Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum presenting a momento to Fifa president, Gianni Infantino at the the Dubai International Sports Conference on Wednesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Fifa President Gianni Infantino used his speech at Dubai Sports Conference on Wednesday to reiterate his appeal to the ‘big wisdom and heart’ of GCC leaders to share the 2022 World Cup beyond Qatar’s borders and make it a 48-team tournament.

Fifa have already unanimously agreed to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 in time for the 2026 event to be shared by USA, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to start the increased format four years earlier.

Qatar may need help in hosting the extra workload, keeping in mind it’s size, but the ongoing political dispute with its GCC neighbours may pose a question mark.

Although Infantino has broached this subject before, this is the first time he has discussed it inside the UAE. “The discussion is not anymore whether it is good or bad, but whether we can do it earlier,” he said of the 48-team concept, which is designed to give smaller teams a chance, and spread investment in the game.

“If we think it’s a good thing and have it for 2026 then why shouldn’t we try and have it four years before? That’s what we are analysing, whether it is possible to have 48 teams in 2022.

“It will take place in a neighbouring country in Qatar with 32 teams, obviously that will be quite a challenge — to say it diplomatically — to have all 48 teams in Qatar.

“If we can increase it to 48 and make the world happy then we should try it and if we can maybe convince neighbouring countries in the Gulf region, who are very close by, to maybe host a few games, this could certainly be very beneficial to the region and the entire world.

“I know, of course, I’ve read the news, there are some tensions in this particular region and that’s up to the respective leaders to deal with them, but maybe it’s easier to talk about a joint football project than to talk about more complicated things.

“If we can bring a positive message to the world about what football can do then we should give it a try. If we don’t manage to make it happen, then we will still have a great World Cup in Qatar with 32 teams, but 48 would be fantastic.

“It would take big wisdom and big heart of everyone in this region. It is a unique chance for the whole world to discover this part of the world. This would be the first World Cup in the Arab world.

Using the USA, Canada and Mexico’s joint bid as an example, Infantino said he hoped football could have a healing effect on tensions.

“When speaking to some of the leaders in the USA, Canada and Mexico, they were all agreeing it’s a great thing to host the World Cup together. At the time they submitted the joint documents it was a period when probably the only joint topic they had was this one. They had discussions in many other topics, but didn’t have a joint one, finally they do now and this is fantastic, so football maybe, helped.”