Expanding 2022 World Cup up to Qatar
Although several Gulf countries are interested in hosting games during the 2022 World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Friday that the decision on expanding the tournament beyond Qatar must come from the desert nation.
Blatter, who met with soccer officials in Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait as well as Qatar during a tour of the region this week, said "the item was on the agenda" when he met with Qatari officials but refused to say whether they support it.
"I can say all these countries are very happy first of all the World Cup is going to the Middle East … and they are interested, I would say a little bit more than interested, to be part of this competition," Blatter said. "It is a wish.
"It is easy to say. But it is not so easy to realize."
Blatter did not elaborate on which countries would want to host the games nor how many games could be hosted by Qatar's neighbors. He reiterated that such a decision would first have to come from Qatar and then be considered by FIFA's 24-member executive committee.
"This demand has to come from the Qatar football organization by saying we would like to have such and such things and this has to go back to FIFA and the FIFA executive committee has to say open it or don't open it," Blatter said. "For the time being, it's too early."
A spokesman for Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid could not be reached for comment.
Since winning the bid on Dec. 2, Qatar has not commented on whether it would be open to having games hosted in neighboring countries.
In an interview with sports daily L'Equipe earlier this month, Blatter said Australia's 2022 World Cup bid proposed some matches could be held in New Zealand, and Qatar could likewise have neighboring countries host games.
In its bid proposal, Qatar played up the fact that it could host "a compact" World Cup where all the matches would be within an hour of one another. It has never suggested that games could be held in other countries, rather that future transport links would make it easy for fans coming from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates or even Saudi Arabia to reach matches in the country.
Even with Blatter's endorsement, a Gulf World Cup may face hurdles due to the traditional rivalries that had stymied cooperation among the six Gulf Arab countries in the past, especially on the economic front.
They are all part of the Gulf Cooperation Council but the UAE and Oman have both said they will not join the other four Gulf Arab nations in plans to set up a unified currency, a key step to bringing the economies of the oil-rich region closer.
Meanwhile, Blatter downplayed concerns over Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup. He joked that "Plan B" and "C" also was for Brazil to host the tournament and that similar concerns came up ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"We trust Brazil will do it. They will do it," Blatter said. "You cannot imagine this continent of football will not do all the efforts to be ready and be ready at the best level. I can't imagine that."
Last month, Brazilian Sports Minister Orlando Silva warned that local officials must speed up work to upgrade the nation's airports to avoid an "embarrassment" during the World Cup.
He also criticized FIFA for imposing "European standards" for the construction and the upgrade of stadiums for the World Cup. He specifically complained of the FIFA veto to Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo, which has forced the city to build another venue to try to host the competition's opening match.