Efforts by the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, which he said could help heal hostilities in the Middle East, have concluded in failure, with the tournament remaining solely in Qatar, with 32 competing national teams.
The expansion plan was based on sharing matches with neighbouring countries in the gulf, where Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar in June 2017 and blockaded its land borders. Infantino argued that sharing some World Cup matches could “build bridges” between the countries because “football makes miracles”, and a feasibility study was conducted into expansion – but the miracle has not come to pass.
In a statement issued a fortnight before the decision was due to be taken at Fifa’s congress, on 5 June, it said: “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.”
An internal report at Fifa is reported to have concluded that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain could not host matches while the blockade was still in force, even if they wanted to share the tournament with Qatar. The human-rights implications of involving Saudi Arabia have also escalated enormously since the murder at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
Oman, which is not part of the blockade, was reported to have declined the opportunity to host matches, and although Infantino visited Kuwait last month to explore its possibilities, Fifa decided it did not have enough time to upgrade its facilities.