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Reports: 48-team 2022 World Cup decision in June

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If FIFA can find appropriate countries to help Qatar host the 2022 World Cup, we may very well have a 48-team tournament.

The 2022 edition has been under the microscope about as long as Qatar has held the rights to host it, with workers’ rights and slave labor joining a suspicious bidding process which ultimately helped usher former FIFA czar Sepp Blatter out of his seat of power.

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Ten venues across five countries have been mentioned as possible co-hosts, with Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait in the running to host select World Cup matches.

FIFA conditionally approved the expansion of the tournament on Friday, pending a “joint feasibility study” conducted by Qatar and FIFA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino infamously quipped that sharing the tournament could bring a measure of peace to the Middle East.

A 24-team 2021 Club World Cup was also approved, as the threat of big European teams boycotting the summer edition looms over Infantino’s plan to expand FIFA’s marquee club tournament.

FIFA: Nations must restore ties with Qatar to host World Cup games

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LONDON (AP) Persian Gulf countries would have to lift boycotts of Qatar before being eligible to join hosting of the World Cup, FIFA determined in a feasibility study recommending its ruling council endorse expansion of the 2022 tournament to 48 teams despite the logistical and political complexities.

The 81-page study seen by The Associated Press says Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore diplomatic and travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are the most viable options identified by FIFA to host games in ’22. Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.

The feasibility report was prepared for FIFA’s ruling council to consider ahead of a meeting in Miami on Friday, when the leadership will seek approval to press ahead with finalizing plans for adding another 16 teams.

Making the 2022 tournament the first 48-country World Cup, at this late stage, would require Qatar to accept giving up exclusivity on hosting the event more than eight years after its winning bid.

But to protect itself legally, FIFA says that any alteration to the tournament plans “shall be agreed together with Qatar as the appointed host nation, and any new proposals must be prepared jointly between FIFA and Qatar.”

With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums within a 30-mile radius in Qatar, FIFA said two to four additional venues are required in the region in “one or more” nation. The FIFA study identified stadiums in five countries, of which Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are currently unviable because they severed travel ties with Qatar in 2017 over accusations Doha supports extremism. Qatar denies the claims.

“Due to the geopolitical situation in the region and the recent blockade that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE have imposed on Qatar, the involvement of such countries in organizing a co-hosted tournament with Qatar would require the lifting of such blockade, in particular the lifting of all restrictions relating to the movement of people and goods between these countries,” the FIFA feasibility study said. “Ideally, this should be evidenced as a precondition to the appointment of such co-hosts and should cover all aspects related to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

Two other potential co-hosts – Kuwait and Oman – are more feasible because they are not part of the boycott. Qatar’s national football team used the countries as stopovers to get its team to the Asian Cup in the UAE in January because direct travel is prohibited.

“Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative,” the FIFA study adds. “Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country.”

A document sent to the FIFA Council says its members will be asked if they agree with the report’s conclusion that World Cup expansion is “feasible provided that neighboring countries host some matches.” FIFA emphasizes that would still keep Qatar as the main host.

The council will also be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using “one or more additional co-host countries” and that the congress of member associations has the final say on expansion in June.

That would come almost nine years after the vote that Qatar’s unexpected vote success. That bidding process has been subject to corruption investigations which questioned Qatar’s conduct in lobbying voters but concluded there was no misconduct. Qatar has also been forced to raise standards of working conditions and improve labor rights protections after significant outside scrutiny. Any additional host nation in 2022 would have to provide guarantees on human rights requirements, the FIFA study says.

The World Cup already has been shifted from its usual June-July slot because of Qatar’s searing summer heat, despite resistance from European leagues whose season will be disrupted.

Spreading hosting beyond Qatar would also change the nature of what has been promoted as a compact World Cup that doesn’t require fans to take flights between matches.

The FIFA study found that the enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window from Nov. 21-Dec. 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 in the earlier stage to cope with the additional teams.

The FIFA Congress has already agreed to expand to a 48-team tournament from the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. The same format is proposed, starting with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, followed by a round of 32. That would ensure a team could only play a maximum of seven matches at the tournament – like in the 32-team format.

The study also breaks down how FIFA can earn an additional $400 million by adding more games. FIFA said while it cannot rule out legal action from losing bidders by changing the format, the study said it “concluded that the risk was low.”

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Venues identified by FIFA for possible use in 48-team 2022 World Cup

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LONDON (AP) A look at the stadiums in five countries in the Persian Gulf that FIFA identifies as possible venues if the 2022 World Cup is expanded to 48 teams and additional venues outside Qatar are required. Capacities are according to FIFA.

BAHRAIN

Bahrain National Stadium, Riffa, 30,000

KUWAIT

Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium, Kuwait City, 60,000

Sabah Al-Salem Stadium, Kuwait City, 26,000

OMAN

Boshar-Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat, 34,000

SAUDI ARABIA

King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, 68,000

King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, Jeddah, 62,000

Prince Mohammed bin Fahad bin Abdul Aziz, Dammam, 26,000

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi, 43,000

Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, 42,000

Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain, 23,000

The stadiums are featured in a copy of a feasibility study into adding 16 teams obtained by The Associated Press ahead of it being discussed at a meeting of the FIFA Council on Friday.

Qatar is already planning to use eight stadiums, and the FIFA report says an additional two to four venues would be required in at least one country in a 48-team World Cup in 2022.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE severed economic, diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in 2017, preventing flights between the countries.

“It is important to stress that this list is based on a preliminary search only and is non-exhaustive,” the FIFA feasibility study states. “Moreover, the potential suitability of these and other stadiums could only be conclusively determined following a comprehensive inspection process, in which such stadiums were closely scrutinized against FIFA’s requirements for FIFA World Cup stadiums as well as assessed for their availability, construction plans, etc.

“In this respect, it is worth noting that any construction works which would be required would need to be completed prior to the tournament. For reference, FIFA generally requires that stadiums be completed 12 months prior to the tournament in order to ensure venue readiness and testing.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: FIFA documents support 48-team World Cup in 2022

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LONDON (AP) A FIFA feasibility study concluded the 2022 World Cup can expand to 48 teams by using at least one of Qatar’s neighbors as an additional host, and found there is a low legal risk to changing the format and an additional $400 million in revenue could be generated.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the 81-page report on Monday that 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. A final decision would come in June.

The study identified stadiums in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman , Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates 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, which prevents flights between the countries. The study says FIFA accepts that the ongoing political spat prevents their involvement in the tournament.

“As it currently stands, the nature of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s relations with Qatar is such that it would be challenging to organize a co-hosted tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries,” the feasibility study states.

“Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative,” the study adds. “Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country, including the main host, Qatar.”

With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums spread over a 30-mile 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, including on its human rights requirements.

“The involvement of additional neighboring 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. “Therefore, FIFA cannot conclusively stipulate which host countries would be part of a co-hosting arrangement with FIFA and Qatar at this moment.”

The study highlights that venues with at least 40,000 seats – for games up to the quarterfinals – were demanded of 2026 World Cup bidders but doesn’t come to a conclusion on minimum capacities for 2022. While eight potential additional stadiums are identified in the region in the FIFA study, only two in the UAE, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Kuwait meet the 2026 requirements.

“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 Nov. 21-Dec. 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.

“Implementing this format under the reduced tournament duration of 28 days would require some adjustments to aspects of the match schedule, such as the number of rest days for teams and venues,” the FIFA study states. “However, these adjustments are consistent with the principles observed at confederation competitions or in the top leagues around the world. Furthermore, based on its analysis, FIFA believes that the challenges can be sufficiently mitigated, including by increasing the number of venues and matches per day.”

The FIFA Congress has already agreed to expand to a 48-team tournament from the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. The same format is proposed, starting with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, followed by a round of 32. That would ensure, despite adding 16 matches overall, a team would only play a maximum of seven matches like in the 32-team format.

But changing the hosting guidelines would alter the decision of the FIFA executive committee in December 2010, when Qatar surprisingly won the right to stage the Middle East’s first World Cup by beating opposition from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

FIFA said while it cannot rule out legal action from losing bidders by changing the format, the study said it “concluded that the risk was low.”

“With regard to the previously administered bidding process, the process did not exclude joint bids and the possibility of co-hosting was an option for all bidders from the outset,” the study states. “Therefore, there is little risk arising from bidders (or even other member associations) claiming that they could have bid for the hosting rights had they known that FIFA would contemplate co-hosting scenarios.

“Moreover, based on FIFA’s analysis and previous legal analysis, there is little risk of claims by bidders due to the change in format.”

The study also breaks down how FIFA can earn an additional $400.1 million by adding more games.

It says $121.8 million could be generated from broadcasters, based on the unsold rights for the tournaments. It also forecasts an additional $158.4 million from sponsors, $89.9 million more from ticket sales, $20 million from hospitality packages and $10 million from licensing agreements.

FIFA wants its council to agree to the conclusion of the report that “expanding the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to 48 teams is feasible provided that neighboring countries host some games.”

FIFA and Qatar would then submit a final proposal to the FIFA Council and FIFA Congress in June to make a final decision on expansion, stressing that Qatar is the “main host country.”

In April, FIFA President Gianni Infantino first said he was keen on fast-tracking World Cup expansion for the 2022 showpiece. Infantino, who succeeded Sepp Blatter as president in 2016, has held talks in the region, including with the emir of Qatar , about using additional countries.

FIFA council to assess 2022 World Cup expansion study next week

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An agenda for FIFA’s ruling council says plans to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams will be assessed at next week’s meeting.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said fast-tracking the increase which was due to start at the 2026 tournament, would require using additional countries beyond Qatar.

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Qatar’s infrastructure is already stretched for the Middle East’s first World Cup, currently scheduled for 32 teams playing 64 games in 28 days.

To fit in 16 additional games, FIFA is looking at using Kuwait and Oman, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

FIFA council members are yet to be provided with the feasibility study on World Cup expansion that will be discussed on March 15 in Miami.

The council will also discuss Infantino’s desire to expand the Club World Cup and launch a Global Nations League, plans that have stalled amid European opposition.