BY DANIEL ETCHELLS.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has claimed that most football associations support expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from 32 teams to 48, with some matches to be played in neighbouring countries.
According to Inside the game publication, Infantino made the declaration while speaking after a FIFA Executive Football Summit in Marrakesh in Morocco. The Swiss-Italian said the Qataris were open to the larger format.
He added that world football’s governing body would make a decision no later than June, once a feasibility study is complete.
Forty-eight teams have already been confirmed for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be co-hosted in North America by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Since that was voted on in 2017, Infantino has repeatedly stressed that the change could be brought forward to 2022, while suggesting that other countries in the Middle East could host some matches.
“Most football associations across the globe hope for opening up the World Cup to more teams,” he was reported as saying by Reuters.
“If it is possible to organise a 48-team World Cup in Qatar with some games in neighbouring countries, that will be great.”
A number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have severed all diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism.
Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing.
“We are doing football not politics,” Infantino added.
In June of last year, a 48-team World Cup in 2022 was taken off the agenda of the FIFA Congress in Moscow, which preceded the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Infantino revealed FIFA would only proceed with the plan with the support of the host nation.
He also said that the ruling Council, rather than the full Congress consisting of up to 211 Member Federations, would make the final decision on the matter.
Qatar are building eight stadiums for 2022.
Critics have claimed a 48-team tournament is too large and could lead to a lower standard of football, with FIFA accused of being motivated by money.
A 32-team World Cup also provides a neater and easier to understand route of progression throughout the event.