KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The first formal steps to launch competition in the 2022 World Cup will be taken on Wednesday — even though world federation FIFA has yet to decide how many teams will progress to the finals in Qatar.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has held open for the past 18 months the possibility of expanding the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, depending on whether neighbouring states could shoulder the organisational burden.
Qatar organisers have said, diplomatically, that they are content to leave a decision to FIFA whose council and then congress will end the debate, one way or another, in Paris at the start of June.
A FIFA taskforce came up with five potential countries to share hosting if it were decided to increase the number of teams from 32 to 48. However three of those countries are in a political and economic stand-off with Qatar which left only Oman and Kuwait as possibilities.
Oman’s Foreign Minister, Yousuf bin Alawi, has politely declined the possibility which left only Kuwait. Doubtless the issue was discussed at the weekend between Infantino on a short visit to Kuwait in which he met the Emir.
The meeting was facilitated by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Olympic movement powerbroker who was briefly a member of FIFA Council until he stepped down following corruption allegations which he has denied.
Sheikh Ahmad is understood to have played an influential role in recent Asian confederation elections.
In the meantime, amid all this uncertainty on how many slots each confederation will command, the draw is about to take place for the Asian preliminary joint first qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup which also doubles for the 2023 Asian Cup.
The draw will be staged at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
National associations involved will be those ranked from 35 to 46 in the latest FIFA world rankings, ie Malaysia, Cambodia, Macau, Laos, Bhutan, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Guam, Brunei Darussalam, Timor-Leste, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.