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The issue of continental World Cup berths taking center stage again

May 14, 2013, 10:10 AM EDT

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Two things to know about Sepp Blatter’s recent advocacy for better continental balance among World Cup spots:

First, it’s about politics. (It is always, thought?)  Remember, Blatter recently said he would seek a fifth term as FIFA president, never mind those promises to step down in 2015.

Second, it’s a very bad idea. As I always say, never underestimate the power of a really bad idea – especially one that gets dragged into a political dogfight.

Speaking recently in Asia, Blatter lamented that Europe and South America would gobble up 19 of the 32 berths for World Cup 2014.

We have to get a better balance. You are a powerhouse. You must be aware that you are a powerhouse … If you have the same number of participants from all continents then there is a balance of strength and a balance of forces … There is no chance to kick them [Europeans or South Americans] out before one of them is in the semifinals.”

All you really need to know is that Asia’s voting could be critical to Blatter’s reach for an unprecedented and highly controversial fifth term in FIFA’s highest seat. So, of course he wants more spots for Asia! Just as he will bang the drum for greater CONCACAF participation when he shifts focus on that voting block. Same for Africa, surely, when he gets around to it.

The problem, of course, is that more Asian teams, more teams from the relatively tiny Oceania confederation and more teams from our own region serve only to water down the World Cup field.

It is always fair to debate the dispersal of those 32 World Cup berths. Should half the South American nations get in? Does CONCACAF deserve fewer spots? Does Africa, with 56 nations, deserve more?

But the discussion should be based on data and whatever competitive criteria we can reasonably develop (which is admittedly tricky, since there is but one intercontinental competition that matters, the World Cup itself).

In this piece, the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson looks at the current dispersal of berths and the history of success of the lesser confederations. It’s involved, but it’s a good read. Maybe someone can email it to Blatter.

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