FIFA president Gianni Infantino boosts hopes of UAE hosting World Cup 2022 matches

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has continued in Dubai to promote the possibility of the UAE hosting its first World Cup matches during 2022.

Infantino, 48, also called on the Arabian Gulf’s leaders to show “big wisdom and big heart”, so that a tense political dispute does not derail plans to make the Qatar tournament an inaugural 48-team competition.

The Swiss administrator’s desire for an expanded event in three years’ time has become a key part of his platform since succeeding controversial predecessor Sepp Blatter in February 2016. For this vision to become a reality, however, of expediting the unanimous agreement for 2026, a significant percentage of games would need to be held outside the geographically small host country’s borders.

Such a stance has been seriously complicated by a continued blockade of Qatar by several neighbours, that include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, since June 2017 because of its alleged support for terrorism. But speaking at the 13th Dubai International Sports Conference at Madinat Jumeirah on Wednesday, Infantino reiterated his calls for a “very beneficial” rethink.

He said: “The discussion is not anymore is it good or bad, but can we do it earlier, if we think it’s a good thing and have it for 2026 then why shouldn’t we try and have it four years before? That’s what we are analysing, whether it is possible to have 48 teams in 2022.

“It will take place in a neighbouring country in Qatar with 32 teams. Obviously, it will be quite a challenge to say it, being diplomatically correct, to have all 48 teams in Qatar.

“If we can increase it to 48 and make the world happy then we should try it and if we can maybe convince neighbouring countries in the Gulf region, very close by, to host maybe a few games, this could certainly be very beneficial for the region and the entire world I think.

“I know, of course I’ve read the news, there are some tensions in this particular region and that’s up to respective leaders to deal with them. But maybe, it’s easier to talk about a joint football project than to talk about more complicated things.

“If we can bring a positive message to the world about what football can do, then we should give it a try. If we don’t manage to make it happen, then we will have a great World Cup in Qatar with 32 teams – but 48 would be fantastic.

“It would take big wisdom and big heart of everyone in this region – it’s a unique chance for the whole world to discover this part of the world, the first World Cup in the Arab world.

“The Arab world is sometimes in headlines for the wrong reasons similar to [2018 hosts] Russia, but this is an opportunity for the world to see how welcoming this part of the world is and how great an experience it can be to celebrate football here.”

The UAE has extensive experience of staging premier football events. It will put on a second Asian Cup from January 5-February 1, plus the 2017 and 2018 Club World Cups – won by Real Madrid – were successfully held in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

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