FIFA has given up on its efforts to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, football’s world governing body announced on Wednesday.
“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,” a FIFA statement read on Thursday.
“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.
“Additionally, FIFA and Qatar have once again explored the feasibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team tournament by in particular lowering certain key FIFA requirements. A joint analysis, in this respect, 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. It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option.
“The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will therefore remain as originally planned with 32 teams and no proposal will be submitted at the next FIFA Congress on 5 June.”
FIFA had been exploring if logistical and political complexities could be overcome to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, which would have required at least one more country being used in the Persian Gulf to accommodate an additional 16 matches in the region.
A FIFA internal report had already concluded that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not join as co-hosts unless they restore the economic and travel ties with Qatar that were severed two years ago.
The regional diplomatic crisis left neutral Kuwait and Oman as the viable options. Oman has said it isn’t keen on hosting games at the FIFA showpiece. FIFA president Gianni Infantino visited Kuwait last month in an attempt to persuade them to host matches in 2022.
But FIFA has now concluded that it lacked the time to prepare a country to host the extra games.
In Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium has 60,000 seats and the capacity at Sabah Al-Salem Stadium is only 26,000. Both venues would require upgrades to be used at the World Cup, putting the spotlight on working conditions and labor rights.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote to human rights activists last month to offer assurances that there would be “an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion.”
Qatar has an exemption that allows foreigners to drink alcohol, but Kuwait has a complete ban that would have been problematic for FIFA, which has Budweiser as a major sponsor.
FIFA has already had to adapt to cope with taking its showpiece tournament to the Middle East for the first time.
While Qatar won a vote in 2010 on the basis of staging a June-July World Cup, FIFA shifted the tournament from its usual slot to Nov. 21-Dec 18, 2022, because of the fierce summer heat.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.