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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Qatar faces ‘major blow’ if 2022 World Cup grows: analysts

Tournament organisers may be forced to seek outside help if teams increase from 32 to 48

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, talks with Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, which has asked FIF to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the tournament in Qatar. (AP Photo/Martin Ruggiero)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, talks with Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, which has asked FIF to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the tournament in Qatar. (AP Photo/Martin Ruggiero)

Qatar is expected to oppose efforts to expand the size of the 2022 World Cup because of a loss of prestige that would come with having to share the tournament, analysts told The National.

The sport’s governing body Fifa said it would consider plans to enlarge the tournament from 32 to 48 teams for 2022 but construction experts there was too little time to build the transport and power networks needed for up to four more new stadiums.

The logistical difficulties would mean the tournament would have to be lengthened to cater for extra matches or for co-hosts to be found.

Football authorities in Europe have already opposed plans to lengthen a tournament that clashes with their domestic leagues after being shifted to November to avoid the summer heat. If the world’s most lucrative leagues get their way, the obvious option is to try to shift some of the games around the region.

“The Qataris have really staked their pride in hosting this tournament, and it would be a big blow to them if they had to share it with others,” said Michael Stephens, a Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“The logic which drove the Qataris to seek the World Cup was one of wanting to make Qatar stand out in the world… given all the problems of the last year I think that driving logic is even more the case today than it was back in 2010.”

Morocco and a joint bid by the USA, Canada and Mexico are contesting the right to host the first confirmed 48-team tournament in 2026. The US-led bid promises 16 stadiums across the three countries – double the amount currently offered by Qatar.

South American nations – who will go from having four teams to six teams in the 2026 tournament – have pushed to bring forward the changes for 2022. Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, said he would consider the request.

The nature of modern construction means that a new football stadium can be built in two years, said experts, who suggested up to four new stadiums would be needed with the number of games increasing from 64 to 80.

“Building four stadiums in four years is not a problem at all,” said Graham Robinson, an economist at UK-based Global Construction Perspectives. “The problem is building all the infrastructure around it, which I think is an impossibility.

“Ramping it up to 48 teams means more people coming in the country, there are issues of mass transport, moving people and hosting teams. It’s going to be a big issue.”

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Qatar wants talks with Fifa to expand World Cup for 48 teams in 2022

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The question of how Qatar was going to cope with the influx of fans for the world’s largest single sports event was under scrutiny even before the regional dispute that severed relations with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.

Iran started talks early this year to host some fans, according to the Economist. The tournament has been further dogged by controversies over alleged corruption and rights abuses on building sites.

The tournament’s expansion would be popular outside of world soccer’s European powerbase and could cement Mr Infantino’s position, said Kieran Maguire, a football finance expert at the University of Liverpool. “To give up some responsibility and some of the flagship games, they [Qatar] would fine particularly galling given the huge investment gone into the tournament,” he said.

The organising committee of the Qatar World Cup declined to say if it was lobbying Fifa against the proposed changes, or its stance on the proposed expansion.

“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Regardless of the outcome - we are confident in our ability to deliver a successful World Cup in 2022.”