Fifa 2022 World Cup: could Qatar really share games with other nations in an expanded format?

  • Qatar, dogged by endless controversy, now has Fifa trying to persuade it to share games in a 48-team tournament
  • Sounds great if you’re a football fan, but the logistics would be a nightmare
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 8:48pm

What is going on with the Fifa 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

Controversies aside, and there are plenty – from human rights issues, workers’ deaths and alleged corruption to the blistering heat – Fifa boss Gianni Infantino recently stepped out of his lane and said the tiny Middle East nation should consider sharing an expanded tournament.

Sounds like backtracking as it appears football’s governing body is dealing with the fallout of what happens when you let dollar signs drive your selection committee.

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Gianni used a recent Fifa-led summit looking to gather support in a bid to add 16 teams to the next tournament. This would require Qatar to share some games with neighbouring nations.

Let’s put motivations aside for a second and deal with the first issue this presents: back in 2017 a number of countries cut ties with Qatar including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The group accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and thus destabilising an already fragile region.

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The most complicating factor is that now flights from Qatar’s capital Doha are banned to the aforementioned nations.

There are already suggestions that many who plan on attending games will simply stay in Dubai, a much more Westernised city, and hop on a short 30-minute flight to catch matches and scamper back to their hotels. That is, of course, if the travel ban does not still impact that route.

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Earlier this week a Reuters article revealed Qatar will review a Fifa study on the feasibility of expanding the tournament to 48 teams from 32. Infantino has vocally stated most of the national soccer federations are already in support of the move, and that a final decision would be cast in March.

Fifa was already planning on expanding the 2026 tournament to 48, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. But no one would debate the fact those three nations can handle the load, in fact the US could probably do it solo.

Qatar on the other hand is already dealing with a shortened time-frame for its games (down four days from the usual 32), and the fact that it will take place during the winter which disrupts the various European league schedules.

A few stadiums are still incomplete and any added pressure to increase capacity to host this tournament will do no one any good – especially the workers building the stadiums, of which more than 1,200 have already died.

The option is attractive however, as the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia was a perfect case study in why the tournament should be expanded. A number of heavyweight nations missed out on the tournament, most notably Italy (18) and the Netherlands (14).

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If you were to compile a list of the teams that missed out on Russia and their current world rankings, it sweetens the case even more: Chile (13), Wales (19), the United States (25), Scotland (38) and the Czech Republic (42). Not to mention the star power these nations also bring with them, including Gareth Bale, Marco Verratti, Virgil van Dijk and American youngster Christian Pulisic.

There’s also an option of hosting various last-chance repechage tournaments, which will surely draw viewers. Imagine Italy and the Netherlands squaring off in a winner-takes-all final for the last spot in the tournament, sounds like compelling television to say the least.

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Theoretically, a 48-team tournament is tantalising. Logistically, it sounds like a nightmare.

Thousands of fans and teams from various religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds criss-crossing the Middle East on planes, bouncing from country to country, over hotly contested international borders between nations that have publicly stated hatred for each other, all gathering in a tiny country with a squalid human rights record and ultra-conversative social mentality planning on hosting one of the world’s most vibrantly diverse and cracking parties.

What could go wrong?

Fifa dug its own grave in handing Qatar the upcoming World Cup, and the backlash and negative press is only building now that the tournament is nearing. And you can expect the international press to exponentially up the ante as each year passes and the magnifying glass on Qatar grows.

The question remains, should Infantino and company put down the shovels and quit while they’re behind or work to salvage a tournament that right now looks like it will go down in the history books as one of the worst ever?

Maybe adding 16 teams is a coy PR move to take the heat of the hosts and Fifa? Either way, this disaster of a tournament is getting worse, and cleaning up this mess may be a lost cause at this point.