also helped FIFA generate more than $1bn on top of expectations for this four-year cycle, Infantino told reporters.
FIFA raked in around $7.5bn in the 2018-2022 cycle, and Infantino estimated income upwards of $11bn by the end of the 2026 World Cup, to be held across North America.
Of course, this World Cup is still not over, with the third-place playoff between Croatia and Morocco on Saturday, and, of course, the flagship World Cup final between Argentina and France on Sunday, Qatar’s National Day.
So far, already 3.27 million spectators have attended the games, compared with an overall 3.3 million at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Wish list for future tournaments
There could be changes in the format for the 2026 World Cup, the FIFA chief indicated, with teams increasing from 32 to 48, set to be divided into 16 groups of three, with the top two progressing to the last 32. But this is still to be discussed within FIFA.
The four-team group format, with the top two going through to the knockout rounds, has been used since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, and led to some spectacular drama in the closing games of this year’s group stage.
Infantino also said that the 2025 Club World Cup will feature 32 teams, making the format similar to that of the current tournament.
Currently, the top teams of every continental competition, as well as the hosts’ national champion, battle it out for the Club World Cup title.
He said the tournament, which currently involves seven teams, would be held every four years and would boost revenues for the global sports body.
Infantino said that the 2022 Club World Cup, traditionally held in December but delayed this year because of the Qatar event, will be hosted by Morocco from February 1-11 2023.