Mamelodi digs into FIFA’s increase of World Cup participants
By Mpho Tebele
GABORONE- QUESTIONS have been raised as to whether African countries are set to benefit from the recent decision to increase football teams at the World Cup by receiving more slots and whether more African countries will play in the 2026 World Cup.
The world’s football body, FIFA, has since announced that with the new format, the World Cup will expand to 48 teams from its current 32, starting with the 2026 edition.
The new format will consist of 16 groups of three teams in the group stage.
But outgoing and long-serving FIFA development officer for Eastern and Southern Africa, Ashford Mamelodi, has expressed mixed views on the new development.
Whether the latest development now means that there would be more participation by African teams, Mamelodi observed that: “You don’t get to the World Cup by surprise. It doesn’t happen. So, I can say that even if the countries have increased from 32 to 48 at the World Cup, you won’t have surprises.”
Mamelodi cited Botswana’s senior national soccer team, the Zebras, saying there is a lot of work that needs to be done if the country is aspiring to be one of the teams that will compete at the World Cup in future as a result of the increase in the number of teams at the showpiece tournament.
“Surprises don’t just happen. What I would want to encourage is that let’s see this as a challenge even at national level. We have to work hard at national level. For instance, here at home you have the Zebras, but are they ready for the challenge?” he said.
Mamelodi added that: “You don’t get to the World Cup by surprise. You have to prepare well. We have to work hard and not ever bank on surprises.
“We have to ensure that youth structures come through very well. And for me if it is the Zebras appearing three times at AFCON consecutively I will be happy even before appearing at World Cup because this will show us that we are doing something right.”
Mamelodi is of the view that small nations like Botswana should prove that they are ready for World Cup by participating regularly at continental level.
“They should demonstrate at AFCON that they are a side to reckon with and that is why I want to encourage teams in the continent to start preparing well,” he said.
Mamelodi is also of the view that if indeed CAF is excited about the latest decision by FIFA, it should also consider increasing teams that participates at AFCON.
He was quick to point out that he is not sceptical that Africa will not benefit from the decision by FIFA to increase clubs at the world cup.
But what he is highlighting is that Africa should ask itself if it is ready for the challenge.
“It is not that I’m critical of the latest development, but what I would want to highlight is that at CAF level there is a lot to be done,” he said.
Another issue that football pundits say is a problem in Africa is club licensing.
“Yes, club licensing is another issue that comes on the table. In Europe, they don’t have those things. There is a lot more that needs to be done at CAF level. If we are motivated by the decision by FIFA then we should also do it at CAF level so that we also get motivated at that level,” Mamelodi said.
Communications Director at Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB), States Segopolo, believes that “for our players in Africa, this could create more opportunities and encourage our players to work hard”.
He added that, “It is also a matter of a player thinking of being at the World Cup and this will encourage them to work hard. So we also hope that additional teams will be drawn from Africa. Look how big Africa is; with 53 members and I think we should also have a bigger share at the World Cup.”
Sunday Standard newspaper sport journalist, Duncan Kgankenna, is of the view that football associations in the continent should start putting systems in place to ensure that they are competitive.
“Because now the numbers of teams will be increased, I think on its own it is a motivation for small nations unlike in the past when small teams were discouraged. Even at AFCON level they will be encouraged by this,” he said.