Qatari organisers of the 2022 World Cup have denied holding talks to bring in neighbouring countries to host matches, despite attempts from FIFA to expand the tournament to 48 teams.
With just four years to go until the start of the World Cup in Qatar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino is hoping to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams.
This would likely require some matches to be held in neighbouring countries, which Infantino believes could help to improve relations between countries in the Middle East.
However, the tensions between Qatar and its neighbours make this expansion an unpopular prospect in the country. Since June 2017 Qatar has been blockaded and politically isolated by nearby countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
While the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organising body of the tournament in Qatar, has agreed to a feasibility study into the expansion, its deputy leader has denied any suggestion of sharing matches with other countries.
The Supreme Committee confirmed that it was still preparing for the 32-team format, with all matches being held across eight stadiums in Qatar.
Nevertheless the Secretary General, Hassan Al Thawadi, emphasised the regional nature of the tournament.
“From day one, our goal and our aim was that this is not a Qatari bid,” he explained. “This was an Arab, Middle Eastern bid – first and foremost.”
He added: “Nothing brings people together – and breaks down social barriers – like sport.”
Regardless of the impact on relations within the Middle East, the tournament is likely to have a significant impact on Qatar’s image worldwide.
Al Thawadi is optimistic that hosting the tournament will boost foreign perceptions of both the country and the region.
“In 2022, fans from across the world will visit Qatar, with the vast majority visiting an Arab and Middle Eastern country for the first time,” he said.
“Like we saw this summer in Russia, I’m confident that through football, people will see our country and the region in a positive light. Negative stereotypes will be dispelled.”
If FIFA’s plans to expand the 2022 World Cup are agreed, the number of games in the tournament will rise from 64 to 80. Qatar would not be able to host all of these in the eight stadiums currently being prepared for the World Cup, making a jointly-hosted tournament more likely.