FIFA already has in its possession the report that values the the feasibility of overtaking the 2022 Qatar World Cup increased by participating teams from 32 to 48, as unveiled by the Associated Press. The expected date for such a change is 2026, at the World Cup in Mexico, the United States and Canada, but FIFA President Gianni Infantino has already announced his intention to advance him four years if he had the chance.
The report, commissioned by FIFA itself, points to the great problem for the expansion of Qatar’s diplomatic relations with its neighbouring countries, whose collaboration would be absolutely essential to add 16 teams, with all that that entails (expeditions, hobbies…) to the tournament. Having to play 64 matches in eight stadiums and only five cities has already been a big challenge for the Asian country and FIFA. To get an idea, the World Cup in Russia, was played in 12 stadiums and eleven cities and the French Euros in ten stadiums and so many other cities.
FIFA notes that, for the World Cup to be contested by 48 teams would need at least two other stadiums (although ideally include four more), i.e. reaching 10 venues, and the collaboration of another state. To that we should add that, although it will only be a recommendation that will come into force in 2026, FIFA wants stadiums hosting the play-offs from the quarter-finals to have at least 40,000 people.
With this data, the big problem is that, in addition to those of Qatar, there are only four qualifying stadiums in the region, two in the United Arab Emirates, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Kuwait. And this is where we find the first hurdle, as Qatar’s relations with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia do not go through a good time. Both (in addition to Bahrain) broke off economic and diplomatic relations, making it difficult to travel from them to Qatar as their airlines suspended their flights. The report notes that “in its current state, the nature of relations between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with Qatar is such that it would be a challenge to co-host a tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries.”
Therefore, the only usable stadium would be Kuwait, which remains neutral in the diplomatic conflict, as the other state that is not taking sides at the moment, Oman, does not have adequate facilities.
Another problem is that it would be necessary for one of these non-related countries to agree to collaborate in the organization of the World Cup, in the event that one of these non-affiliated countries agrees to collaborate in the organization of the World Cup, necessarily would have to be approved by the Qatari state.
Other drawbacks identified by the report, although minor, are changes in the way fans move. Qatar’s stadiums are very concentrated. Three of the camps are in Rayan, two in Doha, one in Losail, one in Al Wakrah and the last in Jor. The farthest (Jor’s and Al Wakrah’s) are just over 70 kilometres away, allowing air travel not to be necessary. This would necessarily have to change if you added another country and at least two more headquarters to the equation.
As for the timetable, which would currently cover 28 days, there should also be changes, both to facilitate the rest of the teams and the headquarters themselves, although the report notes that these changes are feasible, depending on what they have observed in other competitions both at the selection level and in the best leagues in the world, and would not mean that the tournament expanded over time.