Fifa has announced the dates for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, officially confirming the tournament to be held outside of summer for the first time.
Qatar 2022 will start on 21st November with the final on 18th December, causing serious disruption to the domestic soccer calendar in Europe where the game is predominantly a winter sport.
The move is necessitated by intense summer heat in Qatar, where the temperature can reach 40C.
The 2022 World Cup is set be the last involving 32 teams, before the competition is expanded to 48 entrants in 2026 – when it will be held in the US, Mexico and Canada.
However, the Qatari organisers are still open to talks about a 48-team tournament, and can see a format to host it alone.
Gianni Infantino, president of soccer’s global governing body, wishes to add 16 extra teams to the tournament and was seen as pushing Qatar toward letting other states into a co-hosting plan at a time when some Persian Gulf neighbours enforced a hostile, year-long boycott of the tiny emirate.
In Moscow last month, pressure on Qatar was eased when the Infantino-chaired Fifa Council agreed that the host nation’s consent was a “precondition” for change.
A senior Qatari official told the Associated Press last week that a 48-team tournament could be staged using only the eight stadiums in and around Doha.
“Yes, it’s doable, we just need to figure out how it is done,” said Nasser Al Khater, the assistant secretary general for Qatar 2022 organisers Tournament Affairs. “If the format is done right, it could actually be an edition that is exciting.”
Although Qatar is willing to negotiate, the veto power it apparently gained is key to any progress on the tournament expansion.
“If we feel that it’s not in favour of us or of football, we won’t go for it,” Al Khater said at the opening of a Qatari hospitality house in Moscow’s Gorky Park. “If the format of a 48-team World Cup is an exciting format, and it doesn’t follow the traditional type of format, yeah, why not? It might add an exciting new element.”