FIFA President Talks 2026 World Cup, Defends Expansion Plans

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino (Getty Images)
(WFI) FIFA president Gianni Infantino says the 2026 World Cup host may be chosen in 2020 and defends his expansion plans for the tournament.

In an interview with FOX Sports, Infantino said: "The thinking now is we will start with the process now, the consultation process, with a decision to be taken probably in 2020, six years before the World Cup.”

After the scandal-hit 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests on Sepp Blatter’s watch, the new FIFA chief vowed to conduct a fair and transparent 2026 bid race.

"We have to make sure that this bidding process is absolutely bulletproof, that we create a transparent process and this takes of course a little bit of time, a little bit of consultation," he said.

Infantino also defended his manifesto pledge to expand the World Cup to 40 teams, which helped him win votes in the Feb. 26 FIFA election. The former UEFA secretary general pointed to the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams to suggest it could work.

Noting that UEFA came under fire for the expansion plan, with critics saying the qualifiers would be boring and there would be reduced interest, he said the opposite was true and meant “many, many more teams have the dream to qualify”.

“It was great and it will be great for the World Cup in terms of popularity. Because you will have more nations involved in the World Cup. There is enough quality — we see it in Europe,” he told the U.S. TV channel.

There is firm plan as to which confederations might be offered additional World Cup slots, but Infantino said Africa was sure to benefit with two extra places. Discussions will take place at the May FIFA Congress.

He was also asked about the Panama Papers leak two weeks ago, which revealed that Infantino, then a UEFA executive, signed a TV right deal with two Argentine businessmen who were later indicted in the U.S. for corruption in the FIFA corruption scandal.

Infantino said UEFA had “made it very clear and I have made it very clear, that this whole situation is basically a non-story. Everything has been done completely transparently and properly.”

Infantino, who vowed to clean up FIFA after the scandal-tarnished years under Blatter, warned any corrupt officials at FIFA to leave before they are caught.

He told FOX Sports: "I don't know whether there are still individuals or entities that are corrupt, I hope not. If there are, then they have the choice now to leave FIFA because sooner or later either we or justice will catch them and they will be kicked out and punished."

By INSIDER Mark Bisson

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