By Andrew Warshaw
January 2 – Brand new year, same old rhetoric from FIFA about an expanded World Cup in 2022.
Despite growing evidence that bringing forward a 48-team tournament from 2026 to Qatar in 2022 would most likely be unworkable, Gianni Infantino continues to bang the drum about the merits of expansion rather than wait for the findings of the expert panel FIFA set up to deal with the issue, with a final decision due in mid-March.
Speaking at the Dubai International Sports Conference, the FIFA president confirmed what we knew already: that sharing the tournament with some of Qatar’s Gulf neighbours was being examined. That pre-supposes, presumably, that Qatar has agreed to such a scenario which, so far at least, has not been made public by the organisers.
“The World Cup will take place in Qatar with 32 teams. Obviously, if we can increase it to 48 teams and make the world happy we should try it,” said Infantino, though it is not necessarily the case that the whole world would favour expansion.
FIFA voted last year to increase the size of the tournament from 32 to 48 teams starting from 2026 but, ever since then, Infantino has been trying to wield his considerable influence to fast-track the idea for 2022 despite the fact that only eight stadiums are being used and that the tournament is already being shoehorned into 28 days – four fewer than usual.
“If you think it’s a good thing to have 48 teams in the World Cup, why not try four years before, that’s why we are analysing whether it’s possible to have 48 teams already in 2022,” he told conference delegates.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt are still enforcing a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar, a situation that has hugely complicated the prospect of sharing the tournament under an expanded format though in theory Qatar could share with the likes of Oman, Iran – and even Turkey.
Infantino acknowledged this but argued football could be the peacemaker.
“If we can accommodate some of the neighbouring countries in the gulf region which are very close by to host a few games in the World Cup this could be very beneficial for the region and the entire world.
“There are tensions in this particular region and it’s up to their respective leaders to deal with that but maybe it’s easier to talk about a joint football project than more complicated things.
“If it can help all the people in the Gulf and all the countries in the world develop football and bring a positive message to the world about football, then you should give it a try.”
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