FIFA has been asked by South American soccer's governing body on Thursday to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who gained approval last year to increase the number of teams from 32 to 48 from the 2026 tournament, received the request from Conmebol to hasten the expansion while attending the confederation's congress, according to the Associates Press.
A formal letter was handed to Infantino signed by Conmebol President Alejandro Dominguez and the region's 10 member associations.
“As we do believe in big and because we want to do justice (for more teams),” Dominguez said to Infantino during a meeting in Buenos Aires, “we ask that the 2022 World Cup is played with 48 teams.”
Dominguez's Paraguay failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and this year's edition in Russia.
At the moment this is merely a request by the South American soccer confederation, Conmebol, so they can increase their representation at the tournament by one.
But Fifa boss Gianni Infantino is going along with the plan because it will bring an extra billion dollars into the organization’s coffers, and help his re-election next year when he needs the votes of the federations.
“It seems to me a very interesting idea,” Infantino said after attending a Conmebol meeting in Buenos Aires. “Of course we have to study the feasibility of this proposal. If it’s possible, if it is feasible, if the others agree too, because it is not a decision that only the president of FIFA or CONMEBOL make ... of course we are going to study it.”
“And I really think it is something very interesting. We have to study it seriously and if it is possible, why not?”
In fact, experts suggest that other confederations will follow Conmebol, in the coming weeks.
According to one expert on the matter, it appears that there is a great chance for the confederations with the greatest number of members, notable Asia and Africa, will follow through and implement the 48-team accommodation.
Potentially opposing the format is Europe due to club commitments, he added.
However, Investors from Japan, US, UAE and Saudi Arabia are parts of an international consortium behind a $25bn plan to create global football tournaments for international governing body FIFA, according to reports.
The Financial Times cited sources as confirming the plans by the group, which includes Japan’s SoftBank and investors from China, Saudi Arabia, the US and UAE.
The tournament would include 24 clubs from all continents, which could be the right alternative for the European champions league with regards to the popularity.
FIFA has changed its decision making mechanism by widening the voting circles to its all members.
Also, an early expansion would allow FIFA to generate more revenue to replenish the coffers hit by corruption scandals.
But increasing the number of games from 64 to 80 would pose additional logistical challenges for Qatar.
The first World Cup in the Middle East is already operating on a tight 28-day schedule to please club sides after FIFA shifted the event from its usual June-July slot to November-December because of the extreme heat.
Qatar currently has plans to build eight stadiums, whereas bidders for the 48-team 2026 tournament have been told they need 12 venues.
One option to accommodate the additional games, rather than further straining the requirements on Qatar, would be to share games in the Gulf.
Doha has had to restrict the tournament to a tight 28-day schedule to cause minimum disruption to domestic competitions over winter, when the tournament is being held to avoid the searing summer heat.
To expand it by an extra 16 teams would play havoc with the Premier League even more than is currently the case, as the schedule would have to be longer, so Fifa can expect a backlash if it tries to push this through.
According to Forbes, the situation now “highlights Qatar’s lack of existing soccer infrastructure. If the 2022 World Cup bid had been won by the United States, Japan, or Australia, then there would have been no problem finding the extra stadiums needed for a 48-team World Cup.”
It added “even South Korea has enough stadiums of the required size already built and needing just minor renovations. Qatar on the other hand had to pretty much build its entire soccer infrastructure from scratch for the 32 team tournament, and many of the stadiums it is building are likely to be barely used after the World Cup is over. Even if it could rush build the four extra venues needed for a 48 team tournament, it would just be creating four white-elephants, something FIFA is supposedly keen to avoid.”
The cost and duration of work related to the World Cup 2022 are already directly impacted by this geopolitical isolation.
Previous reports also highlighted that the reception of teams and supporters could be disrupted in a way that would cause many flights impossible to land.
According to a previous report, citing then sources at FIFA, all this could lead to a redistribution of cards and a reallocation of the World 2022, by assigning the 2026 to organize it instead of Qatar.
The trio of United States-Canada-Mexico, which are candidates for World Cup 2026, as well as Morocco, will be the right solution, according to the report.