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FIFA hopeful Figo moots 48-team World Cup

FIGO-FIFALONDON, February 19- Luis Figo revealed proposals for a 48-team World Cup and a $3.5 billion (3.1 billion euros) windfall for national associations as he launched his FIFA presidential campaign on Thursday.

Unveiling his manifesto at Wembley Stadium in London, the 42-year-old former Portugal winger said the expansion of the World Cup from its current 32-team format would be “weighted towards non-European teams”.

“With that option, we will increase substantially the tournament’s financial income, which could be invested again in grassroots football, and allow other confederations outside Europe to have more places in the World Cup,” he told AFP.

One of his proposals for the World Cup is to split it into two 24-team tournaments played simultaneously on two different continents, followed by a final knockout stage in one country.

He said the expanded format, which could be a 40-team or 48-team World Cup, would only add three or four days to the duration of the tournament.

Another of his proposals is the distribution of half of FIFA’s $2.5 billion revenues and $1 billion of FIFA’s $1.5 billion cash reserves to its 209 member associations, principally for spending on grassroots football.

The former Barcelona and Real Madrid superstar also called for the restoration of the ‘old’ interpretation of the offside rule, “where a player is judged offside whether directly involved in the play or not”.

Other suggestions include a debate about the use of extra technology and the testing of sin-bins for incidents of “unsporting behaviour to referees”.

Figo is standing against incumbent Sepp Blatter, Dutch football chief Michael van Praag and FIFA vice-president for Asia Prince Ali bin Al Hussein in the FIFA presidential election on May 29.

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Like van Praag and Ali, Figo has called for the world governing body to become more transparent following a series of corruption scandals under long-serving president Blatter.

– ‘My own two feet’ –

“Mr Blatter, I respect him as I respect all the other candidates,” Figo said.

“He’s been leading the organisation for many years and has made many positive achievements for football, but I think sometimes a point is reached when change is needed.”

Figo played down suggestions that the three challengers to 78-year-old Blatter, who is standing for a fifth term, could eventually pool their resources by rallying behind one candidate.

“I don’t know if with one we’d be more strong or not,” he said.

“My plan is to run to the end, to see the most people as possible regarding the presidents of associations and try to convince them with my ideas, my manifesto, and see what is good for the governance and democracy of FIFA.”

He also confirmed that he would fund his campaign himself and added: “The decisions I made throughout my career demonstrate I can stand on my own two feet.”

Figo’s campaign has received the backing of high-profile figures including his countryman Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, former England captain David Beckham and Brazilian World Cup-winner Roberto Carlos.

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Hailing from Lisbon, Figo played for Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona, Real and Inter Milan during a glittering career.

A skilful, two-footed wide player, he captained Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and won a total of 127 caps, making him his country’s most-capped player.

As well as working as an ambassador at Inter, he has served on European governing body UEFA’s Football Committee since 2011.

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