By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 4 – World Cup hosts Qatar have been handed the next two Club World Cups in December this year and in 2020 – the last before the tournament is controversially overhauled – in an apparent move by FIFA to test the tiny Gulf state’s capability and infrastructure.
Gianni Infantino’s hopes of expanding 2022 to 48 teams were recently dashed after a FIFA-commissioned feasability study revealed it was simply not practical since there was not enough time “for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact”.
Infantino had spent months exploring the concept of bringing expansion forward from 2026 and hoped to crown his re-election as FIFA president tomorrow by triumphantly proclaiming he had succeeded in persuading the various parties to agree on adding 16 more teams.
A decision on expansion was due have been the most eagerly anticipated part of the FIFA Congress here and is still on the agenda though simply for discussion.
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.
Whilst publicly always adopting a diplomatic stance, Qatar officials are privately relieved at not having to cope with 48 teams and are believed to have constantly pushed for the status quo to be retained .
Now they will have the chance of successfully putting on what effectively constitute two vital test events before becoming the centre of global footballing attention.
Just as it has always been in the past, the Club World Cup, featuring the club champions of FIFA’s six continents plus an extra team from the host nation, will take place in the winter. The significance of that for the next two editions is that for the first and only time, the 2022 World Cup is also taking place in winter.
“It is a great test event so we will definitely try to utilise as much as possible all the different operational facets of hosting a World Cup,” Hassan Al Thawadi, 2022 World Cup chief told reporters in Paris.
“It will be great opportunity for us to put in place some of the plans we have for the World Cup already to get lessons learnt from it.”
After all manner of much negative publicity following their surprise bid victory nine years ago, whether over persistent human rights concerns or unproven corruption allegations, al-Thawadi is clearly delighted that it’s all systems go.
“Hosting of the tournament has gone through some interesting challenges but at no point for us was the goal not clear. We were always confident and the results so far speak for themselves”
Asked why it took virtually a full year to decide not to add 16 more finalists as Infantino ideally would have liked, al-Thawadi responded|with trademark diplomacy.
“The study took as long as it did. When it came to Qatar co-hosting, there were obviously challenges.”
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