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Conmebol urge Infantino to open World Cup door to 48 teams as soon as 2022

CONMEBOL chief Dominguez with FIFA president Gianni Infantino. (Photo by Getty Images)
by Keir Radnedge, AIPS Football Commission Chairman

London, April 13, 2018 - FIFA has been urged to rush forward its expansion of the World Cup in one of the more bizarre weeks in even the world football federation’s modern era.

A plea for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to comprise 48 teams rather than 32 was delivered to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the annual congress of the scandal-scarred South American governing body CONMEBOL in Buenos Aires.

Thus far FIFA had envisaged staging the first expanded finals in 2026 in either Morocco or the United States supported by Canada and Mexico. A decision on where those finals will be hosted is scheduled to be taken by FIFA Congress in Moscow on June 13, the eve of this year’s tournament in Russia.

However Infantino and his council will need to take seriously a petition handed to him by CONMEBOL’s Paraguayan president Alejandro Domínguez and signed by the body’s 10 member associations. CONMEBOL would want seven of its nations to appear in those finals, a percentage far above that of any other confederation.

Dominguez, who took over the CONMEBOL leadership in January 2026 from the corruption-riddled previous regime, hinted that the request came as no surprise to Infantino when he said: “"I want to thank president Infantino, because he opened the doors of FIFA for a proposal on behalf of the CONMEBOL member associations whose qualifying system is the most challenging of all.

“This is also the only continental association with professional football in all its countries and, because we believe in justice, I am giving you a letter in which we propose that the Qatar World Cup should be played with 48 teams.”

Listening among the congress audience was Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, the president of the Qatar federation which will play host to the most controversial of World Cups in a first-ever winter date in November and December 2022.

Qatar is currently under heavy political pressure from an antagonistic neighbouring coalition led by Saudi Arabia which has already demanded that the Qataris be stripped of the World Cup. The tiny Gulf state will be pressed to respond to questions about its potential to adjust preparations in only four years.

Infantino responded encouragingly, saying: “This seems to me a very interesting idea. Of course we have to study the feasibility of this proposal. If it’s possible, if it is feasible, if the others agree too - because it is not a decision that only the president of FIFA or CONMEBOL can make – we have to study it seriously and if it is possible, why not?”

Bringing forward World Cup expansion would enable FIFA to generate more revenue to bolster its development coffers after a decade in which its credibility with sponsors has been battered by a series of corruption scandals.

Also present at CONMEBOL Congress was also Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European federation UEFA whose members are growing increasingly concerned about FIFA’s direction under Infantino. Ironically Infantino was UEFA’s general secretary before being elected in 2016 as FIFA president, a role to which he is expected to seek re-election next year.

Last month Infantino upset European members of the FIFA Council twice over. First they rebuffed his attempt to reorganise the world federation’s youth and women’s tournaments and then they spurned his revelation of a mystery $25bn offer for FIFA to hand over all rights to two non-existent tournaments – a four-yearly Club World Cup and a global nation league.

The $25bn offer was also firmly rejected when Infantino raised it at a meeting of the European Club Association, determined to protect UEFA’s highly lucrative Champions League.

It has emerged this week that business interests from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and United States are behind the offer with the support of a number of established international financial institutions.

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