Later this month, it may be decided to return to four-team groups for the 2026 World Cup.
16 groups of three were planned for the 48-team competition that would take place in the US, Mexico, and Canada.
Fifa has however changed its mind as a result of the enthusiasm that the tournament in Qatar last year generated when some groups lost in dramatic final matches.
At the council meeting of the ruling body scheduled on March 16 in Rwanda, the decision might be officially announced.
The 2026 World Cup: What to expect
According to BBC Sport, all stakeholders are in agreement that the four-team structure should be kept as long as it doesn’t increase the competition’s “footprint,” which refers to both the preparation period and the actual tournament.
Groups of three seemed fantastic, but there are certain problems, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said at the FT Business of Football Conference.
“Is it fair that after two games, a third of teams leave World Cup qualifying?
“Yes, we must act responsibly. We cannot go above the footprint of days for 2014 and 2018. A three-month World Cup is not an option.
The competition would increase from its anticipated 80 matches to a potential 104 matches if it were played in groups of four.
Even though the tournament would have to last longer, it is believed that by shortening teams’ preparation time – from nearly three weeks before Russia 2018 but not quite as significantly as the week they had before Qatar 2022 – players would be off duty for a longer amount of time.
Given that more teams would have to travel as a result of the change, environmental concerns are also certain to be raised, but Montagliani claims that the problem is being properly considered.
The match schedule, he declared, is crucial. Teams from New York to Los Angeles cannot compete.
The teams will compete in pods. A trio of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston-based musicians will perform. Other ones can be found in LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.
“We stick to what is stated in the bid since other tactics must also be used.”
Fifa is unable to balance environmental concerns with expansion aspirations, according to an analysis
Head of editorial sustainability at BBC Sport, Dave Lockwood
Fifa’s priorities are in question here. Finding a method to please all three—money, football, and the environment—seems to be quite difficult.
The Qatar World Cup was hailed as a success “off the field,” despite receiving quite different praise elsewhere.
The four-team format was quite effective and produced thrilling group stage finishes.
The idea of switching to three-team groups is inconceivable to many football fans since it would compromise the tournament’s credibility. Some reports even stated that penalty shootouts would be required prior to the game.
Yet switching to four-team groups would significantly, and maybe by as much as 25%, increase the tournament’s environmental impact and emissions.
According to the organizers’ own projections, even with group games played in geographical “pods,” this World Cup was already expected to produce 3.73 million tonnes CO2e more than any other World Cup in history when compared to Fifa’s previously disclosed footprints. This is largely because of the vast geography involved.
The measurement used to determine the emissions of different greenhouse gases based on their propensity to warm the atmosphere is called CO2 equivalent, or CO2e.
It is also important to keep in mind that the 2030 event, which will likely involve multiple nations as hosts and present similar geographic difficulties, will set a precedent that will raise the carbon footprint for years to come while Fifa works to cut the emissions of international football in half.
Even though Fifa is, at least nominally, a “not-for-profit” organization, it is safe to infer that the decision to expand what was already the most watched athletic event in the world was made with financial motivation in mind rather than environmental consideration.