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FIFA to continue exploring 48-team World Cup for 2022 - Infantino

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tells Gab Marcotti about his hopes that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups change negative perceptions of Russia and Qatar.

ROME -- FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday that his organisation would continue examining the possibility of expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, while conceding that it would be "very difficult" to organise such a tournament in Qatar alone.

Either way, he said, a decision must be made before June, because qualifying for the tournament begins shortly thereafter.

"We already made a decision to go to 48 for the 2026 World Cup, so why not try and see if it's possible for 2022?" Infantino said at a news conference in Rome. "We are waiting for a feasibility study, but I think it's objectively very difficult having a 48-team World Cup if we're only going to hold it in Qatar.

"It's a question of geography, it's a small country and you'd need to accommodate 16 more teams and their fans. And so we need to ask ourselves if it's possible to play some of the games in nearby countries as well."

The challenge with that solution, however, is that a number of Qatar's neighbours -- including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain -- have severed ties with the World Cup hosts after accusing it of, among other things, sponsoring terrorism. In addition, they have instituted a blockade, limiting Qatar's access to flight and naval routes.

"It's true, it's a complex situation geo-politically right now ... but if [United States President] Donald Trump can meet with [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un, then everything is possible!" Infantino added. "Maybe I'm being naive, but it's worth at least talking to each other to see if we can get it done. Qatar are open to the possibility... either way, we need to make a decision by June, because then qualifying starts and it's too late."

Infantino also defended his proposal for an expanded Club World Cup and a global version of the Nations' League, which thus far have been opposed by UEFA and a number of leading clubs.

"We will continue discussing it with everyone," he said. "It's not about UEFA, it's about 211 national associations. Of course, we will have differences of opinion. Maybe not everybody will agree, but we have to respect the democratic process."

"One thing that amuses me is that in any other business if someone comes and says 'I have a $25 billion deal' on the table, people would say, 'not bad,'" he added. "But in football, the reaction is 'there must be something fishy here.' That's just not true. It just shows how the corporate world is interested in football and FIFA now has a respectable, clean reputation and is investible.

"We're going to discuss this further... UEFA has expanded its competitions for 20 years and FIFA has not. Now it's time for FIFA to do it. We shouldn't be ashamed for generating revenue. We are the only ones who redistribute our revenue worldwide. Everybody else does it in their country or their region and rightly so, but we represent world football.

"If once every four years or whatever there is the opportunity to have a Club World Cup with players and teams from around the world and generate revenue and do it without affecting the match calendar... why would that be a bad thing in principle? Let's talk about it, at least."

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