FIFA has decided to stick with the 32-team format for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, holding off on its plans to expand the tournament to 48 teams.
The decision means that the first 48-team World Cup will take place in 2026, when the tournament is jointly hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
No Feasible Path to 48 Teams
Expansion of the World Cup is a popular decision within FIFA and for national federations, as it provides more opportunity for more nations to benefit from the massive revenues the tournament generates. But logistically, Qatar was simply unable to handle an expansion of the tournament with less than four years remaining before the event.
“In line with the conclusions of the feasibility study approved by the FIFA Council at its last meeting, FIFA and Qatar have jointly explored all possibilities to increase the number of participant teams from 32 to 48 teams by involving neighboring countries at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” FIFA said in a statement released Wednesday. “Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now.”
Qatari organizers released their own statement, saying that they were open to the idea “had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-yeam edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation.”
One hope was that Oman might be able to host some games in order to make the expanded tournament work. But the country said that it would not be able to prepare in time for the 2022 World Cup, ending that avenue for expansion.
Kuwait was also considered as a potential secondary host, but its stadiums would have required upgrades to be ready for a World Cup. The country also has a full ban on alcohol, unlike Qatar, which makes an exception for foreigners.
FIFA has also considered lowering some of its own logistical requirements in order to make a 48-team tournament work, but decided that it wouldn’t be able to determine whether that move would be feasible or prudent by the June 5 FIFA Congress.
2022 World Cup Already Controversial
The 2022 World Cup has already required compromise and generated controversy for FIFA. There has been significant criticism of Qatar due to concerns over the treatment of migrant workers hired to build facilities for the tournament, with Amnesty International accusing the country of using forced labor to build stadiums.
FIFA has also moved the tournament to November and December in order to avoid the extreme summer heat, despite the fact that Qatar won the 2010 vote on a proposal to hold the tournament in June and July, using advanced cooling technology to keep the stadiums comfortable for players and fans alike.
While the 2022 World Cup is still over three years away, betting is already underway on the tournament. At William Hill, France and Brazil are considered co-favorites at 11/2 odds, with Germany (13/2) and Spain (13/2) close behind. Argentina (11/1), Belgium (11/1), and England (11/1) are also considered strong contenders.