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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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More is not merrier

Some national football associations as well as football officials will no doubt be disappointed at FIFA’s decision not to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, up from 32, but there are many others who should welcome it.

Though the FIFA Congress had decided that the expansion would come into effect only from the 2026 World Cup, there was a change in thinking in some quarters within the higher echelons of the sport’s world governing body, urged on by at least one of the powerful regional confederations. Consequently, FIFA toyed with the notion of bringing forward the expansion to the 2022 tournament in Qatar. But a few days before the June Congress in Paris, FIFA said that after a “thorough and comprehensive consultation process” the change “could not be made now”.

That conclusion should come as a major relief. The change would have required Qatar to share hosting duties with other countries in the region. However, at this stage, Qatar cannot co-host with other countries in the region which are at odds with Doha on various regional policies.

And lest it be forgotten, staging the 2002 World Cup in which South Korea and Japan co-hosted was a logistical nightmare.

FIFA also said it explored the possibility of Qatar, the first ever Middle East nation to stage the event, hosting a 48-team tournament on its own, but decided not to pursue those plans as there was not enough time for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact. Due to the advanced stage of preparations, more time would have been required.

One thinking behind FIFA’s decision to expand the tournament that that football is no longer only about Europe and South America, arguably the two most dominant footballing continents. There are at least some African and Asian countries that are better than, or at least on a par, with what the two big continents can offer.

The World Cup has seen successive expansions. The inaugural edition, held in 1930, was contested by only 13 teams. In the World Cups between 1934 and 1978, 16 teams competed in each tournament while it was expanded to 24 teams in 1982 and then to 32 in 1998.

Those who are opposed to any further expansion point out that over the years there has been a dilution in the quality of football and that the World Cup has become less exciting.
Indeed, the more is certainly not merrier!