FIFA is considering a joint Gulf World Cup in 2022 even as the persisting Gulf crisis factors in as potential inhibitor for any co-hosting dreams.
Rabat- FIFA has announced that it is considering Oman and Kuwait to host some of the games of the 2022 World Cup to be officially played in Qatar.
The news comes as the footballing world’s highest authority plans to deliver in June on whether to extend the number of World Cup participation from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2022.
FIFA had already reached a decision to extend the team count in 2026, but it is understood that FIFA president Gino Infantino is pushing for the extension to start as early as 2022.
Infantino is believed to favor extension earlier than planned because of the financial returns that such a move will yield for FIFA.
In public statements, however, the FIFA president is more eager to point out his desire to make the World Cup more inclusive. Extension, Infantino has maintained, will mean more teams from Africa and Asia, the two continents with the least representation in the event.
The New York Times reported yesterday that a feasibility study on the possibility of extension in 2022 is underway. FIFA is currently conducting a feasibility study to decide whether Qatar can host an extended version of the tournament on its own.
The Gulf crisis factor
FIFA is expected to deliver its final verdict in June. Meanwhile, there is fear, even clear evidence, that it would be difficult for Qatar to host the event alone should participation be increased.
While the tiny Gulf country’s financial and infrastructure clout is beyond doubt, there are doubts that it can have enough hotels and stadiums to host the 48 delegations as well as the spectacularly high number of fans that usually travel to watch some of the event’s most exciting matches.
A far greater fear, however, is the regional politics going on in the Gulf.
Since June 2017, the region has been embroiled in a tense geopolitical fight between Qatar and the Saudi-led block—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.
The four countries declared a land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar, accusing it of financing terrorist groups. Qatar has rejected the accusations.
While Kuwait and Oman have so far posed as neutral in the ongoing crisis, co-hosting the World Cup with Qatar may infuse already circulating suggestions that the two have been privately cozying up to Qatar.
Kuwait and Oman, Foreign Policy wrote in June 2018, “are stuck in [an] Arab no man’s land.”
The two countries’ dilemma, Foreign Policy suggested, is that they are economically less fortunate than their Gulf neighbors, and appearing to pick sides will ignite the ire of the offended side.
Qatar wants to be alone
A final obstacle to Infantino’s plea for a co-hosted 2022 World Cup is Qatar’s perceived obstinacy with single-handedly organizing the World Cup. Doha fought to secure the hosting and does not seem eager to share the returns of a fight it fought alone.
Although the Gulf state has not officially said so, Qatar relates to hosting the World Cup has as a big opportunity to make a resounding political statement.
Since the start of the spat, Doha has made numerous steps in a wide range of domains to show to its regional rivals that it can stand and thrive on the world stage despite their blockade. The country’s keenness to thrive in defiance of Riyadh and company has wakened suggestions that it may not welcome the prospect of co-hosting.
Whether or not Qatar will yield to an extension move from FIFA is however not decided yet. In response to reports that it may have a potential co-host, Doha has remained reserved.
In an official statement this week, Qatar said it will make a decision once the FIFA-led feasibility study reaches its conclusion.