As a sports lover, it’s hard not to get excited by the World Cup and it is without doubt the only truly global spectacle on earth and one every nation wishes they could participate in.
As a football fan and occasional drinker, my conversations and banter with my friends tends to centre on the clubs that we all follow – either in the English Premier League or La Liga or some similar league in Europe.
This week, however, our banter was focused on the decision by FIFA to expand the participation at the World Cup of 2026 to 48 teams (up from the 32 at present) and what that decision did or did not signify for a footballing country like Nepal.
It was unanimously agreed by us, booze brothers that the idea was not only brilliant but also logical seeing as one of the jobs of FIFA is to increase the global appeal of the game. They have taken steps towards that and it is evident in the selection of the host countries in Africa (South Africa) and Asia (Qatar) to stage editions of the showpiece event.
But what we could not agree on was if this ‘expansion’ would benefit a country like Nepal or not. On the surface, it seemed like a ridiculous argument – we are ranked 181st in the world at the moment and it will probably take at least six or seven ‘expansion’ decisions before we can participate on the world stage.
However, that didn’t stop the disagreements but instead seemed to entrench opposing points of views. It could have been due to our differing levels of optimism, nationalistic pride, knowledge of our resources or simply all the booze we had downed.
Honestly though, it got me thinking about what this expansion meant for a country like ours. Will it make any difference to our prospects of participating on the world stage? Probably not. Although we are ranked very low, it’s not like we have to play all 180 teams to get through – only the ones from Asia. Even after considering the fact that Asia is perceived to be easier (comparatively) to the other continental groupings and accounting for the predicted rise in tournament berths from the current 4.5 slots to around 8.5 (a final decision will be taken in May) from 2026 it is still an improbable task for footballing minnows like us.
In the Asian scenario, there are powerhouses like Iran, South Korea, Japan and Australia that are usually expected to qualify. Then there are the ‘second tier’ teams like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Uzbekistan etc. that have either qualified sporadically or remain on the fringes of qualification. This list includes China that only qualified in 2002 largely due to Japan/South Korea’s automatic qualification as hosts of the tournament – and it is these teams that will possibly benefit the most from this expansion with other ASEAN and Middle East countries also looking to stake a claim on it.
That, however, hasn’t stopped some people from being mildly optimistic about Nepal’s claim for those additional places. When it comes to football, I’m just as optimistic as the next person (as a fan of Arsenal Football Club you cannot do without it) but participating at the World Cup is not something I expect Nepal to be doing anytime soon, at least not in my lifetime. We have to qualify for it because, let’s face it, hosting the event is even more far-fetched and there are nations even in our immediate neighbourhood better equipped than us for it. Although, in football terms we manage to hold our own in our part of the world despite our disadvantages running the gamut of population numbers, government apathy, association politics, dishonest officials, match fixing players and infrastructural constraints, we still lag behind many other similar nations in terms of development of the sport.
It’s not impossible for us but just not realistically possible anytime soon. But it’s not like we can’t plan for the future. We could have periodic plans like five year or 10 year plans for the development of the sport or target specific tournaments with long term planning. Now that we have seemingly done away with the rot within our administrative system coupled with our recent positive results, there is new found optimism for the sport in this country. This should be leveraged to push our football forward.
Some of the greatest triumphs have come from planning and laying the foundations early. Germany won the World Cup in 2014 owing to a clutch of brilliant attacking players but behind all of that lay years of efforts and it all started with their shambolic performance at Euro 2000 that forced the football federation of Germany (the DFB) to overhaul their system and way of thinking. As a sports lover, it’s hard not to get excited by the World Cup and it is without doubt the only truly global spectacle on earth and one every nation wishes they could participate in. But it is going to be a very long time indeed before we’re cheering in our own country at a World Cup.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org