By Samindra Kunti in Moscow

July 16 – Qatar’s Deputy Secretary-General for Tournament Affairs Nasser Al Khater has repeated FIFA stance’s that the 2022 World Cup hosts will have the final decision-making power over the number of participants in four years time. 

As of Sunday, 8pm, when France were crowned world champions after a 4-2 win over Croatia, Qatar, who were awarded the World Cup in 2010, are the next hosts in line to host the biggest sporting in the world. With under four years left to kick-off, the tournament has been switched to winter time, but confusion remains over the format that will apply. At a news conference last week FIFA chief Gianni Infantino kept the door open for an expanded 48-team World Cup as early as the Qatar edition of the tournament. 

“It doesn’t worry me,” said Nasser Al Khater. “It is just that, obviously, there is a feasibility study that is going to be done; there is a process of consultation. We are very glad that FIFA said that the final decision stays with Qatar. So, we are open, we don’t want to take any decisions right now. We do understand what the format of a 48-team World Cup looks like or what it could look like – until that happens we are just waiting until we get that feasibility study and that consultation process. We are not taking any decision. We need to wait and see.” 

Last month Infantino stated that Qatar’s agreement is a ‘precondition’ to alter the number of participants at the next World Cup and what was becoming a thorny issue was removed from the agenda of the FIFA congress. However, in the next few months the issue will be revisited in order to take a decision before World Cup qualifying starts again in 2019. 

“FIFA has had a proposal put forward which they needed to put on the agenda – they have discussed it, we were involved in that discussion,” said Al Khater. “FIFA has to decide on this consultation process and feasibility. Let’s and wait and see.”

The Qatar official however was keen to stress that “whatever we feel right for Qatar, we will do.” The Qatari delegation had 120 people on the ground during the Russia World Cup to observe and learn from the local organisers. The South American fans caught the eye as they travelled across Russia in huge numbers to support their teams, giving the World Cup a distinct Latin flavour 

“One thing that we saw is that South American fans are very passionate about their teams and about the World Cup,” highlighted Al Khater. “I am pretty confident that we will see a lot more European and Asians fans in Qatar. We see that year on year the fans from India and China are increasing. By 2022, we will have a larger fan base from both countries.”

The Qataris have based their calculations on the influx of more than one million visitors and are confident they will be prepared to deal with the huge number of foreign visitors. More than 700,000 foreigners visited Russia and while major hubs Moscow and St Petersburg had little problem absorbing all the fans, smaller host cities struggled. 

“We have done our estimates for over one million plus visitors,” explained Al Khater. “We have taken a look at the accommodation that is available and what is being planned in Qatar. We don’t want to build anything that is unsustainable. We are depending on the trajectory of the economy and what people feel they need for the tourism industry. We believe that the accommodation inventory that we will have by 2022 will be sufficient.”

“We are looking at hotels from different classes, we are looking at the inventory of different apartments that are available in Qatar that people rent on a short-term basis,” detailed Al Khater. “We are looking at temporary solutions such as the floating hotels, the cruise ships – and we are looking at our different and varied fan villages – from ‘glamping’ level to pitch your own tent in the desert under the desert sky – a lot of fans will want that: it fits within their budget and it’s an experience for them. We are confident that we have the adequate accommodation.”

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Paul Nicholson