FIFA, the global football governing body, has abandoned plans to expand the Qatar 2022 World Cup in 48 countries, deciding to stay with 32 countries due to the political and logistical complexities of the use of another Gulf nation.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino's hopes of expanding the first Middle East World Cup in the region have been hampered by the regional diplomatic crisis and the body's demands on host nations to adhere to its human rights and labor needs.
This means that the World Cup will not be expanded until 2026, with FIFA having already approved a format with 48 teams for that tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
A meeting of the FIFA Council in March authorized Infantino to work with Qatar to see if it was possible to use at least one other country in the region to host an additional 16 games and present a proposal at the June meetings.
"Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process involving all stakeholders, it was concluded that, under the current circumstances, such a proposal could not be presented now," FIFA said Wednesday.
"Due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be needed and a decision could not be taken before the June deadline. Therefore, it was decided not to to pursue this option further. "
An internal FIFA report had already concluded the United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates), Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not join as cohorts unless they restored the economic and travel ties with Qatar that had been severed two years ago.
The regional diplomatic crisis has left neutral Kuwait – which acts as a mediator in the Gulf rift – and Oman as viable options.
Oman said he is not enthusiastic about hosting games at the FIFA showpiece. Infantino visited Kuwait last month in an attempt to convince him to host the matches in 2022.
But FIFA has now concluded that there was no time to prepare a country to host extra games.
In Kuwait, the international Jaber Al-Ahmad stadium has 60,000 seats and the capacity of the Sabah Al-Salem stadium is only 26,000. Both places would need updates to be used at the World Cup, putting working conditions and workers' rights in the spotlight.
Last month, FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura wrote to human rights activists to ensure that there would be "an assessment of the risks of human rights and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion".
Qatar has an exemption allowing foreigners to drink alcohol, but Kuwait has a complete ban that would have been problematic for FIFA, whose main sponsor is the Budweiser brewery.
FIFA has already had to adapt to face its champion tournament in the Middle East for the first time.
While Qatar won a vote in 2010 based on the staging of a World Cup from June to July, FIFA moved the tournament from its usual slot due to the fierce summer heat of November 21 to December 18, 2022.
& # 39; Pie in the sky & # 39;
James Dorsey, author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, said he was not surprised by Wednesday's FIFA decision.
"I think this was a foregone conclusion," he told Al Jazeera from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. "We had weeks where I essentially discussed hot air and something that, in my opinion, was completely illusory – in other words, Qatar was willing to do it.
"It certainly became clear after Kuwait and Oman said they would not be able to host FIFA in an enlarged World Cup, and the idea that Infantino was promoting an agreement to share the Cup of the World with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would put an end to the Gulf crisis was basically the cake in the sky ".
Dorsey said that if the Qatar boycott continued until the World Cup in 2022, the four blocking countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – would have "a really difficult problem".
"It is a crazy part of the football world, this is the first time that a major sporting event is held in the Middle East, and in fact in their backyard," he said.
"Fans are not allowed to travel to Qatar under the boycott, and even if they are allowed that the logistics to get to Qatar would be very difficult, given the cut in air traffic and the closure of the Saudi-Qatari border," he added.
"So in the end, it was possible to see the boycott states put in a position where they should have violated their own boycott."
Al Jazeera and news agencies