KUALA LUMPUR • Fifa president Gianni Infantino yesterday said that expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams was "feasible" as host Qatar pledged to come to a decision in the early part of next year.
He hinted at the Asian Football Confederation's annual congress in Kuala Lumpur that the expansion from 32 teams to 48, which is currently due at the 2026 edition in the United States, Canada and Mexico, could be brought forward.
"We have decided... to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48," he told reporters. "It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. Why not?"
The head of world football's governing body, who also revealed that 180 out of the 211 federations had given him their support ahead of Fifa's presidential election next year, added that an expanded tournament would see Asia's allocation rise from 4.5 places to 8.5.
"You will have (a bigger) chance. 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," he said to cheers from the delegates assembled at a luxury hotel in the Malaysian capital.
Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar's task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny Gulf state in 2010.
Qatar has also been involved in a stand-off with neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the country, accusing it of endorsing terrorism.
Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organising body, told Agence France-Presse that Qatar was studying the 48-team proposal and would make a decision before qualifying gets under way.
"We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide feedback in the future," he said.
"But it will be decided before the qualifications... some time in the first quarter of next year."
He also insisted that the World Cup preparations were "on track" despite the blockade, and that the budget of US$200 billion (S$277 billion) for the entire infrastructure project had not been affected.
"By 2020-2021, all our (eight) stadiums will be ready," al-Thawadi said. "This is the first World Cup in the Middle East, and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together and contribute to the process of healing."