Football’s world governing body is looking to expand the World Cup from a 32-team competition to one that can accommodate 48 sides. Heavily backed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, it is determined to push ahead with the plan despite the concerns of some officials in host nation Qatar.
Under the plan being considered, most matches will still be held in Qatar – which won the rights to a 32-team event –The New York Times reported on Thursday. A final call on the idea is expected to be made next week when Fifa’s governing council meets in Miami.
The report comes a little more than two months after The National reported Infantino’s confirmation that Fifa is looking at staging matches elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf.
While the World Cup will definitely be increased by the time of the 2026 event, in Canada, United States and Mexico, Fifa is keen to do so four years ahead of schedule.
Speaking at the Dubai International Sports Conference in January, Infantino said increasing the size of the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East might mean having to play matches in neighbouring countries.
“The discussion is not anymore, ‘Is it good or is it bad that it goes to 48 teams,’ it is, ‘Can we do it earlier?’” Infantino said. “If you think it is a good thing to have 48 teams in a World Cup, and we will have it in 2026, why shouldn’t we try to have it already four years before?
“It is never too late to do something good, which is why we are analysing whether it is possible to have 48 teams in 2022. It will be quite a challenge, to say it diplomatically correct, to have 48 teams in Qatar,” the Swiss-Italian added.
Infantino also said the ongoing diplomatic boycott of Qatar by countries including the UAE does not preclude the possibility of a cross-border Gulf World Cup.
“I am not naïve,” Infantino said. “I read the news and watch the media, so I know the headlines that there are tensions in this particular region.
“It is up to the respective leaders to deal with them. But, maybe it is easier to talk about a joint football project than other things.
“If it can help all the people in the Gulf, and all the countries of the world, to develop football, if it can bring a positive message for what football can do, then we should give it a try.”