March 20 – FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s plan to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams and sharing hosting rights with Qatar’s neighbours risks worsening tensions in the region, according to a new survey.
Infantino has consistently been banging the drum about using football as a tool for improved political relations but a survey conducted by AFP suggests the opposite might be the case.
A decision on co-hosting, possibly with Oman and Kuwait, is being delayed until the FIFA Congress in June but with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain continuing their diplomatic blockade of Qatar, such a scenario could further inflame tensions says the survey.
“There is a very real risk that expanding the World Cup to include Kuwait and Oman would make these two countries vulnerable to the same sort of regional pressure Qatar has faced since 2017,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at Rice University quoted by AFP.
“Particularly since Kuwait and Oman also have followed their own approaches to regional affairs.”
“The idea of a regional World Cup that includes Kuwait and Oman but not Saudi Arabia or the UAE would likely be a cause of considerable bitterness in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.”
Andreas Krieg of King’s College London, who has worked as an adviser to the Qatari government, added:
“The Gulf dispute as it exists would be further exacerbated by having a World Cup over three countries. From a political point of view, it [expansion] doesn’t make sense.”
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