FIFA keen on expanding World Cup to 48 teams for Qatar 2022

ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 13, 2018 10:29 AM
FIFA keen on expanding World Cup to 48 teams for Qatar 2022
FIFA President Gianni Infantino participates in the annual conference of the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, April 12, 2018. The governing body of South American soccer has asked FIFA to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2022 tournament in Qatar. (AP Photo/Martin Ruggiero)

By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA and ROB HARRIS, Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino is keen on hastening the expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2022 tournament in Qatar, a move that might require the tiny Gulf nation to share games in the region.

The governing body will now study if Qatar can alone cope with the additional logistical challenges of hosting 16 more teams and 16 more games than originally planned for the Middle East's first World Cup.

The jump from 32 to 48 teams was originally only due to apply from the 2026 tournament under plans Infantino secured approval for last year. But he is highly receptive to a request received Thursday from south American confederation CONMEBOL and its 10-member associations to accelerate the expansion plans.

"It seems to me a very interesting idea," Infantino said after attending a CONMEBOL meeting in Buenos Aires. "Of course we have to study the feasibility of this proposal. If it's possible, if it is feasible, if the others agree too, because it is not a decision that only the president of FIFA or CONMEBOL make ... of course we are going to study it.

"And I really think it is something very interesting. We have to study it seriously and if it is possible, why not?"

An early expansion would allow FIFA to generate more revenue to replenish the coffers hit by corruption scandals and potentially strengthen Infantino's position among the 211 membership before seeking re-election next year.

"I firmly believe as president of FIFA in an enlargement of participating national teams because I am convinced that it is good for the development of football all over the world," Infantino said. "That is why we have proposed it and that is why we have agreed to it since 2026."

Qatar currently has plans to build eight stadiums, whereas bidders for the 48-team 2026 tournament have been told they need 12 venues. Rather than further straining the requirements on Qatar, one option to accommodate the leap from 64 to 80 would be to share games in the Gulf.

Qatar won the FIFA vote in 2010 with a vision of the World Cup benefiting the Middle East but with all the games in the small desert nation. Hopes of a unifying tournament for the region were eroded when Qatar's neighbors, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cut diplomatic ties last year.

Kuwait, which retains relations with Qatar, could be a co-host after Infantino worked to ensure the country's suspension from FIFA was lifted in December.

Qatar World Cup organizing committee secretary general Hassan al-Thawadi has not ruled out the possibility of sharing matches with neighbors.

"Qatar has always been open to dialogue," Al Thawadi told The Associated Press in November. "It's always been open and it's always supported our brother nations, to the extent that if (sharing the World Cup) was the ultimate goal, all that would have required was a simple conversation."

Before being elected FIFA President, Infantino served as general secretary at European governing body UEFA under Michel Platini, who called on Qatar to share games in the region after voting for the country in the contentious hosting vote in 2010.

The Qatar tournament is already due to operate on a tight 28-day schedule to please club sides after FIFA shifted the event from its usual June-July slot to November-December because of the extreme heat in the desert nation.

The condensed tournament program was agreed to minimize disruption to club schedules after FIFA faced opposition from within the European Club Association. FIFA's latest attempt to change the international tournament schedule could provoke further concern from the ECA's influential members who have most of the world's top players in their squads.

The ECA declined comment Thursday on the 2022 expansion plan being championed by CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez.

"As we do believe in big and because we want to do justice (for more teams)," Dominguez said to Infantino during the CONMEBOL meeting in Buenos Aires, "we ask that the 2022 World Cup is played with 48 teams."

Dominguez's Paraguay failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and this year's edition in Russia.

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Harris reported from London.

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