ZURICH • Fifa president Gianni Infantino has indicated that the 2022 World Cup cannot be expanded to 48 teams without agreement from hosts Qatar, while backing further study of the "interesting" proposal.
Speaking before the 2018 edition kicks off in Russia next week, he did not categorically say Qatar has the right to veto an enlarged 2022 tournament if Fifa voters decide in favour of an expansion.
But he said that imposing a 48-team competition on Qatar, which is in the thick of preparations for a 32-nation tournament, would be "absolutely" unfair.
"Obviously, Qatar will need to agree and it will be the first to agree because we need to work together," he told reporters at Fifa's headquarters in Zurich.
But Infantino's support for a 48-team World Cup is not in doubt. A 16-team expansion for 2026 was among his first signature achievements after taking charge of football's world governing body two years ago.
He credited South American confederation Conmebol with suggesting the enlargement be pushed up in four years.
"I find the Conmebol proposal interesting to study," he said.
Proposed increase in number of teams from the current 32-team World Cup format. Next week, a proposal to bring the expansion forward to 2022 (from 2026) will be made to the Fifa congress, with a decision needed within a year.
Fifa voters convening in Russia next week will decide strictly on whether 48 teams in 2022 merits closer analysis.
Infantino insisted it was premature to speculate on the likelihood of the idea moving forward.
"We have a contract with the Qataris. They have been awarded a World Cup with 32 teams and that is how it is," he said. "Contracts are there to be respected."
But he also raised a prospect that some experts say poses the greatest threat to Doha's World Cup aspirations - shared hosting.
"Of course more teams means more stadiums, more venues, more hotels, more transportation," Infantino said.
"Whether this is possible to be done only in Qatar of course is a question mark, so of course this should be looked into."
Shared hosting for the 2026 edition may become a reality next week, with Fifa's congress set to choose between a Canada-US-Mexico bid and a rival proposal from Morocco.
Infantino added that he was confident the Russian edition would be impeccably organised and played down hooliganism fears.
"I have rarely been so relaxed about the organisation of an event," he said. "Russia wants to show to the world that it is a welcoming country where people can come to celebrate and enjoy football... I have never seen a country that has done so much for the welcoming of fans as Russia is doing."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS