Scottish football has welcomed plans to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, amid some concern that the premier tournament will be weakened by the move, with too many games.
FIFA wants to make the change for the 2026 tournament, likely to be held in North America.
Stewart Regan, SFA chief executive, said it gave smaller nations a chance to make an impact and he pointed to the success of Wales at the Euro 2016 tournament in France.
“We believe this is a positive step, particularly for smaller nations, and will allow more fans across the globe to revel in their country’s participation at a Fifa World Cup finals,” he said Regan.
“This will allow the nations to invest further in their footballing infrastructure and youth development, which in turn can yield social benefits.”
Fifa, football’s world governing body, unanimously approved the change at a meeting of its Council in Zurich yesterday. The number of tournament matches will rise to 80 from 64, with a first round likely to comprise 16 groups of three teams.
The change could possibly result in as much as £1 billion additional income for the organisers. However, Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who promised to make such changes when campaigning for his current position last year, said the primary motivation was a need to make the World Cup “more inclusive”.
He noted that the winners will still play a total of seven games, as is the case now.
“It is the future. Football is more than just South America and Europe, football is global,” he said.
He insisted the change was based on “sporting merit” and not to make money.
Campaign group New Fifa Now described the expansion as “a money grab and power grab”.
But Infantino told the BBC: “It is the opposite, it’s a football decision.”
Fifa research shows hat revenue will increase to £5.29bn for a 48-team tournament, giving a potential profit rise of £521m.
“This is a historic decision which marks the entrance of the World Cup into the 21st Century,” added Infantino.
The [English] Football Association has urged Fifa to consider the needs of fans, players, teams and leagues and asked for more information on how the tournament would work.
The European Club Association (ECA), which represents the interests of clubs at European level, reiterated it was against expansion. It said Fifa had made a political rather than a sporting decision.
New Fifa Now says the governing body needs to reform, and that the change would “dilute the competitiveness of the tournament”.
The changes mark the first World Cup expansion since 1998.
Infantino said the decision on who will get the extra qualification slots has yet to be made but “this will be looked at speedily”, adding: “The only sure thing is that everyone will have a bit more representation than they have.”
The president said the World Cup could emulate the success of the Euro 2016 tournament, which saw an increase in the number of teams.
Qualifying featured a record 53 nations, while the number of teams at the finals increased from 16 to 24.
“All the other teams started to believe in their chance to qualify and play matches with a different mindset that they could qualify,” said Infantino.
“We saw Wales, Iceland, Northern Ireland qualify, some for the first time, some for first time in many years.”
Kempton to close for housing
Kempton Park racecourse, home to on of jump racing’s premier chases, could be developed for 3,000 homes to help raise £500 million to invest in horse racing.
Course owner the Jockey Club argues that the plan with Redrow Homes, is “for the long-term good of British racing”.
Kempton’s King George VI Chase, whose famous winners include Desert Orchid and Kauto Star, would move to Sandown, six miles away.
A new all-weather venue, most likely located at Newmarket, would be built as part of the plans.
A change is not expected until at least 2021 and already the proposal is dividing the racing community.
Trainer Nicky Henderson tweeted: “The King George isn’t the same race at Sandown. Kempton is a track National Hunt racing cannot afford to lose. It’s that simple. Very sad news indeed.”
Some also regretted the loss of a jumps course and wondered why Newmarket – which is for flat racing only – would be getting the investment.