FIFA has abandoned plans championed by its president to expand the 2022 World Cup to include 48 teams, concluding that it could not host the larger tournament in Qatar or come up with a solution to share the event with the tiny gulf emirate’s neighbors.
The expansion proposal, proposed and pressed by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, might have proved to be a popular one if presented for a vote by FIFA’s member associations at the organization’s annual congress next month in Paris. But an ongoing political and economic blockade of Qatar by some of its neighbors, most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, created intractable practical obstacles that could not be overcome.
Qatar, which has prepared for a 32-team tournament in eight stadiums, was not able to accommodate an expanded event, and its gulf neighbor Oman, one of two neutral countries that FIFA pinned its hopes on to absorb some of the added matches required by a 48-team field, said recently that it could not prepare itself in time.
FIFA’s deputy secretary general, Zvonimir Boban, said as recently as Tuesday that coming up with a solution was all but impossible given the requirements, including those governing laws, needed to add additional hosts for the tournament.
The tournament, moved to November from its usual summer window to avoid the scorching gulf heat, also would have needed to fit inside a contracted 28-day schedule to meet the demands of Europe’s biggest leagues and clubs.