FIFA has scrapped plans to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 countries and decide on Wednesday to stay with 32 countries due to the political and logistical complexity of using another Persian Gulf country.
The hope of FIFA President Gianni Infantino to expand the first Middle East World Championship in the region was hampered by the regional diplomatic crisis and the demands of the governing body on host countries to comply with human and labor rights requirements. That means that the World Cup will not be expanded until 2026, while FIFA has already approved a format with 48 teams for that tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
A FIFA council meeting in March allowed Infantino to work with Qatar to see if it was feasible to use at least one other country in the region to attend 16 additional matches and present a proposal at meetings in June.
"After a thorough and extensive consultation process involving all relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made," FIFA said in a statement on Wednesday. "Due to the advanced stage of preparation and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time is needed and a decision could not be taken before the June deadline. Therefore, it was decided not to proceed further with this option. "
An internal FIFA report had already concluded that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not join as a co-host unless they restore the economic and travel links with Qatar that were broken two years ago.
The regional diplomatic crisis has left neutral Kuwait and Oman as the enforceable options. Oman has said it does not like to organize games at the FIFA showpiece. Infantino visited Kuwait last month in an effort to convince them to organize competitions in 2022.
But FIFA has now come to the conclusion that it lacked the time to prepare a country for the extra games.
In Kuwait, the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium has 60,000 seats and the capacity at the Sabah Al-Salem Stadium is only 26,000. Both locations would require upgrades to be used during the World Cup, focusing on working conditions and labor rights.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote to human rights defenders last month to provide assurances that there would be an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion.
Qatar has an exception that allows foreigners to drink alcohol, but Kuwait has a complete ban that would be problematic for FIFA, which Budweiser has as a major sponsor.
FIFA has already had to adjust to be able to complete its flagship tournament to the Middle East for the first time.
While Qatar won a vote in 2010 based on organizing a world cup in June-July, FIFA moved the tournament to its usual end due to the intense summer heat until November 21-December 18, 2022.