Qatar seriously mull organisation of a 48-team World Cup in 2022 on its own
Introduction of a 48-team FIFA World Cup has been a dream project of FIFA President Gianni Infantino. While the format will come into force from the 2026 FIFA World Cup onwards, Infantino had suggested it being introduced four years earlier, in Qatar in 2022.
There had been a lot of resistance from Qatari organisers mainly because they had been preparing for a 32-team event until now. However, latest reports suggest Qatari organisers are giving a serious thought of hosting a 48-team tournament in its shores.
Organisrs have said that they are open to talks about a 48-team competition and can see a format to host it alone, reported The Chicago Tribune.
Adding 16 more teams would have forced Doha to share the world cup with other countries, something which they had categorically ruled out. FIFA had also eased pressure by saying that the host nation's consent was a ‘precondition’ for change.
48-team tournament can be staged
Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy’s Assistant Secretary General for Tournament Affairs Nasser Al Khater said the expanded tournament could be staged using only the current eight stadiums.
“Yes, it’s doable, we just need to figure out how it’s done. If the format is done right, it could actually be an edition that’s exciting,” he was quoted as saying by The World Game.
Although Qatar is willing to negotiate, the veto power it apparently gained is key to any progress on the tournament expansion.
“If we feel that it’s not in favor of us or of football, we won't go for it. If the format of a 48-team World Cup is exciting, and it doesn’t follow the traditional type of format, yeah, why not? It might add an exciting new element,” Al Khater said.
One option stands out. A play-off round involving 32 nations from which 16 winners would join 16 seeded teams in a traditional group stage.
“Maybe it’s a sudden death, one game sudden death and you’re out, and maybe it happens before the rest of the teams come,” Al Khater was quoted as saying by NBC Sports.
That format was rejected in January 2017 by FIFA’s ruling council when it agreed to expand the World Cup. The 48 teams at the 2026 edition, which is set to be staged in the United States, Canada and Mexico, will play in 16 groups of three teams.
FIFA said last year that the play-off round idea was disliked because sudden-death losers would feel they were going home before the real World Cup started with 32 teams.