By Paul Nicholson
May 25 – FIFA’s Moscow Congress on June 13 will not be asked to vote on president Gianni Infantino’s $25 billion new competition proposals. But it will be asked to push forward the 48-team World Cup agenda with the approval of a feasibility study for the expansion of Qatar 2022.
Agenda item 12.2 lists a proposal by the 10 Conmebol federations “to carry out a feasibility on the increase of the number of teams from 32 to 48 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.”
The suggestion of moving 2022 to 48 teams first surfaced last month in what seemed to be an orchestrated suggestion from Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez and which quickly given credibility by FIFA president Gianni Infantino who said: “If it’s possible, if it is feasible, if the others agree too, because it is not a decision that only the president of FIFA or CONMEBOL make … of course we are going to study it.”
So far there has been no word from Qatar on the 48-team expansion suggestion. Crucially it is not clear whether the Qataris have even been brought into the conversation – indications are that they probably haven’t been. At presstime Qatar’s media office had not responded to Insideworldfootball questions.
Qatar is currently spending $20 billion building towards a 32-team World Cup. To suddenly tell them that it is now a 48-team competition would likely stretch even their resources and capabilities – though it would be a mistake to underestimate their ability to deliver.
One suggestion has been that Qatar could share 2022 with its neighbours. The reality of the current geopolitics in the region makes that highly unlikely, though one rumour is that geo-politics has prompted the expansion suggestion in the first instance with Infantino keen to keep Saudi Arabia engaged with FIFA around the $25 billion new international competition proposal that is reckoned to be supported by their financial pledges.
A decision on expanding 2022 to 48-teams could also impact on 2026 bidders. If Qatar said no to sharing, and no to 48 teams, the only obvious nation who could step in would be the US (and its United 2026 bid-mates Canada and Mexico). They could just shunt forward their 2026 proposal as the 2022 ready-made solution – particularly convenient politically for Infantino if they end up losing the 2026 vote.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was asked about the expansion proposal yesterday in Kiev following UEFA’s executive committee meeting. “We don’t know much about that,” he said. “We mainly know about the topic from the media. We would like to see some analysis, the LOC (local organising committee) being involved, it is too early to have a position.”
And therein lies the problem. If the only information the most powerful of the confederations has about a potential change to the world’s biggest football competition is from media reports and line item 12.2 on the 2018 FIFA Congress agenda, then there is probably a deep-seated issue around transparency within FIFA. It is an issue that has become a hallmark of the Infantino leadership.
Another less than transparent issue that isn’t on the FIFA Congress is agenda is the $25 billion proposal put forward by Infantino that supposedly had a deadline of the upcoming congress for approval of the membership.
The issues of governance around this proposal and how it has been pitched are multiple. But although not on the agenda for Congress, it has not gone away.
A FIFA statement to Insideworldfootball said: “Following the detailed proposal concerning a revamped FIFA Club World Cup and a worldwide Nations League put forward at the FIFA Council meeting in Bogota in March, constructive talks have been held with the relevant stakeholders on these proposals and further consultation will continue in the upcoming weeks.
“An update on this matter will be presented at the next FIFA Council meeting on 10 June in Moscow and FIFA will continue to further develop these proposals together with the main football stakeholders.”
FIFA has become a little like English football. All the balls are in the air, the players are running around headless and anything could happen.
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