FIFA is planning ahead to expand the 2022 World Cup despite the concerns of some sports officials in the host nation, Qatar, whose support the project requires. The move, a politically perilous project but one heavily backed by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, would grow soccer’s biggest championship to 48 nation ahead of schedule and require navigating some slippery regional matchup.
Under the FIFA plan currently being considered, most matches in the 2022 tournament would still be held in the State of Qatar — which won the rights to a 32-team event and continues to prepare for one — but other games would take place in Kuwait and Oman as part of a broader Middle Eastern World Cup.
Infantino’s expansion could not send games to countries that are currently leading a political blockade of Qatar, like the United Arab Emirates or Saudi.
Infantino, elected FIFA president in 2016 and seeking re-election to a four-year term in June 2019, has been among the biggest defender of an expanded World Cup that, through heightened places for FIFA’s member associations and added on sponsorship revenues, could prove popular among nations that hardly get to compete in the World Cup tournament.
An eventual call on the idea of sharing venues was expected to be made next week when FIFA’s governing council meets in the USA, but Infantino has distinct to move the final decision to FIFA’s annual Congress in June, where he is standing unimpeded for re-election.
Should Qatar agree to the new development? Its consent is required and should operational challenges be defeated, Infantino would most likely pursue the approval of FIFA’s 211 member federations, a grouping long known for rubber-stamping policies favored by the president.
He had said formerly that the decision would be taken up by the smaller FIFA Council, which governs the sport worldwide.
FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers did not comment yet on this matter.
Privately nevertheless, some senior members of the organizing committee who have been working on the World Cup event since Qatar controversially secured it a decade ago are opposed to sharing the competition and frustrated that it may yet happen.
Qatar’s final decision on this matter will be defined by its rulers, who may see political benefits in agreeing to include specific Arab countries.
During the time Infantino has proposed that sharing games with Qatar’s neighbors country would help heal rifts in the region, a FIFA-led team conducting a feasibility study has concluded that it would be absurd to include the blockading countries, which also include Bahrain, in hosting plans, leaving Oman and Kuwait as favored choices.
Infantino recently visited both countries Oman and Kuwait, where he discussed the sharing idea, according to people with knowledge of the official talks.
Infantino has pushed the development of the World Cup at every opportunity in recent years, despite slowdown along the way. He drags the issue from the agenda at last year’s FIFA Congress amid a reaction from a various shareholder.
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