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FIFA to ditch expansion plans; Qatar to host 32 teams for World Cup 2022

FIFA, football regulatory authority on Wednesday, announced disbanding plans to expand Qatar 2022 to 48 national teams. A statement issued by FIFA after a "thorough and comprehensive consultation process", stated that the decision to expand could not be implemented in 2020 due to the scarcity of time needed to plan logistics accordingly.

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While confirming FIFA’s considerations to let Qatar host 48-team tournament on its own, the statement issued stated that there was insufficient time “for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact”.

A Win-Win Situation for Qatar

The World Cup organizers of Qatar, in a statement regarding the expansion plans said: “Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation…With just three and a half years to go until kick off, Qatar remains as committed as ever to ensuring the 32-team Fifa World Cup in 2022 is one of the best tournaments ever and one that makes the entire Arab world proud.”

Though the organizers have claimed Qatar’s flexibility to flow with any decision made by FIFA, it is, however, imperative to consider the relief that may have come with the news of halting expansion in 2022.

With the inauguration of its first of seven World Cup 2020 stadiums, Al Wakrah, last week in Doha, Qatar is all set to host its first World Cup 2020.

Qatar, an important Gulf state, that has been under an economic blockade and political boycott by its neighboring Gulf states including, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, for alleged support to terrorism and for having cordial relations with Iran, a common threat to the Gulf states. Despite falsifying the claims made by its Gulf neighbors, Qatar continues to be alienated from all the major economic and political activities.

This news, however, is expected to be a sigh of relief for Qatar that was expected to co-host with its neighbors who have continued to put Qatar under a blockade.

Infantino’s Efforts to Expand Qatar 2022

In January 2017, the consideration to expand the World Cup tournament to 48 teams from 32 was primarily voted collectively in favor of by FIFA, which is expected to be held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, had pushed efforts since March 2019 to begin the expansion of teams in a bid to end the on-going Gulf Crisis.

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Infantino, a strong advocate of the World Cup 2022 expansion, had argued that there was an urgent need to expand the World Cup in the pursuit of achieving inclusivity. While announcing the unanimous decision of World Cup expansion to 48 teams he said: “We are in the 21st century and we have to shape the World Cup of the 21st century”. To support his argument, Infantino reiterated “It is the future. Football is more than just Europe and South America, football is global.”

Previously, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, had been under fire for his meeting with Saudi Prince Muhammad Bin Salman that had been considered as a potential invitation for the Kingdom to co-host Qatar 2022.

However, amid serious backlash from human rights activists on Saudi backed murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, a Saudi journalist, at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul and the controversial role of the Kingdom in Yemen, targeting innocent civilians, the possibility of handing the co-hosting bid to Saudi Arabia had drastically reduced.

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With the inauguration of its first of seven World Cup 2022 stadiums, Al Wakrah, last week in Doha, Qatar is all set to host its first World Cup. Qatar is the first Arab/Gulf state to have won the bid to host the World Cup.