The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, is pressing ahead with the proposal to expand the 2022 World Cup from 32 teams to 48, which would mean matches shared among neighboring countries to the hosts Qatar including UAE, Saudi Arabia an Bahrain.
In an interview with the Guardian marking four years before the World Cup will kick off in Qatar on 21 November 2022, Infantino acknowledges the chances of it happening are “small”, but emphasized his belief that football can help to end the crisis.
“Maybe football is a way to build bridges. We have seen as well with the bidding for 2026, the right to organize the World Cup was awarded to three countries [the USA, Canada and Mexico] which I think also don’t have the very best political or diplomatic relationships. But football makes miracles, as we know.”
“Obviously the relationship with [Qatar’s] neighboring countries is a factor which is complicating the situation; on the other [hand], even though there are complicated or difficult diplomatic relations, when it comes to football people talk to each other,” Infantino said.
“Be positive about it: we can do something for the world – and for football. It could happen, anything could happen. Let’s take it step by step. Yes, maybe the chances are small but I am a very optimistic person generally, so we will see the situation.”
Qatrar 2022 oganizers are building only eight stadiums for the one-month tournament, which has been controversially pushed back to late in the year because of the fierce summer heat. It kicks off on Nov. 21, 2022 with the final on Dec. 18.
Any expansion would mean Qatar possibly sharing some matches with their neighbors but the country is the subject of an economic blockade imposed by four of them.
In mid-2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut transport and trade links with Doha, because of its ties with terrorism and Iran.
It has meant Qatar has had to dig into its deep pockets to find alternative trading partners and, in vain, keep its World Cup preparations on track.
“Personally, as president of FIFA, I would be very happy if some matches could be shared with some countries in the region,” said Infantino, adding that “Football unites, builds bridges; that could be a concrete result.”
Qatar is the smallest country to host the finals, with the distance between the two furthest venues a mere 72 kilometers.
Also, a year's worth of rain that showered the desert state lately have again raised questions over the ability of Qatar's infrastructure to host the tournament.
Unstable weather during the past few weeks have made roads impassable, drained homes, flooded tunnels, universities, schools, clinics, embassies, as well as shops being forced to close for days, affecting thousands of residents.
Qatar has already come under scrutiny over allegations of corruption and human rights abuses but that may be nothing compared with pressures it faces in the run-up to 2022.
“Qatar is having eight stadiums and preparing for the World Cup of 32 teams; of course you don’t need to be Einstein to find out that it might be difficult to organize [a 48 team tournament] in eight stadiums in one country,” he said. “So you probably have to look to share some of the additional games outside of that country; that brings some additional complications and difficulties of course, and they will be looked at” Infantoni told The Guardian.
“There is an open and frank discussion. If it is possible, feasible, I am very happy. If not [and the tournament remains at 32 teams], I am very happy in any case. But I would not have been happy if we hadn’t given it a try.”
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