Sat, 06 Jun 2020

FIFA president borrows page from Blatter book

15 Apr 2019, 23:42 GMT+10

Cape Town - He vowed when he was elected president of FIFA in 2017 to introduce transparency and eradicate ingrained graft from the affairs of world soccer's controlling body.

But, lo and behold, it has not taken Swiss-Italian Gianni Infantino long to borrow a page from the controversial, egoistical tenure of predecessor Sepp Blatter by attempting to transform at this comparatively late stage the 2022 World Cup tournament from a 32-nation event in Qatar to an inflated one with 48 teams, with either football minnows Kuwait or Oman - or both - acting as possible co-hosts.

In the first instance, Qatar, whose choice as World Cup hosts raised eyebrows around the world, in any case, over whether they were the most viable or deserving choice, have pointed out that while for the past six years they have planned valiantly and enthusiastically for a 32-team tournament, including the erection of five new stadiums, it would now be virtually impossible to change direction and cater for an event with 48 nations.

What is more, unlikely World Cup hosts Oman and Kuwait have also come out openly and proclaimed they were currently in no way equipped to stage World Cup matches in 2022 and cater for the hundreds of thousands of fans who are expected in the Middle East to attend world sports' most followed extravaganza.

Yosuf bin Alawi, the Oman Foreign Minister, and Shaikh Ahmad Yussef, head of the Kuwait Football Association, have declared as much - while other neighbouring countries to Qatar, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who on the surface might seem better suited for what has been termed " Infantino's infamy", irrevocably disqualify themselves because of their simmering political hostility with the 2022 host nation.

So what drives Infantino on with his unrealistic project, remembering, of course, that he has already persuaded FIFA to switch the World Cup from 32 teams to an increased 48 in 2026 when the World Cup will be staged jointly by the United States, Mexico and Canada - a change many still view with misgivings, but at least one in which the three host nations are well-equipped for the task at hand and with sufficient time to implement the various aspects associated with the change?

To answer this one can only return to the question of ego that would have made the canny Blatter proud with its apparent elements of intrigue and desire, not only by being remembered as the instigator of turning the World Cup into a 48-team tournament, but also to ensure his re-election as FIFA president at the world body's congress in Paris in June.

Not surprisingly, many of FIFA's 2011 member nations have been easily seduced by the prospect of extending the World Cup to 48 teams and thereby presenting them with a much better chance of making it to the Finals.

But former Bafana Bafana star Mark Fish has articulated the issue well while basing his support for a 32-team World Cup to pointing out that the event is meant to represent the cream of world soccer with only countries who are well-equipped to qualifying and every game being closely-contested instead of team's performances and presence amounting to something of an embarrassment.

Notwithstanding this, an unshakeable Infantino intends presenting his ill-conceived plan for the 2022 World Cup for discussion at the FIFA Congress in Paris where it is to be hoped reason will prevail over selfish interest - and the prospect of a chaotic Middle East World Cup calamity will be avoided.

The answer to the question as to whether 32 or 48 teams are more suited to the World Cup might then be better revealed in America in 2026.

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