FIFA’s ruling council has not ruled out expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams but a final decision will probably be pushed back until June, a source close to world football’s governing body told Reuters on Thursday.
FIFA’s feasibility study on the tournament envisages some additional games in an expanded World Cup possibly being held in other countries, with Kuwait and Oman mentioned as options.
A deep political and economic rift in the Gulf complicates the prospects of sharing the tournament.
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.
While Qatari organisers are working with FIFA on further studies of the options, they retain a veto over any change to the tournament, which is schedule for November 2022.
The source said that the council meeting is likely to conclude on Friday with an expression of support for continued investigation of the possibility of adding an extra 16 teams to the tournament.
The council will meet again shortly before the June 5 congress in Paris and they are then expected to put their recommendation to the full membership, who have traditionally backed the preferences of the leadership.
FIFA’s other major decision on a new expanded Club World Cup, possibly with 24 teams to start in 2021, is also expected to be held back until June.
It is also reported that Africa “will definitely support” expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams, says the Confederation of African Football (Caf) vice-president.
“Caf will definitely support the vision of (Fifa president) Gianni Infantino if he wants this,” he told BBC Sport.
“Why wait until 2026 if we can achieve it now? If you do it now, there will be more money and more participating teams.
“In Africa we are going to have another 4.5 (places), which makes more sense to us – rather than just going with five nations. That’s why Africa will always support Infantino.”
Because of its small geographical size, Qatar would need the support of regional co-hosts to stage a 48-team finals.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that a leaked Fifa feasibility study into the prospect of expanding the 2022 World Cup could work if at least one of Qatar’s neighbours was used as an additional host.
Stadiums in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been identified as suitable yet only two of these countries would appear feasible at present – Kuwait and Oman.
A final decision on the possible expansion – which would come ahead of a pre-existing decision to have 48 teams in the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States – is expected to be taken at the Fifa Congress in June.
However, Europe is expected to challenge the prospect of 16 more teams and an extra 16 games – given the 2022 finals are already forcing the continent’s leagues to rearrange their competitions.
This is because the tournament will take place in the middle of the European season, having been moved to November-December from its traditional June-July slot.
This would mean 80 matches being played in the same 28-day window between 21 November and 18 December.