FIFA boss wonders if Qatar could cope with enlarged World Cup

Gianni Infantino made a visit to Doha in April to see how Qatar's preparations are coming along. (AFP)
Updated 05 June 2018
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FIFA boss wonders if Qatar could cope with enlarged World Cup

  • Infantino would like 48 teams at next World Cup
  • 'Obviously, Qatar will need to agree'

ZURICH: FIFA’s president indicated 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 favor 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 told reporters 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.
“I find the CONMEBOL proposal interesting to study,” he said.
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 say poses the greatest threat to Doha’s World Cup aspirations: Shared hosting.
“Of course more teams means more stadiums, more venues, more hotels, more transportation,” Infantino said.
“Whether this is possible to be done only in Qatar of course is a question mark, so of course this should be looked into.”
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.
Widespread corruption allegations during the bidding process remain under criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors.
Reported human rights abuses of migrant workers building stadia have also dogged the preparations.
Adding to all that is the punishing economic embargo imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbors 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.”
Shared hosting for the 2026 edition may become a reality next week, with FIFA’s congress set to choose between a joint Canada-US-Mexico bid and a rival proposal from Morocco.
The North American bid has long been seen as the overwhelming favorite — and Infantino’s preferred choice — but it has faced increasingly stiff competition from Morocco in recent months.
On Friday, FIFA inspectors rated the African bid’s stadia, accommodation and transport as “high risk,” while giving the North American proposal solid marks.
The FIFA Task Force technically had the right to eliminate Morocco from competition but instead decided to let voters make the ultimate decision.
This has raised some concern that despite the weaker technical and financial credentials, Morocco could win out in what would be perceived as a direct rebuke of US President Donald Trump, who in April appeared to threaten nations that did not side with North America.
Infantino underscored his hope that FIFA voters would not let politics influence their decision.
“It should really be based on football,” he said.


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.