Less than four years remain for the World Cup and FIFA is grappling with a major question: to expand or not to expand. A feasibility report will be submitted on Friday. While the final decision is likely to be taken in June, here are some issues staring the sport’s governing body in the face.
FIFA’s hopes of having a 48-team World Cup in 2022 have suffered because of the geopolitical scenario in Asia. Because of the ongoing diplomatic crisis, an Associated Press report quoted a FIFA study, which says Qatar will not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are the most viable options identified by FIFA to host games in 2022.
According to FIFA, venues in at least one more country – in addition to Qatar – would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal. While Saudi Arabia and the UAE have stadiums that meet the basic FIFA norms, Kuwait has only one stadium which meets the required standards while Oman has none. Moreover, none of the three countries share a land border, and Oman capital Muscat is over 1200km from Kuwait. That would result in a logistical nightmare for teams and the fans.
FIFA has identified a 28-day window (November 21 to December 18 2022) to conduct the World Cup. It’s been kept to less than a month to ensure minimal impact on European football season so finding extra days to accommodate additional teams would be a challenge. The FIFA study found that the enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window, adding there would be "no major concessions to the sporting quality of the tournament" with expansion. While there were a maximum of four matches per day in the closing stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA said the 2022 tournament could feature six separate kickoff slots in the earlier stage to cope with the additional teams.
Human rights issue
Qatar’s bidding process has been subject to corruption investigations, which questioned the country’s conduct in lobbying voters but eventually concluded there was no misconduct. Qatar has also been forced to raise standards of working conditions and improve labor rights protections . FIFA study has suggested that any additional host nation for the 2022 World Cup would have to provide guarantees on human rights requirements to ensure a similar scenario does not arise again.
According to a feasibility study conducted by FIFA, the governing body can earn an additional $400 million by adding more games. This is one of the major reasons for a push to have more teams in the 2022 World Cup rather than wait till the 2026 edition.