FIFA expands 2026 World Cup again, with Toronto and Vancouver hosting extra matches
The expanded World Cup in North America got even more supersized on Tuesday.
The governing body of soccer increased the size of the 2026 tournament for the second time — six years after the first — by approving a bigger group stage for the inaugural 48-team event.
By retaining groups of four teams instead of moving to three, FIFA has created a 104-game schedule that will last nearly six weeks in June-July in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The 16 host cities — 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto) — now have 24 extra games to stage on top of the 80 they already had for the inaugural 48-team tournament.
Adding about 1.5 million more tickets will also further fuel FIFA’s expected record revenue of at least $11 billion US through 2026 from a tournament that will rely on using high-revenue NFL stadiums.
FIFA said the decision followed a “thorough review that considered sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience.”
The latest push by FIFA president Gianni Infantino for more games and bigger events in a congested calendar will likely provoke more concern among stakeholders such as domestic leagues and players’ union FIFPRO. They have long felt isolated from talks on soccer’s future.
The six-week World Cup will start one year after FIFA launches a 32-team Club World Cup, which could also be staged in North America to test tournament logistics. The Champions League in Europe also has a new format with more teams and games in the 2024-25 season.
Teams guaranteed 3 games
The new World Cup format will have 12 groups of four teams instead of 16 groups of three, the plan chosen in 2017. Both options were to go to a 32-team knockout round. The final will take place on July 19.
The format guarantees every World Cup team will play a minimum of three times instead of two, adding up to a stacked group stage of 72 games before arriving at the knockout rounds. The four semifinalists will play eight matches, one more than last year in Qatar.
The entire 2022 World Cup in Qatar amounted to 64 games in the seventh and last edition of the 32-team format. The 1998 World Cup in France was the first with 32 teams.
Increasing the World Cup’s lineup was first floated in 2015. It was proposed then as a way to sweeten FIFA’s 200-plus member federations into accepting much-needed governance reforms in the wake of American and Swiss investigations of corruption.
After Infantino was elected FIFA president to succeed Sepp Blatter, one of his first big strategic wins was adding 16 teams to the World Cup. Infantino persuaded FIFA colleagues that a 48-team tournament — with Africa and Asia getting more of the extra places than Europe — would fuel interest and drive development in countries that rarely or never qualified to play on the biggest stage.
That was despite FIFA’s own research in 2016 suggesting that the highest quality soccer was achieved by the 32-team format.
In Qatar, the split-screen drama created by decisive group games played simultaneously helped convince FIFA that four-team groups are better.
Price of sponsor deals likely to rise
There was also concern scheduling groups of three could lead to match-fixing in a final game between two teams who could both advance to the round of 32.
FIFA has now found an option it said “mitigates the risk of collusion” and also gifts itself more games to sell.
The extra 24 games should drive up the price of sponsor deals and broadcasting deals not yet signed. However, some key broadcast markets are already signed, including in the United States, Brazil and the Middle East.
The 2026 World Cup was already set to earn up to $3 billion in ticket and hospitality sales for FIFA, and massively increase the tournament attendance record. That record was set in the United States in 1994 when 3.6 million spectators attended 52 games in a 24-team event.
One downside of the 48-team format is the unbalanced nature of the 32 teams that will advance.
Eight of the 12 third-place teams will move on, creating uncertainty for some teams placing third in a group not knowing if they will advance until matches are completed days later.
FIFA also explained how teams will enter the 2025 Club World Cup, including continental champions in each season from 2021-24. That means Chelsea, Real Madrid, Palmeiras, Flamengo and Seattle Sounders already secured their places.
Europe’s 12 entries can also be decided by a ranking system based on the same four-year period, with a cap of two teams per country advancing with exemptions for continental champions.
FIFA also plans to create another new competition starting annually in 2024 for continental champions. The Champions League winner in Europe will play the winner of playoffs featuring the other continental champions.
Quick Reaction: Raptors 111, Bucks 118
|O. Anunoby37 MIN, 22 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 8-12 FG, 4-5 3FG, 2-2 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -1 +/-
Not much more you could ask for from OG tonight, except maybe for some more touches down the stretch. His run of great form continued against the Bucks tonight where he played phenomenally on both ends.
|P. Siakam39 MIN, 13 PTS, 12 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 5-14 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -12 +/-
Siakam is one of the better players in the league in terms of finding ways to impact the game when his shot isn’t falling, but boy the shot would have been nice to have tonight. He’s cooled down a bit from his unfathomably hot start earlier in the season. It’s not a cause to be concerned just yet, but as the team around him starts to hit their stride, it’ll be even sweeter as Pascal does as well.
|J. Poeltl31 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 10-18 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, -17 +/-
It was nice to finally have someone who can take the Brook assignment without Nurse having to implement an entire scheme to make up for the lack of size. Even so, it wasn’t the greatest performance from the big man tonight, who went a shocking -17 in his 30 minutes.
|S. Barnes13 MIN, 5 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-3 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-
The X-ray came back negative thankfully, but Scottie missed the second half with a wrist injury. He was playing well up until his departure. While the loss is tough to swallow, it’s important to keep in mind that Mr. 4th Quarter had to watch it from the locker room.
|F. VanVleet38 MIN, 23 PTS, 4 REB, 11 AST, 1 STL, 9-21 FG, 3-8 3FG, 2-3 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, 3 +/-
Fred always plays well against the Bucks and tonight was no different. He kept the ball moving and made shot after shot for a team that desperately needed it.
|P. Achiuwa20 MIN, 5 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 2-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 1-2 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-
The numbers are underwhelming sure, but Precious looked like vintage Precious tonight. In a good way, too. Getting Precious back into a rhythm this season hasn’t been easy but he’s slowly finding his step, and was absolutely a positive on the floor tonight in a matchup where his physicality on defence was necessary.
|G. Trent Jr.33 MIN, 18 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 6-18 FG, 5-10 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-
This is a different Raptors team when Gary is on. He played great early on but it trailed off toward the latter half. I think he’ll continue to excel in his role off the bench, but in particular with Scottie out for the second half, Gary couldn’t deliver when they needed it tonight.
|C. Boucher16 MIN, 5 PTS, 3 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-4 FG, 0-1 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-
A pretty unremarkable stretch from Boucher all things considered. The Bucks are not a great match-up for him either and it showed.
|W. Barton13 MIN, 0 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 0-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -10 +/-
The Barton minutes were, too put it bluntly, bad. He got an extended run in the fourth and it cost the team a lot more than it should have. The backup PG revolving door may continue until game 82 at this rate.
Outside of a questionable lineup to open up the fourth, Nurse did fine to put us in a position to win against perhaps the best team in the league.
Things We Saw
- The Raptors clearly wanted to let the Bucks shoot from 3, and it almost worked. They took 45 threes tonight and only made 16.
- OG Anunoby took one shot in the fourth quarter after playing a stellar three quarters offensively. As easy as it is to say I’d love to see him be more assertive, the Raptors also have to make an effort to find him in these situations.
UPEI coach defends team’s actions at the U Sports Men’s Hockey National Championship
The University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) coach is defending the team’s actions, after the University of Alberta (U of A) team skated off the ice without handshakes at the U Sports Men’s Hockey National Championship in Charlottetown.
The crowd booed and hurled trash as the U of A’s team left the ice after defeating UPEI in the semifinals Saturday night.
During the third period, the teams got into an on-ice fight following a hard hit against U of A’s goalie.
Speaking to reporters, University of Alberta’s head coach Ian Herbers said he made the decision to not take part in the traditional handshake for safety reasons.
“Didn’t feel safe for our players. I thought something else would happen and then get into a bigger incident, and then create bigger havoc, and then be a big black eye for our league, so I didn’t want that opportunity to happen,” said Herbers. “I felt it was safer for our players and better for the league not to get into a situation like that.”
Someone in the crowd hurled a beer can at the U of A team as they left the ice.
Some players on UPEI’s team said the choice to shake hands was disrespectful.
“Honestly it’s kind of classless. Yeah it was a rough game, but it’s hockey,” said UPEI player Keleb Pearson. “Some of the plays, yeah, they shouldn’t have happened, but come on, at least you can shake our hands.”
University of Prince Edward Island’s head coach Forbes MacPherson defended his team’s behaviour on the ice.
“There was one incident that happened with 14 minutes left in the game,” said MacPherson. “Nothing else happened after.”
MacPherson said that the incident on the ice isn’t representative of the team’s behaviour.
“At no point was there multiple incidents. There was one incident,” said MacPherson. “All year there was only one team in our conference that had less penalty minutes than us.”
Sunday’s bronze medal game began with a reminder that abuse against players, staff, and officials would not be tolerated.
Sharks’ James Reimer declines to wear Pride-themed jersey
San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pre-game warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.
The Manitoba-born goalie, who got his start playing minor hockey in the small town of Arborg, said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.
“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life,” Reimer said.
A statement from Goaltender, James Reimer: <a href=”https://t.co/GwhWxhbmb4″>pic.twitter.com/GwhWxhbmb4</a>
Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.
Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.
The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.
“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”
A statement from the San Jose Sharks: <a href=”https://t.co/nnhkcBS07V”>pic.twitter.com/nnhkcBS07V</a>
The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.
“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said.
“Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”
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