FIFA ditches expansion plan for Qatar 2022

FIFA has dropped plans to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams after conceding the logistical challenges to adapt Qatar’s staging vision were insurmountable.

In March, a meeting of the ruling FIFA Council gave president Gianni Infantino the go-ahead to pursue his ambition of bringing an early start to World Cup expansion. World football’s governing body has hitherto worked with the Supreme Committee, the 2022 World Cup’s local organising body, to try and add at least one more country in the region to the hosting plan in an effort to accommodate an extra 16 matches.

A proposal was due to be presented at the FIFA Congress on June 5, but FIFA has now backtracked on the idea. FIFA said in a statement: “Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now.”

The World Cup is due to expand from 32 teams to 48 for the 2026 edition in the US, Canada and Mexico. Qatar plans on using eight stadia within a 30-mile radius and the extra 16 teams would have placed an increased strain on its hosting capabilities, meaning additional host countries needed to be sought.

A FIFA report in March identified stadia in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as potential options for an expanded World Cup. However, with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE having severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, Kuwait and Oman appeared to be the only realistic options.

FIFA yesterday (Wednesday) added that a 48-team World Cup solely in Qatar was also explored through lowering “certain key FIFA requirements”. However, it said: “A joint analysis, in this respect, concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June. It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option.”

Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah city (pictured) last week became the second 2022 World Cup venue to open its doors after hosting the final of the Amir Cup club competition. The stadium is the first Qatar 2022 venue to be built from scratch, following the redevelopment of Khalifa International Stadium, which was inaugurated in May 2017 for that year’s Amir Cup final.

Commenting on FIFA’s decision, the Supreme Committee said in a statement: “Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation.

“With just three-and-a-half years to go until kick-off, Qatar remains as committed as ever to ensuring the 32-team FIFA World Cup in 2022 is one of the best tournaments ever and one that makes the entire Arab world proud.”

Image: Supreme Committee