The 2022 World Cup will stay at 32 teams -- a
decision that comes in the nick of time.
Qualifying begins in less than two weeks with the first leg in six Asian first-round series.
For months, FIFA president Gianni Infantino had been pushing the idea of moving forward plans to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.
Like a lot of Infantino's proposals, the basis for them is simple: money and politics.
Sixteen more matches would have generated an extra $300 million or more in revenues that could be plowed back into FIFA's coffers, or distributed to its members.
The second part is the politics.
A 48-team World Cup would have required FIFA to move part of the tournament outside of Qatar. The tiny emirate has already built or is building eight stadiums for the tournament -- the air-conditioned Al Wakrah Stadium just hosted its inaugural match -- and adding any more stadium or infrastructure projects on at this point would be unrealistic.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have waged a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar since 2017 and adding a co-host or co-hosts that had the effect of devaluing Qatar's image as the first and sole organizer of a World Cup in the Middle East would have been a coup for Qatar's Middle East neighbors even if they weren't among the co-hosts.
Any idea of Infantino being a peace-maker and bringing Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain together over an expanded World Cup was foolish.
FIFA looked at Kuwait and Oman as possible co-hosts but neither worked. Kuwait was an unattractive option because it has a strict ban on alcohol. Kuwait's 60,000-seat Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium would have required upgrades, and Oman would have had to build a stadium from scratch. Renewed scrutiny of the working conditions of laborers -- already a big issue in Qatar -- was the last thing its neighbors wanted.
In the end, Infantino threw in the towel.
"Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now," FIFA said in a statement on Wednesday. "Due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June. It was, therefore, decided not to further pursue this option."
The decision is a victory for Qatar, and any victory for Qatar is a defeat for its rivals, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
He won a long time ago -- he will be elected unopposed to his first full term as FIFA president on June 5 at the FIFA Congress at the Porte de Versailles in Paris.
And Infantino will get still get his wish in 2026 when the World Cup co-hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States will be expanded to 48 teams.