Four Years Out, There’s Still So Much We Don’t Know About The 2022 World Cup

FIFA is still trying to change the 2022 World Cup, from the number of teams to who hosts.

Today, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, marks four years to the day until the scheduled start of the 2022 World Cup. Aside from that little fact, there’s still so much we don’t know about the world’s premier sporting event.

FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar ahead of the U.S. back in 2010. What followed was nothing short of a shit show, starting with the corruption scandal that took down many FIFA officials and still leaves a stain on an organization that has been unconvincing in its claims to have cleaned up.

While it seems pretty evident now that Qatar cheated to earn hosting rights — so much so the process was changed, which allowed the U.S. (with Canada and Mexico) to win the 2026 rights — FIFA has refused to strip the country of the World Cup. Nor have countless human-rights violations been enough for FIFA to reconsider who hosts its premier event. (In fact, FIFA has tried to claim, again unconvincingly, that the World Cup is helping Qatar clean up its human rights violations, never mind the countless lives that have been lost building World Cup stadiums.) 

FIFA has bent over backwards to make a World Cup in an arid, hot climate workable, starting with moving the tournament to the winter for the first time in its nearly 100-year history. 

But with four years until the tournament begins, FIFA is still trying to change just about everything to do with the tournament, from how many teams are allowed in to additional hosts. 

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In an interview with Gianni Infantino published by The Guardian on Wednesday, the FIFA president again said he wants 48 teams at the 2022 World Cup instead of the planned 32. And to accommodate the additional nations, he said Qatar should co-host with neighboring countries.

While increasing the World Cup to 48 teams is inevitable (the 2026 World Cup will have 48 teams), it’s debatable if it’s preferable. With 32 teams, the World Cup has an even, fair format that’s easy to understand. With 48, you end up forced into using a format that is either confusing, unfair, too long or a combination of the three. 

Plus, with 16 additional teams, qualifying formats will need to change. Qualifying starts soon, so you’d think a decision would need to be made soon, but this is FIFA so who really knows. (It should be noted, the primary reason FIFA wants to expand to 48 teams is to make more money.)

Of course, Qatar bid for a 32-team World Cup, promising to build eight stadiums to host such a tournament. The country of less than three million doesn’t have the facilities to host 48 teams — it’s already spending an estimated $200 billion on infrastructure.

So Infantino suggested Qatar share hosting duties with nearby countries. But the neighboring nations of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt recently enacted an economic blockade against Qatar. And Saudi Arabia has its own human-rights issues having brutally murdered a Washington Post journalist last month, although Russia murders plenty of journalists and dissidents and FIFA didn’t have any problem with it hosting in 2018. 

Not surprisingly, Jared Kushner hasn’t brokered peace in the Middle East as Donald Trump stated he could, but Infantino thinks the World Cup could do the trick.

“Maybe football is a way to build bridges,” Infantino told The Guardian. “We have seen as well with the bidding for 2026, the right to organize the World Cup was awarded to three countries, which I think also don’t have the very best political or diplomatic relationships. But football makes miracles, as we know.

“Obviously the relationship with (Qatar’s) neighboring countries is a factor which is complicating the situation; on the other (hand), even though there are complicated or difficult diplomatic relations, when it comes to football people talk to each other.”

Infantino is either drunk on Qatari money or incredibly naïve if he thinks these countries will set aside their differences just to host a soccer tournament. 

Infantino did admit the chances of expanding to 48 teams and having co-hosts is “small,” but the fact he as FIFA president is still pushing hard for this to happen is proof that the status of the 2022 World Cup is still anything but set in stone. Who knows, in four years Infantino could follow many of his fellow former FIFA officials to jail and the new leaders of FIFA decide to make football really come home and let England host. 

FIFA is in a precarious position right now. While the World Cup remains the most popular sporting event on the planet, club soccer is becoming more and more powerful, to the point where some clubs might consider breaking away from FIFA to create their own super leagues that ignore FIFA mandates. 

The 2022 World Cup is exactly four years away, probably. Other than that, who knows what the tournament will look like in 2022.

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