FIFA defers decision on expanding World Cup to 40 teams

FIFA is to consider expanding the World Cup to 40 teams but a final decision on the change has been deferred.

The proposal was being discussed on Thursday by FIFA's executive committee as part of a package of reforms for the world governing body. A decision has been deferred for reports by the organisation's administration but there is strong support for the change from Asia, Africa -- and FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino, the UEFA general secretary.

Germany's representative on the executive committee, Wolfgang Niersbach, confirmed in a written statement to German agency DPA that the decision would not be taken at this stage.

The decision comes on a dramatic day after two senior FIFA officials -- reported to be FIFA vice-presidents Alfredo Hawit of Honduras and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay -- were arrested by Swiss authorities in another swoop at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

The move would be a significant change from the current format of 32 teams in the finals and could mean another 32 matches in the group stage adding another week to the tournament, which is currently 31 days in length, and taking the total number of matches to 96. The change would come into force for the 2026 tournament.

Infantino has made the expansion part of his manifesto for the upcoming FIFA presidential elections, citing the expanded European Championship which will see 24 teams compete in France next summer.

The most likely way of accommodating the eight extra teams would be having eight groups of five teams, with the top two qualifying for the last 16 knockout round. Under that system, it would mean an extra four matches in each group totalling 32 in all.

The proposal is being seen as an incentive to persuade members to vote through a package of reforms including 12-year term limits for FIFA ExCo members and the president and making public senior officials' salaries.

It will also take the pressure off Europe whose 13 places have been the source of envy from other continents. In May, FIFA decided against any change to the World Cup system and keeping the same allocation of places to the continents: Europe 13, Asia 4.5, CONCACAF (Caribbean, north & central America) 3.5, South America 4.5, Oceania 0.5, host country 1.