Qatar lacks the infrastructure and would have its work cut out to host 48-team World Cup, say experts

The Khalifa International Stadium is one of the venues for the 2022 World Cup. (Getty)
Updated 16 April 2018
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Qatar lacks the infrastructure and would have its work cut out to host 48-team World Cup, say experts

  • FIFA President Infantino is receptive to the idea of increasing the number of teams
  • There were issues with the traffic and accommodating the media at 2011 Asian Cup

LONDON: A proposal to increase the number of teams at the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 may sound appealing to FIFA and broaden the appeal of the competition, but it would create a major headache for hosts Qatar, commentators say.
The tiny country announced last week that eight stadiums will be ready by 2019. If South America gets its way, however, and the 48-team World Cup scheduled to be introduced at the 2026 World Cup is brought forward four years, there will be four more arenas needed —  and quickly.
Steve Kim, former head of competitions at the Asian Football Confederation, believes that the proposal from CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) that was put forward last week is not possible for Qatar to handle alone.
“It is very difficult for Qatar to host a 48-team World Cup,” Kim told Arab News. “There are all kinds of logistical issues to address.”
Kim helped organize the 2011 Asian Cup which was held in Qatar. “Then there were 16 teams but there were issues with the traffic on match days and how Qatar could accommodate the media,” he said. “It was OK in the end but that was a very different situation. I think ideally, Qatar can handle 16 to 24 teams and while 32 is possible with all the time they have to prepare, 48 sounds very difficult indeed. There would need to be detailed assessments.”
Another issue is timing. With temperatures in the Middle East soaring in the summer months, the 2022 World Cup is due to take place in winter. European leagues may not look kindly at their domestic tournaments being delayed even longer. While Europe may have doubts, the possibility of nations such as China making it would have its attractions.
“Just to have Chinese teams in the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League made a huge difference in terms of television ratings and social media interaction," Kim said. “I can’t imagine what it would mean for the World Cup, it would be huge.”
Perhaps that is one reason why FIFA is interested. The world governing body has been struggling financially, in relative terms, in recent years. They reported a loss of $369 million last year. A 48-team World Cup would be welcome in terms of attracting more revenue from broadcasters and sponsors, especially if nations such as China are able to qualify.
“It seems to me a very interesting idea,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said after meeting with CONMEBOL leaders last week. “If it’s possible, if it is feasible, if the others agree too, because it is not a decision that only the president of FIFA or CONMEBOL make ... of course we are going to study it and if it is possible, why not?”
While a major theme of Qatar’s successful bid to host the World Cup was that it would be a tournament for the whole of the Middle East, James Corbett, a long-time journalist and FIFA observer from the UK, is skeptical. “The prospect of Qatar hosting a 48-nation World Cup four years from now is as improbable as it sharing the tournament with its neighbors,” said Corbett.
According to Corbett, Infantino is delusional if he thinks an expanded tournament will help defuse tensions in the region. “Most likely this is an economic move by an organization unable to meet the electoral financial pledges made by Infantino in 2016.”
A spokesperson for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy told Arab News that Qatar would wait and see but would need to talk to FIFA and other bodies.
“We are aware that CONMEBOL delivered a proposal to FIFA suggesting an increase in the number of teams at the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” the spokesperson said. “Before any decision is taken it is important that discussions are held on the operations and logistics of an increase in size of the tournament in Qatar. Regardless of the outcome, we are confident in our ability to deliver a successful World Cup in 2022.”


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.