FIFA asked to expand World Cup to 48 teams for Qatar in 2022

AP , Thursday 12 Apr 2018

Gianni Infantino gestures during a press con
Gianni Infantino gestures during a press conference at the Acropolis Convention Centre in Nice, southeastern France. (AP)

FIFA was asked by South American soccer's governing body on Thursday to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who gained approval last year to increase the amount of teams from 32 to 48 from the 2026 tournament, received the request from CONMEBOL to hasten the expansion while attending the confederation's congress in Buenos Aires.

A formal letter was handed to Infantino signed by CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez and the region's 10 member associations.

An early expansion would allow FIFA to generate more revenue to replenish the coffers hit by corruption scandals. But increasing the number of games from 64 to 80 would pose additional logistical challenges for Qatar.

The first World Cup in the Middle East is already operating on a tight 28-day schedule to please club sides after FIFA shifted the event from its usual June-July slot to November-December because of the extreme heat.

Qatar currently has plans to build eight stadiums, whereas bidders for the 48-team 2026 tournament have been told they need 12 venues.

One option to accommodate the additional games, rather than further straining the requirements on Qatar, would be to share games in the Gulf.

Qatar won the FIFA vote in 2010 with a vision of the World Cup benefiting the Middle East but with all the games in the small desert nation. Hopes of a unifying tournament for the region were eroded when Qatar's neighbors, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cut diplomatic ties last year.

Even amid the escalating tensions, Qatar World Cup organizing committee secretary general Hassan al-Thawadi did not rule out last year the possibility of sharing matches with neighbors.

''Qatar has always been open to dialogue,'' Al Thawadi told The Associated Press. ''It's always been open and it's always supported our brother nations, to the extent that if (sharing the World Cup) was the ultimate goal, all that would have required was a simple conversation.''

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