By Andrew Warshaw
March 7 -With little more than a week to go until the all-important Miami summit of FIFA’s decision-making Council, Gianni infantino is reportedly working to try and rescue the idea of expanding the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 teams.
Although the World Cup will definitely be increased by 16 finalists in 2026 in Canada, United States and Mexico, Infantino has long been keen to bring the concept forward to 2022.
Last week, however, he hinted for the first time that both 2022 expansion plus his contentious $25 billion pet project to change the face of football’s global calendar may have to be delayed until the FIFA Congress in June .
Infantino appeared to concede that it would be nigh on impossible to hold a tournament comprising 16 more teams in Qatar, not only because of the diplomatic and trade boycott that rules out co-hosting with the likes of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain but also because the tiny Gulf state are only building eight stadiums and another four would be required if 16 more teams are added.
But according to agency and New York Times reports, FIFA is now considering reaching out to Kuwait and Oman to share the tournament instead of the Saudis and the other blockading Arab states involved in the regional stand-off.
Infantino visited Kuwait last month and Oman on Sunday. Both have remained neutral in the diplomatic impasse.
Under the plan being considered, most matches will still be held in Qatar, with a decision on the idea still possible next week in Miami.
“As far as the co-hosting, currently with the crisis on, I think Kuwait can play a very important role,” Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sports, was quoted as saying by The AP.
“They have one big international stadium, and they are building two extra stadiums. That could solve the problem and it would easier for the Qataris if the crisis is resolved because you (could) have Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”
Concacaf boss and FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani implied he would like a firm decision on 48 teams for Qatar to made by the Council session in Miami one way or the other.
“I support it,” Montagliani told the AP. “I start in a positive way — unless there is something that makes me change my mind — i.e. Qatar doesn’t want it — or the analysis is negative then I would have to rethink my positive stance.
“I would think we have to have some sort of resolution in Miami because World Cup qualifying starts in some parts of the world this year.”
That said, it seems more than likely that a ruling on the package will have to be delayed and possibly end up having to be approved by Fifa’s 211 member nations at the Paris Congress in June when Infantino is re-elected.
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