Most countries are in favour of a 48-team World Cup in 2022 but it all depends on whether it is ‘feasible’, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said, effectively hinting that the ball is, literally, in Qatar’s court.
Infantino was speaking at the conclusion of the three-day FIFA Executive Football Summit in Doha which was attended by representatives of dozens of national football federations.
FIFA had already decided that 48 teams would figure at World Cup in 2026 when it is hosted jointly by the US, Mexico and Canada, but advancing the initiative by four years would pose logistical and scheduling issues for Qatar which has been planning for a 32-team event since they won the bid eight years ago.
The world football boss said that several countries who couldn’t previously qualify for the World Cup because of the tough 32-team format can now “dream” of making the cut in a 48-team event.
“What we have to see is whether it is feasible or not,” he said, adding that based on his interactions with various football federations, “the majority is in favour because 16 more teams would get to participate.
“It not only means 16 more countries with World Cup fever but also 15 or 16 more countries being able to dream.”
FIFA has already announced that a final decision would be taken in March next year after a thorough feasibility study, before the qualifying process for 2022 begins.
Asked if he had held specific conversations with Qataris about sharing the event with other countries the region, Infantino said: "We discuss about everything but we didn't decide on anything concrete yet."
He stressed that FIFA is “not into politics” but it’s up to Qatar whether it wants a 48-team event.
“If Qatar can do something, if it is possible, it would be fantastic. Either way it would be a fantastic World Cup.”
Infantino said the process to shift the World Cup to winter from summer itself was a “difficult” task.
“Now we don’t want to put an additional burden on anyone.”
He said it was important to talk with all stakeholders before such a huge decision is taken. “We are talking about something nice, not something dangerous,” he said, adding that ultimately it will be a decision “for Qatar, football and FIFA.”
He added that Qatar has been frank about its positions. "There is an openness on the part of Qatar and that is something that I really appreciate.”
"Of course, the first partner with whom we are speaking about is the Qataris, the Qatar federation, the Qatari authorities."
When asked in what way FIFA can help Qatar to emulate or even better Russia which this year hosted the “best ever World Cup,” Infantino said there’s no substitute for hard work.
“Work hard, work together,” he said, adding there was a lot of prejudice against Russia before the world Cup, all of which vanished after the event was held.
“Russia was a surprise for many. It opened up peoples’ eyes. There were prejudices before.
“The 2022 World Cup will be the first in the Middle East. It has to be an occasion for the world to come and meet the Arab world. It’s a good chance (to embrace the region).
“FIFA will come up with concrete initiatives on how this can be a unique event. I don’t want to disclose (the details).”
Infantino once again praised Qatar for being ahead of schedule with its preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
“The blockade has had no impact on the preparations. All World Cup related projects will be completed at least two years before the tournament is held.
“In fact this has never happened before, even in Europe (that a country has been ready two years before a World Cup).”
Speaking on the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) system that is being used in many countries these days, Infantino said it has only benefited the game.
“There were 455 cases in which VAR was used in Russia and it was correct in 99.3% of the cases. There was no scandal,” he said, emphasising that the VAR technology sorted out all cases which could have caused a major uproar or scandal.
“This is progress. Of course we can still improve as technology keeps getting better.”
He also spoke specifically on the piracy issue concerning Saudi owned rogue channel beoutQ which is continuing to telecast feed from Qatar’s beIn Sports.
“We don’t allow it and we will fight against it legally until it stops. We have to give out a strong message against piracy.”Last updated: December 13 2018 10:52 PM
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