Just 32 for 2022 World Cup

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".
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".PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Fifa pulls plug on 48-team tournament in Qatar, Middle East blockade insurmountable

ZURICH • Fifa has abandoned plans to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams and play some games in neighbouring countries.

Gianni Infantino, the president of the world football governing body, had been pushing for the tournament to grow from 32 teams, with some matches being played elsewhere in the Middle East.

However, Fifa had to accept that it would be too challenging to do so.

The political problems in the Middle East have proved insurmountable, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all blockading host Qatar.

They were three of five countries, including Kuwait and Oman, earmarked as potential hosts for the expanded matches, with Infantino seeing the multiple hosts as a way of ending the embargo and any threat it could pose to the competition.

A Fifa statement on Wednesday read: "In line with the conclusions of the feasibility study approved by the Fifa Council at its last meeting, Fifa and Qatar have jointly explored all possibilities to increase the number of participant teams from 32 to 48 teams by involving neighbouring countries at the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022.

"Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances, such a proposal could not be made now."

 
 

The organisers of the 2022 World Cup issued their own statement, saying: "Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation."

The quadrennial event had already been shortened to 28 days as it is being played in November and December, which is in the middle of the European football season.

The expansion plan would have led to up to six matches being played a day, with as little as 48 hours between games for some teams in the group stage.

This had drawn opposition from FIFPro, the international players' union.

The news also came after Europe's top football clubs said in March that they would boycott an expanded 24-team Club World Cup - also backed by Infantino - which is planned to take place from June 17 to July 4 in 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup international tournament.

The 48-team 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico will comprise 16 groups of three teams, with only the bottom side in each group going out to make up a first knockout round of 32.

There will be a total of 80 matches to be played in the tournament, compared with 64 under the existing format.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2019, with the headline 'Just 32 for 2022 World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe