Expanded World Cup plans dropped
Plans by world football’s governing body FIFA to expand the next World Cup from 32 to 48 teams have been abandoned, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Last year, the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, said that the previously announced expansion could be brought forward from 2026 to the 2022 tournament, which will be held in Qatar. The change of plans would have required Qatar to work with other nations in the region to share hosting duties, but according to a FIFA announcement, they have concluded that the change could not be implemented. FIFA also said that they had investigated the possibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team competition on its own but that there was not time to fully assess that option.
In a statement released to the media, the Qatari organisers said that they had been receptive to the idea of a 48-team edition: "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.”
However, the idea of expanding the 2022 edition to 48 teams had already been criticised by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, who suggested in November that the idea was unrealistic and could cause many problems. Despite their public statements, it is likely that many of those charged with delivering the tournament in Qatar will be relieved that it will remain as a 32-team competition.
The prospect of expanding the 2022 tournament, for which Germany and France are the current favourites with sports betting companies, had been favoured by Infantino, who had hoped to use the tournament as a way of healing tension in the region by asking Qatar to share it with several other nations. However, the political situation in the area – which includes the ongoing war in Yemen and the blockade of Qatar currently being maintained by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain – had significantly reduced the options. With only Kuwait and Oman remaining as potential co-hosts and neither having the infrastructure to handle the tournament, FIFA had little choice but to abandon their plans.
However, there has been no change to the plan to increase the number of teams at the 2026 tournament. In January 2017, FIFA voted in favour of moving to a 48-team model for that event, which is due to be held in the US, Canada and Mexico.
Words: Cameron Ng