KUALA LUMPUR: FIFA President Gianni Infantino has again raised the possibility of expanding the FIFA World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2022 in Qatar.
The format change, which was confirmed by soccer’s global governing body in 2017, was initially slated to begin with the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the North American trio of the US, Canada and Mexico.
Discussions over a 48-team World Cup in 2022 were removed from the agenda of the 68th FIFA annual conference back in June, with the FIFA Council set to continue discussions with the host country. At the time Infantino said: “The dates have been fixed from the 20 something of November until 18th December with 32 teams in Qatar, and this is the decision and the decision stands and that is the end of the story.”
However, Qatar later said a 48-team tournament was ‘doable’ and now the Fifa president has reopened the door for the new tournament structure to be introduced four years earlier than planned.
“If it is possible, why not?” he said, speaking at the opening of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) new headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. “We have to see if it is possible, if it is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends, we are discussing with our many other friends in the region and we hope that this can happen.
“And, if not, we will have tried. We will have tried because we always have to try to do things in a better way.”
Qatar has been planning for a 32-team World Cup since being controversially awarded the competition in 2010, and any change to the number of teams would require the country to share hosting duties with other countries in the region.
However, that could prove difficult given the ongoing dispute between Qatar and several of its neighbours, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cutting diplomatic, transport and trade ties, accusing Doha of financing terrorism.
Addressing the AFC’s annual congress, Infantino also reiterated his desire to expand the Club World Cup, which will next take place in the UAE in December and has been the subject of a US$25 billion revamp bid from a consortium made up of investors from China, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UAE.
Infantino said he wants to make the competition a “real competition” that “every club in the world can target”.