The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is set to remain a 32-team event despite a feasibility study conducted by the FIFA to ascertain whether the event can be expanded to include 48 teams.
Despite the initial phase of the feasibility study concluding in favour of the expansion, it did state that the event cannot be expanded with just Qatar as hosts, given the various infrastructural and logistical requirements stipulated by FIFA.
However, finding a co-host in a short period of time from the middle-east region was always tough and so it proved as FIFA, after consulting with Qatar, decided not to pursue with the plan.
"Following the conclusion of the joint feasibility study, Qatar and FIFA have reached the decision that the World Cup Qatar 2022 will remain as a 32-team tournament," said Qatar in an official statement after the news came out.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino's decision to consider expanding the tournament was based on the fact that more countries will get a chance to play in the game's showpiece event. He always touched on taking the game global and using the sport to bridge gaps in the society at large. And this was another step in that process.
"The World Cup will take place in Qatar with 32 teams. Obviously, if we can increase it to 48 teams and make the world happy we should try it," Infantino had said earlier this year.
"If we can accommodate some of the neighbouring countries in the gulf region which are very close by to host a few games in the World Cup this could be very beneficial for the region and the entire world.
"There are tensions in this particular region and it's up to their respective leaders to deal with that but maybe it's easier to talk about a joint football project than more complicated things.
"If it can help all the people in the Gulf and all the countries in the world develop football and bring a positive message to the world about football, then you should give it a try."
But, the fact was that there were less than four years to go for the event when FIFA did receive the proposal to study the feasibility for the same, back in April 2018.
Given the kind of investment and effort Qatar had put in developing world class infrastructure and gamechanging reforms, it was always hard to find a country which could replicate or mirror those values. Realistically, only Kuwait and Oman stood a chance of co-hosting, given Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE had imposed an economic blockade on Qatar. And the facilities in those two countries had a long way from matching up to Qatar.
To their credit, Qatar were never averse to the idea of an expanded tournament, despite the fact that they would have had to share the global spotlight. Though, they were to be the only hosts when the rights were awarded in 2010, the middle-east nation were open to the idea of a potential co-host eight years after that development.
"Qatar had always been open to the idea of an expanded tournament in 2022 had a viable operating model been found and had all parties concluded that an expanded 48-team edition was in the best interest of football and Qatar as the host nation. A joint analysis, in this respect, concluded that due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on Qatar, 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," the statement read.
In fact, Qatar have been building up for the event ever since they won the bid 2010 and have designed venues that feature cutting edge innovations like the cooling technology and more.
And Qatar, facing criticism from several quarters regarding its policies towards labourers employed in World Cup work, have even introduced reforms that have been of pioneering nature. The criticism melted away after the country received backing from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Trade Union Confederation(ITUC) and the Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch for the same in 2017.
When FIFA said after the initial feasibility report that it will work with Qatar to find a suitable partner to host the tournament, Chairman of the 2022 World Cup Hassan Al Thawadi had insisted that they would accept only a co-host which would maintain or match up to the standards Qatar had set. He had also indirectly hinted that it was unlikely that the tournament would be expanded.
"And accordingly we look, if, and again, it is a very big if, a possibility of co-host nation comes out, one of the conditions will be no doubt, not only in its technical ability to be able to deliver the World Cup but more importantly, in understanding, realizing and extracting the values that this tournament has. And that is a fundamental condition as well," he had stated.
As a result, it was not surprising that FIFA came to a realisation even before its Paris Congress next month that no other country would be able to 'Deliver Amazing' within this timeline.