FIFA president Gianni Infantino has revealed that he wants the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to be expanded to 48 teams, saying such an expansion is “possible” and “feasible.”
Infantino made this statement while speaking at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur. He spoke about a possible expansion in 2022, in response to the 48-team World Cup that is already in the pipelines for the World Cup that it to be hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2026.
“We have decided … to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48. It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible, it is possible,” he said.
Infantino told the AFC’s national football associations that expanding the 2022 tournament would see the number of Asian countries’ teams competing in qualifying for the World Cup finals rise from 4.5 (four guaranteed and one play-off place) in a 32-nation tournament, to 8.5 for 48.
“You will have [a bigger] chance,” he said. “It is possible... It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope we have it happen. We always have to try.”
Earlier this year, South American countries had formally asked FIFA to make Qatar 2022 a 48-team event. But, Infantino's push to make this a reality also stems from the fact that Asia is home to the world's largest football audience. More Asian teams in the playoffs would mean more viewership.
But, Nasser al-Khater, assistant secretary-general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which is overseeing the 2022 World Cup, said Qatar is still planning and working towards a 32-team tournament.
"Technically speaking, everything is possible," he told Al Jazeera. "It's just that we need to understand the format, how it's going to change, how many days would be increased for the 48-team World Cup and we take it from there."
"We are going to keep an open-door policy as we have been," al-Khater added. "We welcome everybody to come to Qatar and we still remain a Middle Eastern World Cup."
But along with increasing the number of teams that will participate in World Cup 2022, FIFA is also looking at the possibility of Doha sharing the tournament with other countries in the Gulf region.
Qatar had hope to raise the profile of the Middle East region when it had bid for the hosting right of the World Cup. But, last year its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed political and economic ties with Qatar, imposing a land, sea and air embargo on the peninsula. If Infantino’s plan does come to fruition it would mean Qatar would have to agree to share the revenue and the prestige of the event with countries that have turned their backs on it.
But it would result in the lessening of tensions amongst countries located in one of the volatile regions in the world.
Infantino said about the potential expansion in four years’ time, "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," he added.
"And, if not, we will have tried. We will have tried because we always have to try to do things in a better way."