FIFA President Gianni Infantino is under pressure after latest leaks in details of an expanded World Cup 2022 in advance of Friday’s Miami meeting.
Infantino’s US $25 billion pet project to change the face of competitive football by revamping the Club World Cup and Nations League will be put to the 37 members of the governing FIFA Council in Miami on Friday, along with the idea of expanding the Qatar World Cup to 48 teams.
But spanners are expected to be thrown in the works as speculation is increasing that both will be put on hold until the FIFA Congress in June.
But while little is being given away in the build-up to the Miami summit in terms of the money men behind the global competition revamp, leaked details have provided an insight into FIFA’s thinking – flawed though it might be – for the 2022 World Cup to comprise an additional 16 teams.
In recent months debate on the subject has focussed on FIFA’s feasibility study set up last year into the merits of fast-tracking the start of World Cup expansion from 2026 to 2022.
According to inside FIFA sources, the study has concluded the tournament can expand only by sharing with “one or more” of Qatar’s neighbours and that an additional $400 million in revenue could be generated.
It is learnt FIFA has apparently identified five possible sharing countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The problem with that, as has been widely reported for months, is that three of them are involved in the ongoing diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar.
“As it currently stands, the nature of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s relations with Qatar is such that it would be challenging to organise a co-hosted tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries,” the leaked report is said to state.
“Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative. Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country, including the main host, Qatar.”
Infantino, the driving force behind 2022 expansion, hopes the Council will approve the plan in principle. But suddenly changing the hosting guidelines would call into question its legality given that Qatar won the right to stage the tournament on its own.
In terms of fitting in all the matches, the feasibility study reportedly says that an enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window from November 21 to December 18 – the first ever winter World Cup – with six separate kick-off slots early in the tournament to cope with the additional teams.
The big issue here is the actually the number of rest days between the group stages and the knock-out rounds which coaches from the Russia 2018 have said should remain unchanged. FIFA is looking to ignore this circumvent this preference in order to squeeze the expanded competition in.
The big ball is now in Infantino’s court to seriously push forward the Club World Cup and expanded World Cup. – By SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who covers the regional football arena.