KUALA LUMPUR: FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Wednesday that football’s governing body is looking into the possibility of increasing the number of teams at the 2022 World Cup and sharing the hosting rights of an expanded tournament with other nations in the region.
FIFA decided earlier this year to expand the 2026 World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, to 48 teams from 32 while leaving the door open to raising the number playing in Qatar in four years’ time.
“We have decided to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48 and this will happen in 2026,” Infantino said in an address to the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur.
“Will it happen in 2022? We are looking at it. You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?”
Infantino said an expanded tournament would see Asia’’ allocation rise from 4.5 places to 8.5, raising cheers from the delegates assembled at a luxury hotel in the Malaysian capital.
“You will have [a bigger] chance. It is possible. It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope we have it happen,” he said. “And, if not, we will have tried. We will have tried because we always have to try to do things in a better way.”
Tiny Gulf state Qatar, which is home to just over 2.5 million people, was awarded the hosting rights in late 2010 and has been planning for a 32-team tournament since.
Infantino acknowledged that to increase the number of teams in 2022 would require the cooperation of other countries in the region.
Qatar, however, has been in dispute with several of its neighbours since June last year, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cutting diplomatic, transport and trade ties, accusing Doha of financing terrorism. Qatar rejects the charges.
Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organising body, told AFP that Qatar was studying the 48 teams proposal and would make a decision before qualifying gets under way.
“We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide a feedback in the future,” he said. “But it will be decided before the qualifications... sometime in the first quarter of next year.”
He added that preparations remained on track despite the blockade, and that the budget of $200 billion for the entire infrastructure, including metro and expressway, has not been affected.
“We are very happy and excited with the progress. It is on track. By 2020-2021 all our [eight] stadiums will be ready,” al-Thawadi said.
“This is the first World Cup in the Middle East and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together and contribute to the process of healing,” he added.
Infantino also reiterated his desire to expand the Club World Cup, the next edition of which will be played in the UAE in December, saying FIFA wanted to make it “a real competition”.
“One that every club in the world can target because we have global interest and everyone will benefit, not only from a financial point of view,” he added.
Ahead of FIFA’s presidential election next year, Infantino said 180 out of the 211 federations had given him their support.
“You know there is an election coming. I have announced I will be a [presidential] candidate. I have received over 180 letters of support,” he said. “And when it comes to Asia, only a couple are missing.”
Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2018