Qatar World Cup. Wednesday’s decision to remain at 32 nations comes as a result of the political climate and complexities of adding another Persian Gulf nation.
Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, had hopes of expansion leading into the first World Cup in the Middle East were hindered by the fact that FIFA demands participating nations adhere to labour and human rights. The added political uncertainty led FIFA to postpone expansion until the 2026 World Cup, which currently is approved for 48 teams.
The FIFA Council met in March and gave authorization for Infantino to see and speak with Qatar if it was viable to add one more country from the region in order to accommodate sixteen more matches. Commenting on the decision, the FIFA released a statement that read,
“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. Due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June. It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option.”
An internal report from FIFA showed the council had determined that Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain could not, until such time that travel and economic ties are restored, jointly host the tournament with Qatar. The current diplomacy crisis in the Middle East meant that Oman and Kuwait, who both are neutral, were viable options. However, Omen has stated it is not interested in hosting any games, and a recent visit by Infantino to Kuwait failed to result in their agreeing to host any matches in 2022. That led to FIFA determining there was not enough time remaining to allow another country time in the region to prepare for the hosting on any extra games.
While Kuwait’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium can hold 60,000, its Sabah Al-Salem Stadium only seats 26,000, and both would need to be upgraded in order to facilitate a World Cup event. That put the focus on labour rights and general working conditions, which led to Secretary General Fatma Samoura writing a letter to human rights activists in April stating FIFA’s commitment to undertake “an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion.”
One foreseeable problem with hosting matches in Kuwait is its complete ban on alcohol. As one of FIFA’s main sponsors being Budweiser, that would be a problem. FIFA already has had issues dealing with the tournament being held in the Middle East, and that may have been one they were not willing to deal with.