By Andrew Warshaw
May 22 – Gianni Infantino’s hopes of expanding the Qatar World Cup to 48 teams have been dealt a crushing blow with FIFA announcing it has ditched the idea – exactly two weeks before it was due to be debated by the organisation’s entire global membership.
Infantino had spent months exploring the concept of bringing expansion forward from 2026 to the 2022 tournament and hoped to crown his re-election as FIFA president next month by triumphantly proclaiming he had succeeded in persuading the various parties to agree on adding 16 more teams.
But in a brief statement FIFA made it clear that there was simply not enough time to make the necessary shift and that the 2022 tournament – already switched to winter for the first time in World Cup history because of Qatar’s blistering summer heat – will remain with 32 finalists.
“In line with the conclusions of the feasibility study approved by the FIFA Council at its last meeting, FIFA and Qatar have jointly explored all possibilities to increase the number of participant teams from 32 to 48 teams by involving neighbouring countries at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” FIFA said.
“Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now.”
“A joint analysis, in this respect, concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June.”
“It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option.”
A decision on expansion was due have been the most eagerly anticipated part of the FIFA Congress in Paris on June 8. It was item number 11 on the agenda but in what could be construed as a face-saving exercise to avoid Infantino having to admit defeat in front of FIFA’s 208 national associations, the decision was brought forward.
The obstacles to a 48-team tournament in 2022 were obvious from the start, with three of Qatar’s neighbours – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates an Bahrain – ruled out of sharing because of the ongoing diplomatic and economic blockade of Qatar.
Of the other possible co-hosts, Oman recently said it didn’t have the capacity whilst Qatar was clearly unable to handle 48 finalists on its own because of its size and infrastructure.
FIFA said as much in its statement, adding it had decided not pursue that idea since there was not enough time “for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact”.
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