Europe's top leagues are set to oppose Gianni Infantino, in his bid to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. According to ESPN, European Leagues Group CEO, Lars-Christer Olsson was quite outspoken on the matter, stating:
"We are not prepared to make any changes on the calendar for expanding the 2022 World Cup."
Following on from the success of a European Championship expansion, Infantino [FIFA President] is actively looking at a similar process with the World Cup. Plans are already in place for a 2026 expansion, with FIFA recently announcing they are now targeting the earlier 2022 World Cup. It seems any such plans will face serious competition from Europe’s top leagues though, who are already unhappy about the tournament in Qatar.
While an overall idea of increasing the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is a positive one, European league officials have taken a stance against it, at an already troublesome 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Qatar was first awarded the World Cup in 2010, despite being deemed a high operational risk. Since then, the tournament has never been far from controversy, whether it’s allegations of unsafe building practices or links to the FIFA bribery scandals.
Qatar is already by far the smallest nation to ever host a World Cup, less than a third of the size of the next smallest host Switzerland. There are serious concerns over whether Qatar will be able to accommodate the huge footfall from a World Cup, even before the possible addition of 12 extra teams.
Most significantly though, was a compromise that had to be reached on the scheduling of the tournament. Despite claiming throughout the bidding process, that the country could uphold the usual summer dates, this proved not to be the case. As feared, temperatures well exceeded safe standards for the sport and nearly five years after the successful bid, the fixtures were moved, creating the first winter World Cup.
The tournament is now taking place between November 21st and December 18th, coming right in the middle of the domestic league campaign. With many nations already very unhappy, but complicit with the tournament, any suggestion of an expansion appears to be the final straw.
Speaking on Monday, Olsson didn't mince words, adding: "We have already been flexible to allow the World Cup to be played in the [Qatari] winter and have agreed the dates, we are not prepared for the duration of the World Cup to be any longer."
The expansion would add 16 games to the busy tournament, likely resulting in an extra four days of play. This would cost European leagues at least one more weekend of domestic football, that would need to be re-accommodated in what already looks to be a chaotic season.
Olsson continued: "FIFA seems to be on an expansion drive - It's time people thought about the players -- they need time to rest. It cannot just be money deciding how football should be organized."
Despite the fierce opposition to the idea, Infantino looks set to press ahead, ordering a feasibility study to look into the matter ahead of the Russia 2018 tournament. With so much already surrounding the Qatar World Cup, it promises to go down in history, whether that will be for the right or wrong reasons, remains to be seen.