“I am not that naive to overlook the political situation as well in the region,” said Fifa president Gianni Infantino about the situation in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup, while adding that “football can work miracles sometimes”. Photo: Murad Sezer/Reuters

ISTANBUL – Fifa President Gianni Infantino said on Friday he was “optimistic” about organising the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with 48 teams instead of 32, but warned that it would be “not easy”.

“I’m optimistic, but is it easy? No, it’s not easy, I have to be honest,” said the boss of the International Football Federation at a press conference in Istanbul after a three-day executive summit.

Fifa have decided to increase the number of teams that will participate in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48, but the Italian-Swiss president of the world football governing body is campaigning to implement this reform as early as 2022.

Fifa are due to announce their decision in mid-March at a meeting in Miami. 

Qatar, who said they are preparing for a 32-team competition, said it would have a say before deciding to move to an expanded tournament that would lead to logistical and political complications. 

While Infantino has raised the possibility of organising meetings in neighbouring countries, a serious diplomatic crisis pits Qatar against their neighbours, including Saudi Arabia – which since 2017 has imposed an economic blockade to the gas-rich state.

“I am not that naive to overlook the political situation as well in the region,” said Infantino, while adding that “football can work miracles sometimes”.

Taking the example of the 2026 World Cup that will be organised by Canada, Mexico and the United States, Infantino said that “there are a lot of debates about a wall being built” between the United States and Mexico, but “these two countries will organise a competition together, so they will have to work together”.

AFP