Commentary

Winners and losers of FIFA's decision to punt on expanded 2022 World Cup

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.

And Infantino?

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.

2 comments about "Winners and losers of FIFA's decision to punt on expanded 2022 World Cup".
  1. beautiful game, May 24, 2019 at 10 a.m.

    Con artist Infantino, an agenda of Money and Politics, and always claiming the global soccer is apolitical. A vote for Infantino is a vote for a crook.

  2. stewart hayes, May 24, 2019 at 1:56 p.m.

    Qatar winning the bid to host was a joke.  Expanding the tournament would have only compounded the error.

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