February 18 – Gianni Infantino is repeating the same rhetoric ahead of next month’s decision-making FIFA Council session in Miami saying he is “optimistic” about expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams but warned that it would “not be easy”.
Infantino has used virtually the same language for months and did so again at a press conference in Istanbul following UEFA’s latest executive summit.
“I’m optimistic but is it easy? No, it’s not easy, I have to be honest,” he told reporters.
While Infantino has raised the possibility of the tournament being shared with neighbouring countries, the elephant in the room – a very large one – is the diplomatic crisis engulfing the area plus the fact that Qatar has yet to agree.
“I am not that naive to overlook the political situation as well in the region,” said Infantino while adding that “football can work miracles sometimes.”
Infantino also defended FIFA’s action over the case of refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, saying it had been working behind the scenes in the affair.
Araibi, who says he was on honeymoon, was held in a Thai prison for more than two months at the Gulf state’s request after being accused of crimes committed during the 2011 Arab Spring protests.
He arrived back in his adoptive Australia last week and Infantino said: “We have been working for this solution through official channels obviously. We have been working as well behind the scenes.”
“I prefer not to make any press conferences or any big statements. I prefer to have results. This is how we are working at FIFA. I think we can celebrate the fact that everything ended in a very positive way, and we are just happy about that. It is not the merit or no merit of anyone in particular; it’s all those who have contributed.”
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