Some movies are so bad they kill more than themselves. Sometimes, they kill a series. As George Clooney wryly (and rightly) observed after Batman & Robin: “I think we might have killed the franchise.” Occasionally, a movie is such a disaster it kills an entire genre. The monstrous excesses of Cleopatra fatally wounded the swords‑and-sandals epic genre, and the flop of The Fall of the Roman Empire a year later finished it off so thoroughly that it didn’t return for decades. Heaven’s Gate is famously the film that didn’t just collapse a studio (United Artists), but made big-budget westerns a no-go. Some have even accused Michael Cimino’s epic of killing the 1970s, an amusingly outlandish charge for which we’ll just have to coin the term epochicide.
Much less amusingly, alas, we must return once more to Fifa, and inquire: franchise killer or genre killer? In which metaphorical category would you place president Gianni Infantino’s plan for a 48-team World Cup?
Chances are you’d hoped Fifa would have spent their latest conclave in rigorous self-examination, what with some former executives still being on the run from the FBI, others awaiting extradition proceedings, and the entire organisation still a global byword for hideous greed and corruption. But so what? At last week’s meeting of Infantino’s expanded Fifa Council – the world’s best attended displacement activity – there was instead much discussion of the proposal to bulk up football’s flagship tournament to 40 or 48 teams. Look, it may not be the Fifa reform you want, but for Infantino it’s the Fifa reform you need.
Of course, those who still feel that the World Cup’s expansion from 16 to 32 teams between 1982 and 1998 denuded the competition of a certain high-end glamour may already be opening the pedal bin marked “genre killer”. Others may wish for more information. Should Fifa go for the 48-team option, then, there is clearly much debate as to how the tournament would be constructed and located, but the idea of two concurrent group stages is fairly unavoidable. If only 16 progress to the knockout stages, as now, the tournament will comprise 88 games. If 32 go through, the World Cup will run to 104 games.
If there is anyone bar an army of Swiss bank managers who honestly regards this as a plan that will improve the tournament, I am sure Infantino would love to hear from them. Meanwhile, he is forced to rely on his own justifications, and it is fair to say these tend toward the boggling.
Indeed, to hear Gianni talk is to feel that in many ways the very notion of sport itself is holding the World Cup back. What is sport, if not exclusionary in the most outmoded sort of way? Infantino was at pains to stress that qualifying for a World Cup induced “football euphoria” in the countries that do, and to that end was obviously to be encouraged. Not qualifying, he said, was awful for a country, and turned its football clubs into “a disaster”.