ZURICH (Reuters) – FIFA is considering Oman and Kuwait as hosts of some matches at the 2022 World Cup if the tournament, to be staged in Qatar, is expanded from 32 to 48 teams, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
The World Cup will be expanded from 32 to 48 teams in 2026 but FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed bringing forward the enlarged format to 2022.
World soccer’s ruling body did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
A decision is expected in June, although FIFA has already warned it would be difficult for Qatar to stage an expanded tournament alone.
Qatar has said it will not take a decision on expanding the tournament until it sees the details of a feasibility study from FIFA while a deep political rift in the Gulf complicates the prospects of sharing the competition.
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt cut political, trade, and transport ties with Qatar in June, 2017. The countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it denies.
Should Qatar agree to the change — its consent is required — and should logistical challenges be overcome, Infantino would most likely seek the approval of FIFA’s 211 member federations, a grouping long known for rubber-stamping policies favored by the president. He had said previously that the decision would be taken up by the smaller FIFA Council, which governs the sport worldwide.
FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers did not comment on the matter.
Privately though, some senior members of the organizing committee who have been working on the event since Qatar controversially secured it a decade ago are opposed to sharing the competition and frustrated that it may yet happen. Qatar’s final position on the matter will be defined by its rulers, who may see political advantage in agreeing to include specific neighbors.
While Infantino has suggested that sharing games with Qatar’s neighbors would help heal rifts in the region, a FIFA-led group conducting a feasibility study has concluded that it would be impractical to include the blockading countries, which also include Bahrain, in hosting plans, leaving Oman and Kuwait as favored choices. Infantino recently visited both countries, where he discussed the idea, according to people with knowledge of the talks.
Infantino has pushed an expansion of the World Cup at every opportunity in recent years, despite setbacks along the way. He pulled the issue from the agenda at last year’s FIFA Congress amid a backlash from various stakeholders.
But Qatar’s posture — it has not publicly rejected an expanded World Cup, even as logistics almost certainly require bringing in partners — has emboldened Infantino to forge ahead to secure the expanded format, which has been adopted for the 2026 World Cup and beyond. Qatar 2022 organizers have said since last summer that they will reserve judgment on a 48-team tournament until a comprehensive study has been carried out.