FIFA’s council has approved working with hosts Qatar to explore expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams by adding at least one more country in the Gulf to host football matches.
Gianni Infantino, the president of football’s governing body, wants to enlarge the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, which a FIFA feasibility study said would require at least one additional country to be used among five nations identified as possibilities.
The council approved further discussions with Qatar to produce a proposal for consideration in June when FIFA’s congress meet in Paris ahead of the Women’s World Cup.
“We have shown the council the feasibility study in which we conclude: yes, it is possible to expand the 2022 World Cup – provided that some conditions are met,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Friday following the council meeting in Miami, in the United States.
In 2017, the body decided that the 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams when it is co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico.
The Associated Press on Monday revealed details of a FIFA feasibility study that said Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore ties with Doha.
The three countries have imposed a land, sea and air embargo on the peninsula, in the Gulf’s worst diplomatic crisis.
Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are indicated to be the current possible options to host games in 2022, but their stadium infrastructure is only briefly assessed in a FIFA report.
“Infantino did talk about the fact that sports is something that could bridge political gaps, that could repair damaged relationships,” Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from Miami, said.
While Oman and Kuwait have good relations with Qatar, the two countries however don’t have adequate facilities, he added.
But expanding the competition has advantages, most notably that it could raise an extra $400m, Gallacher said.
The FIFA council has also agreed to introduce a pilot tournament of an enlarged 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 despite European opposition.
A quadrennial version would launch in June-July 2021 to replace the current Club World Cup, a seven-team event played each December.
Ahead of the meeting, the European Club Association (ECA) wrote to FIFA saying none of its teams would participate in 2021.
The letter, viewed by AP, was signed by top executives from 14 leading European clubs, including ECA head Andrea Agnelli of Juventus.
The ECA executive board letter said it was “against any potential approval of a revised CWC at this point in time and confirm that no ECA Clubs would take part to such competition”.
They urged FIFA “to postpone any decision relating to the CWC until such moment when the legitimate concerns and interests of the European Clubs have been properly addressed”.
Those concerns centre on not wanting FIFA to add new competitions until there is an agreement on a new international match calendar from 2024.
The ECA represents 232 clubs in Europe.