By Amrit Johal Sports Legal Consultant London
Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, the world governing body of association football, has announced, on 31 October 2018, that he would like to bring forward the expanded version of FIFA’s flagship tournament from the 2026 World Cup, to be jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, to the 2022 edition of the event, to be hosted by Qatar.
Speaking at the AFC national football associations meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, he gave details of this unexpected initiative in the following terms:
“We have decided to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48. It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?”
FIFA are in discussions with the Qatar Supreme World Cup Organising Committee and also with other football authorities in the region. If it happens, this will mean that some of the games in 2022 will need to be played in Qatar’s neighbouring States.
However, currently, these neighbouring States, in particular, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have imposed on Qatar, for allegedly financing terrorism, a political, diplomatic and trade blockade and have also denied access by the country to their air space. Of course, this has made the organisation of the 2022 World Cup more complicated, especially for accessing the materials and labour needed to build the eight new stadiums and the corresponding extensive infrastructure required for this event.
Thus, this mooted expansion of the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar could possibly help to ease this situation.
Infantino, who also stated that he hoped that this expansion would happen and that, whether it did or did not, we always have to try, is a man with a mission and eager to stamp his mark on world football, but, unlike his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, for the right reasons!