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The basic revolution that has not happened…

The basic revolution that has not happened…

Both Michel Platini (UEFA) and Joseph S. Blatter (FIFA) have recently expressed their views on modifying, or rather increasing the number of participant teams at FIFA World Cup events, basically aiming to accommodate more African and Asian teams. Should there be 40 teams, or maybe 64 teams? The problem is that both formats require a significant increase in costs, number of matches as well as calendar extensions. The current format for 32 teams requires 64 matches, in 31 days. The format for 40 teams would require 96 matches (+50%) and the format for 64 teams, 112 matches (+75%). Both are impractical and not likely to happen.

However, what is the real issue? Why is it so difficult to increase the number of participant teams and still have a fair and high quality competition?
Surprisingly, throughout the world, sports tournaments have been applying the same basic format on accommodating number of teams for centuries. The basis is either a) a round robin format or groups, or b) play-offs, in multiples of two (using simple elimination in pairs, as in tennis tournaments). Thus, the typical number of participants in tournaments across many sports is 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 or so. The reason why this happens is the need for two contending finalists. These two formats have been functional for a long time, but there are two key challenges:

a) Accommodating a different number of teams (for instance 18, 26, 36 or any other number of teams).
b) Resolving sports justice and fairness issues (mostly related to increased speculation on results, rather than enhancing competitiveness and also the presence of death-groups).

As a mathematician I have looked into this further. One example I propose is the following format for the FIFA World Cup Finals, based on “pots”, Pots Format ©, and not groups. This format, with worldwide intellectual protection, accommodates either 36 teams (in 32 days) or 42 teams (in 34 days). The format is simple to follow. If there are 36 teams, all of them will compete in single general standings. Matches would be organised based on teams distributed in 3 pots of 12 teams each, based on FIFA ranking (or other criteria). If it is ranking, top ranked teams would be part of pot A, the next ranked teams would be in pot B and the lesser ranked teams, in pot C. In the first round, each team would play 3 matches (as currently), with contenders from the three A, B and C pots. This ensures fairness, quality of competition as well as a number of new sponsorship and media opportunities. Teams would have the same chances to succeed. Upon all teams completing their three matches, the top 16 ranked teams in the general standings will proceed to the round of 16. The tournament would then continue as it does currently. Isn’t it clean and easy?

I believe next generation formats will be seen in practice by the general public very soon. Federations and tournament organisers are increasingly aware that new solutions exist, that we already have them and therefore events will be more exciting and profitable.

This is the opinion of Leandro Shara, President of Matchvision, a consulting company from Chile. Matchvision have created over 30 new and different competition formats, protected with international intellectual property rights.

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