Infantino cagey over 48-team WC

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ZURICH

Jun 6, 2018-

Fifa’s president indicated on Monday 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 just 10 days before the 2018 tournament kicks off in Russia, Gianni Infantino did not categorically say that 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,” Infantino said at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.

Infantino’s support for a 48-team World Cup is not in doubt. Expanding the tournament by 16 teams for 2026 was among his first signature achievements after taking charge of Fifa two years ago. He credited South American confederation Conmebol with suggesting the enlargement be pushed up in four years.

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,” the Fifa boss said. “Contracts are there to be respected.”

But, he also raised a prospect that some experts poses the greatest threat to Doha’s World Cup aspirations: shared hosting.

The 2022 World Cup has been a source of controversy since the day the gas-rich Gulf state was awarded the tournament eight years ago.

Adding to all that is the punishing economic embargo imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbours over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism. Qatar has overcome those substantial obstacles and kept World Cup preparations on track. But for Simon Chadwick, a sports and geopolitics expert at Britain’s Salford University, sharing the World Cup would mark “something of a defeat for Doha”.

Published: 06-06-2018 08:27

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