World Cup could expand to 48 teams in time for Qatar 2022
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said expansion is ‘possible’ for next tournament
Gianni Infantino holds the World Cup trophy after France’s final victory over Croatia in Russia. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty
The Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said that he hopes the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be expanded to 48 teams, saying such an expansion is “possible” and “feasible.”
His positive remarks put some pressure on Qatar, whose tournament organisers said they are examining the feasibility of enlarging the tournament and will provide a response early next year.
Responding to questions at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur about a possible expansion in 2022, Infantino referred to the 48-team World Cup set to be hosted in 2026 by the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
“We have decided... to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48. It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?” he added.
Infantino told the AFC national football associations that expanding the tournament would see the number of Asian countries’ teams competing in the World Cup rise from 4.5 in a 32 nation tournament, to 8.5.
“You will have (a bigger) chance,” he said. “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. We always have to try.”
Qatar is spending billions building eight stadiums and constructing huge new infrastructure to host a 32-team tournament, which it won the right to host in a vote by Fifa’s then executive committee in 2010. Since June last year, the Gulf country’s neighbouring states, principally Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have shut their borders and denied their airspace to Qatar in a diplomatic conflict and blockade, which has intensified the complexities of hosting the tournament.
There have been suggestions that an expanded 48-team tournament could lead to some matches being hosted by neighbouring countries, as a means of easing the diplomatic standoff. Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the of the 2022 Qatar “supreme committee” organising the World Cup, has previously said the country could be receptive to doing that, and that the possibility of expanding the tournament is being examined.
“We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide a feedback in the future,” al-Thawadi told AFP. “But it will be decided before the qualifications ... sometime in the first quarter of next year.”