Infantino seeks regional World Cup if elected FIFA president

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LONDON (AP) The World Cup could be spread across entire regions, emulating the continent-wide 2020 European Championship, if Gianni Infantino wins next month’s FIFA presidential election.

The UEFA secretary general used his manifesto, which was published Tuesday, to say FIFA should not limit the tournament to be being held in one or two countries. The 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea is the only time the event has been co-hosted.

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Infantino, working alongside Michel Platini at UEFA, spearheaded spreading Euro 2020 across 13 countries.

In November, Infantino told The Associated Press of his plan to expand the World Cup to 40 teams. Allowing several countries to stage matches in about a dozen stadiums would ensure the tournament is not limited to just a few wealthy potential hosts.

“FIFA should investigate the possibility of organizing the World Cup not only in one or two countries but in a whole region, so enabling several countries to enjoy the honor and benefits of hosting the World Cup,” Infantino’s manifesto says.

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The first World Cup bidding after the Feb. 26 election is for the 2026 tournament. The launch of the contest has been stalled since last year when FIFA was swept up in a global soccer corruption scandal, which led to Sepp Blatter announcing plans to quit before being banned.

Infantino, who is Swiss, is one of five presidential candidates currently seeking votes from FIFA’s 209 member associations.

In an attempt to entice federations, Infantino is also offering them a greater share of FIFA’s wealth, saying a “proper risk analysis must be conducted” into whether the governing body requires cash reserves as high as $1.5 billion.

Each of FIFA’s members will be offered $5 million to invest in development projects and running costs – a huge increase on the $2.05 million per federation 2011-2014 – and another $1 million, if required, for travel, which would be attractive to small nations in remote regions.

Additionally, each of the six confederations will be handed $40 million to invest in development projects and their regional offshoots in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America can request another $4 million to organize youth tournaments.

The amounts are all within a four-year cycle.

“If the target of 50 percent of distribution of FIFA’s income is reached, these amounts will further increase significantly,” Infantino said.

Infantino only entered the race after Platini, his boss at European governing body UEFA, was initially suspended by FIFA in October before being handed an eight-year ban last month.

Distancing himself from Platini, who blocked high-tech goal-line aids being used in the Champions League, Infantino champions expanding technology in the game.

“FIFA shall start an open debate with all stakeholders on the further use of technology in the game,” the manifesto says. “Proposals should be fully tested and the potential impact on the flow of the game should be studied in detail. Finally, this has to be an objective assessment based on the best interests of football.”

The International Football Association Board is already preparing to approve trials with a type of video replay system for referees.

One idea Infantino proposes, which seems unique in an election campaign with few differences between the candidates, is starting a globe-trotting team of the game’s greats. Legends games, organized by third-parties, have attracted big crowds in recent years.

Infantino envisages that the FIFA Legends Team would organize matches “against local line-ups throughout all continents to promote football, social projects and charitable aims.”

“Players who wish to give something back to the world of football should be positively encouraged to do so and FIFA should provide a platform for them,” writes Infantino, who is best known to soccer fans as the face of Champions League draws.

The 45-year-old Infantino, a lawyer who has risen to UEFA’s top administrative job since joining in 2000, was born in the Swiss town of Brig – close to Blatter’s birth place of Visp.

For the FIFA presidency, Infantino is competing against Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa of Bahrain, former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.

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