Infantino pushes expanded Qatar World Cup as engine of reconciliation in the Gulf

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has reiterated his view that the Qatar 2022 World Cup could feature 48 teams and play matches across the Gulf to accommodate the expanded tournament.

Speaking at the 13th Dubai International Sports Conference today, Infantino said: “If we can convince neighbouring countries to host a few games it could be beneficial for the region and for the world.”

His statement comes against the backdrop of continuing tension in the Gulf. Diplomatic relationships between Qatar and its neighbours were severed last year: embassies and borders were closed and the stand-off continues. But Infantino believes that the World Cup could prove to be a boon to peace-building efforts.

“I know there are tensions and it is up to the leaders [of the Gulf nations] to deal with them. But maybe it is easier to talk about a joint football project than some other things,” he said.

There is widespread scepticism that either Qatar or its neighbours would respond to Infantino’s exhortation. But the Fifa president, buoyed by what he sees as the success of Russia 2018 in changing international views of the host country, clearly sees football’s flagship completion as a potential lever in any reconciliation process.

“If it can bring a positive message to the world we should give it a try. If that doesn’t work, we will have a great World Cup in Qatar with 32 teams,” he said.

In addition to Infantino, the Dubai International Sports Conference has attracted a plethora of big names from the world of football, including: Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore; Didier Deschamps, coach of World Cup winners France; Fifa deputy secretary general Zvonimir Boban; ex-England coach Fabio Capello; Juventus chief football officer Fabio Paratici; Brazilian legends Ronaldinho and Ronaldo; World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi; and former referee Pierluigi Collina.

The conference serves as an appetiser ahead of tomorrow’s star-studded Globe Soccer Awards, where Cristiano Ronaldo will be hoping to collect his fifth Best Player Award.