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How should FIFA allocate the new Women’s World Cup berths?

Eight spots, six confederations. How to divide them up?

Germany v China PR: Group B - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Catherine Ivill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

FIFA recently announced that they will expand the number of teams in the Women’s World Cup from 24 to 32. That’s eight new spots to spread over six confederations. Hopefully FIFA will be balancing the need to open up more spots for teams from more competitive confederations with spurring development in the other confederations.

Here is the current allocations of World Cup spots:

AFC (Asia): 5 slots
CAF (Africa): 3 slots
CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean): 3 slots
CONMEBOL (South America): 2 slots
OFC (Oceania): 1 slot
UEFA (Europe): 8 slots
Host Nation: 1 slot
CONCACAF–CONMEBOL playoff: 1 slot

In an ideal world, FIFA would simply consider what was best for the women’s game, which would be boosting the global development and competitiveness of all women’s teams. But since we don’t live in that ideal world, we also have to consider that FIFA will use these slots as candy to dole out to confederations as part of their politicking, and that they won’t commit to proper oversight or incentivize federations to commit to long-term development, which includes structuring youth pipelines and investing in coaches and referees for the women’s games.

But for the sake of argument, here’s how I hope the slots play out, based on a series of factors:

AFC: 1.5
CAF: 1
OFC: 0.5

Half slots represent playoff scenarios between confederations; in this proposed allotment, AFC and Oceania would have a home-and-away playoff series over a slot, and CONCACAF and CONMEBOL would have a playoff series as well. There are tons of teams in non-UEFA confederations that would benefit from the extra slots as a way to spur development through competition in those regions - assuming that FIFA implements this expansion the right way and provides resources for developing teams, mandates support for women’s sides, and institutes strict oversight of resource allocation. Playoff scenarios also add on to costs for federations, making it more likely FIFA will simply allocate whole slots.

Development has to be balanced against keeping the level of competition high in the World Cup. UEFA will likely get at least two slots based on the number of teams in that confederation that are already competitive but simply miss out because of the lack of room, like Switzerland and Denmark. It would be nice if the rest of the slots got spread out over the rest of the confederations, but odds are UEFA will probably get more.

Here’s a scenario that is more likely to happen:

AFC: 1.5
CAF: 1
OFC: 0.5

Is it unfair to leave Oceania with the possibility of just not having an extra berth at the World Cup? You could argue that the confederation is completely dominated by New Zealand, who took over the “big fish in a pond of minnows” role from Australia, who left OFC for AFC precisely because of the lack of competition. But on the flip side, expanding the World Cup is meant in part to spur the competitiveness of the overall game. The balancing act here is between the realistic probability that you’ll be able to develop any of the minnow teams to a World Cup competitive level (not totally out of the realm of possibility!) against including teams and confederations that are already more competitive. FIFA isn’t expanding purely out of an altruistic desire to grow the women’s game; they want a bigger, flashier tournament that allows them to ask more for television rights packages, make more sponsorship dollars, and earn more money overall.

How do you think FIFA should divide up these eight new spots? Should they simply weight more towards confederations that have competitive teams ready to go, or should they think more about getting underdeveloped confederations into the mix?