London: A Fifa feasibility study has concluded the 2022 World Cup can expand to 48 teams by using at least one other GCC country as an additional host, and found there is a low legal risk to changing the format and that an additional $400 million in revenue could be generated.
The 81-page report assesses the political, logistical and legal issues surrounding adding 16 teams — a significant change to the format more than eight years after Qatar won the hosting rights. The report was prepared by the governing body so its Fifa Council can agree in principle on expanding the tournament at a meeting in Miami on Friday.
The study identified stadiums in other Gulf states that could be used but said Qatar would have to approve who it partnered with.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE severed economic, diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in 2017. The study says that Fifa accepts that the ongoing situation prevents the involvement of some Gulf nations in the tournament.
With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums spread over a 50km radius in Qatar, Fifa said two to four additional venues are required in the region “with one or more” nation.
Fifa stipulates that any additional hosts would have to supply government assurances. “The involvement of additional neighbouring host countries would require certain conditions to be met, in particular the consent of the relevant authorities in the main host country, Qatar,” the Fifa report states.
The study highlights that venues with at least 40,000 seats — for games up to the quarter-finals — were demanded of 2026 World Cup bidders but doesn’t come to a conclusion on minimum capacities for 2022. Eight potential additional stadiums have been identified in the region in the Fifa study. “Whilst a 10-stadium tournament could be considered in the event that up to six matches are played per day during the group stage and matches are held in the same venue on consecutive days, 12 stadiums would still be preferable,” the study says.
Since the vote in 2010, Fifa has already had to change the schedule, taking the 2022 tournament away from its usual June-July slot because of Qatar’s searing summer heat. But the Fifa study found that, despite adding 16 games, the enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window from November 21-December 18.
Fifa said there would be “no major concessions to the sporting quality of the tournament” with expansion. While there were a maximum of four matches per day in the closing stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Fifa said the 2022 tournament could feature six separate kickoff slots early in the tournament to cope with the additional teams.