UEFA Struggling to Devise Format for Expanded Soccer Tournament

European soccer’s governing body is struggling to come up with a compelling format for its European Championship in 2016, the first featuring 24 teams.

This year’s competition in June and July in Poland and Ukraine is the last time it will involve 16 teams, separated into four groups with the top two qualifying for the knockout stages.

“It is 24 teams and that is a problem,” UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino told reporters today at the Soccerex conference in Manchester. “It is not an ideal final tournament because you will have to have a few of the third ones who qualify as well.”

The World Cup featured 24 teams before 8 teams were added in 1998. The tournament expanded after soccer’s governing body changed rules that final group matches have to start at the same time to prevent teams working together. West Germany and Austria were accused of colluding in the Germans’ 1-0 victory that allowed both qualify out of their groups in the 1982 World Cup at the expense of Algeria.

“The question is how do you make it in a way that results cannot be organized,” Infantino said. “You don’t know in advance what you need to be the best.”

Niall Sloane, controller of sport at U.K. broadcaster ITV, said in an interview that he prefers the 16 team tournament. He said there’s a risk that the quality of the event would be diminished by the quantity of teams. The tournament is broadcast by ITV and the British Broadcasting Corp. in the U.K.

Infantino said he was not worried supporters’ lack of interest in the expanded qualifying, which will allow almost of the region’s 53 members qualify for France 2016. UEFA will directly sell broadcast rights for the qualifying games for the first time from 2014 after promising higher revenues to all 53 countries.

“If we think it is boring we will change the qualifying for next time,” Infantino said. “But we think it is still an excellent qualification competition and the fact more teams qualify may increase the interest.”

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