LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (AFP) - Fifa president Gianni Infantino was dealt a blow on Wednesday (May 22) when world football's governing body shelved a proposed expansion of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams.
Fifa dumped the plans "following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process" which led to the conclusion that "under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now".
"(The tournament) will therefore remain as originally planned with 32 teams and no proposal will be submitted at the next Fifa Congress on June 5," Fifa said in a statement.
The expansion was a pet project of Infantino, who pushed the idea despite the likely need for Qatar's neighbours to put aside a two-year blockade and help host the tournament.
"The involvement of these countries in the organisation of the tournament jointly with Qatar implies the lifting of this blockade, in particular the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods," said a feasibility study submitted to March's Fifa Congress in Miami.
The study, seen by AFP, also claimed that a Qatar World Cup with 48 teams would generate "between US$300 and US$400 million (S$414 and S$552 million) of additional income".
Specifically, Fifa was counting on an additional US$120 million in TV rights, US$150 million in marketing rights and US$90 million from ticket sales.
The news comes after Europe's top football clubs said in March they would boycott an expanded 24-team Club World Cup - also backed by Infantino - which is planned to take place between June 17 and July 4, 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup international tournament.
An announcement of the final decision hadn't been expected until next month's congress, which is being held in Paris ahead of the Women's World Cup taking place in France between June 7 and July 7.
However, the statement said that the study "concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June".
Fifa has dropped the idea despite recommending in March that the number of teams should be raised to 48 for 2022, ahead of the planned 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Expanding the competition for the 2022 tournament was always a complicated proposition.
Fifa had sounded out potential co-hosts in the region willing to support Qatar, a complicated proposition for Doha which is subject to an ongoing embargo by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies.
Last week, Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said that a feasibility study jointly carried out by Fifa and Qatar would favour "expansion to other countries".
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut all ties with Doha in June 2017, accusing Qatar of supporting Iran and Islamist groups.
Qatar denies the charges and says Saudi Arabia and its allies aim to incite government change in the emirate, the world's largest exporter of liquified natural gas.
Gulf states Kuwait and Oman have not taken sides in the crisis. However, in April, Oman announced it was "not ready" to host matches.