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FIFA drops plans to expand 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 teams
Plans to expand the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams have been abandoned by world football governing body FIFA.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last year the expansion from 32 teams could be brought forward from 2026 to the 2022 tournament in Qatar – a change that would have required Qatar to share hosting duties with other countries in the region.
However, in an announcement made overnight, FIFA released a statement that advised a "thorough and comprehensive consultation process" the change "could not be made now".
FIFA also said it explored the possibility of Qatar hosting a 48-team tournament on its own but has decided not to pursue those plans as there was not enough time "for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact".
In response, Qatari World Cup organisers advised "Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation.
"With just three and a half years to go until kick off, Qatar remains as committed as ever to ensuring the 32-team FIFA World Cup in 2022 is one of the best tournaments ever and one that makes the entire Arab world proud."
Sources close to the Qatar 2022 organisers say this is a mutual decision that realigns them and FIFA, and that they are now concentrating on delivering the best possible 32-team World Cup.
It is likely to have come as a major relief to the hosts, who no longer have to worry about sharing football's showpiece event.
The BBC speculated that “perhaps with the Nobel Peace Prize in mind, … Infantino had pushed for an expansion against Qatar's wishes, hoping it may help heal diplomatic tensions in the region by staging some games in other countries, but he has now had to admit defeat.”
With Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all maintaining a blockade of neighbouring Qatar, such a move was never going to be straightforward.
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