Image: The FIFA logo is seen at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/Files
By Brian Homewood
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – FIFA unveiled the timetable of its delayed bidding process for the 2026 World Cup on Tuesday, with president Gianni Infantino’s plans for a 40-team tournament to be decided upon by October and a final decision on the hosts to be made in May 2020.
Football’s world governing body said it would consider giving the green light to joint bids and review a rule which currently allows a continent to stage the tournament every eight years.
A FIFA source said they had considered increasing this wait period to 12 years or more and that there had been no discussions about allowing a continent to host successive World Cups.
This could mean that with Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup, Europe would have to wait until at least 2030 before staging the tournament again.
The decisions were among the first passed by the new-look FIFA Council, which was holding its maiden meeting since it replaced the old executive committee under reforms passed in February.
The Council, which has a strategic role, ruled that bidding nations would have to meet requirements on human rights, sustainable event management and environmental protection. Bidders who did not meet “technical requirements” would be excluded, it said.
Infantino was elected as FIFA president in February when one of his main promises was to increase the number of teams in the finals from 32 to 40, a proposal which is strongly opposed by Europe’s biggest clubs.
FIFA said that decisions were expected by October on the number of teams, the format for the tournament, the “eligibility of (continental) confederations to bid” and whether to allow joint bids.
Joint bids were banned in 2011 but Infantino has said he wants to encourage them, possibly spreading the tournament around several countries in a region.
FIFA said that a “consultation process”, outlining new standards for bidders, would run until May 2017, followed by a preparation phase running until December 2018 when countries would have to submit their bids.
The bids would be evaluated from January 2019 to February 2020 with a final decision three months later.
FIFA was forced to reform its bidding process after the vote in December 2010 awarded the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively.
That vote is the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities, while Qatar’s preparations have also been marred by allegations of abuse of migrant workers in the construction industry. Qatar says it is working to solve the issue.
Under revised statutes, the hosts will be chosen by the 209 members of FIFA at its annual Congress. The Council, however, will still draw up a shortlist of three candidates. Previously, hosting rights were decided by the old executive committee.
FIFA said that Gibraltar and Kosovo’s applications for membership would be submitted to the Congress on Friday and that both would be allowed to take part in the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition if accepted.
Benin was suspended with immediate effect due to legal interference in the country’s football federation. A decision not to suspend Greece was ratified by the Council.
FIFA Council member Fernando Sarney praised Infantino’s leadership on Tuesday.
“Things are getting calmer in FIFA,” the Brazilian representative told reporters.
“Gianni is talking about football, he is travelling around, talking to people and trying to put football back into our conversations because before we talked about everything apart from football.”
(Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)
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