Fifa’s executive committee (ExCo) was said to be “extremely receptive” to expanding the tournament from 32 teams but several members, including Gill, secured a deferment on any decision. Gill, FA deputy chairman and a Manchester United director, said a full analysis into the effects of expanding the tournament was needed, but that he welcomed a package of reforms that was agreed by fellow ExCo members, including a 12-year term limit for all elected Fifa officials and making public the salary of the president and senior Fifa executives.
Gill said: “I was very pleased with the reforms – the overall package of reforms has been very well thought out and they are very much a step in the right direction. In terms of expanding the World Cup, this is such a major decision that it needs proper analysis. There needs to be full consultation with the stakeholders including the clubs, players and fans, and a proper analysis of all the implications including commercially and in football terms.
“It is not being proposed to come in until 2026 so I do not see that there is any rush to make a decision.”
The meeting in Zurich followed a dramatic day of developments which saw two Fifa vice-presidents – Alfredo Hawit of Honduras and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay – arrested by Swiss authorities in a swoop at the Baur au Lac hotel as part of a US-led corruption inquiry.
There is strong support for the World Cup expansion from Asia and Africa plus Fifa presidential candidate Gianni Infantino, the Uefa general secretary.
But it would be a huge change. Currently there are 32 teams in the finals, and the addition of eight additional countries could mean another 32 matches in the group stage, adding another week to a tournament which already lasts 31 days. It would take the total number of matches to 96.
The most likely way of accommodating the eight extra teams would be having eight groups of five teams, with the top two qualifying for the last 16 knock-out round. Under that system, it would mean an extra four matches in each group.
The proposal is being seen as a sweetener to persuade the Fifa Congress to vote through the package of reforms. It will also take the pressure off Europe whose 13 places have been the source of envy from other continents. In May, Fifa decided to keep the current allocation of places to the continents: Europe 13, Asia 4.5, CONCACAF (Caribbean, North & Central America) 3.5, South America 4.5, Oceania 0.5, host country 1.
Germany’s Fifa member Wolfgang Niersbach confirmed the proposal to increase teams to 40 had received strong backing.