After Euro and World Cup, expansion in sight for Africa Cup?
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FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, received mixed reactions on Tuesday. Opponents have labelled the expansion "a money grab and power grab." It's nonetheless set the stage for serious discussion about expanding Africa's biggest soccer tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).
Critics of Fifa's expansion plans were quick to blast it as a politically and money driven ploy.
"Fifa is doing politics. Gianni Infantino is doing politics," Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish league told AFP on Tuesday of Fifa president's campaign promise to make the sport more inclusive.
Infantino has certainly done that. The new 48-team format extends participation in the World Cup beyond Europe’s superpowers to developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
"With the new format, many more countries will have the chance to dream," insists the Fifa president.
TSome pundits are debating whether the World Cup expansion and that of Euro 2016 last year, could revive hopes of seeing the Africa Cup of Nations also get a boost.
In an interview with RFI's French service, African football chief Issa Hayatou blamed “a lack of infrastructure” for the 16-team Africa Cup of Nations tournament failing to mirror the expansion of the European Championship.
Yet with its peers getting bigger, is CAN not worried about being left behind?
"I would say that expansion in the African context would make it very difficult for most nations to be able to host it", Peter Alegi, a Professor of African history at Michigan State University told RFI.
"You'd be looking at a handful of countries being able to host it on rotation, probably with South Africa and several of the North African countries being in pole position."
There is a glimmer of hope however for African teams, ironically offered by the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, Stewart Regan, who backs a 48-team expansion.
"This will allow these nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure..." he said.
Regan further added that if smaller nations at an expanded Euro 2016 had performed so well, there was no reason why other minnows couldn't follow suit.
Expansion plans will be on everybody's minds when the CAN 2017 tournament kicks off this Saturday in Gabon. Fifa may have stolen some of the competition's limelight but it may have removed some of the financial hurdles stopping it from getting bigger.
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