Some teams at the Qatar World Cup in 2022 could be based in Iran, the head of the organizing committee told AFP on Monday, saying the idea was “part of the operational plan”.
The move would provide a major boost for Iran at a time when the US is trying to isolate the country internationally and it could also prove controversial in the Gulf.
Iran recently stepped forward to offer to help Qatar amid a blockade of the energy-rich emirate by its neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
“This is part of the operational plan, but obviously it will have to be done with FIFA,” chief organizer Hassan Al Thawadi told AFP when asked whether teams would be based in Iran.
“This is a discussion that will be decided on closer to the tournament,” added the secretary general of the organizing committee.
Qatar’s original pitch in the bid for the tournament included plans to use facilities elsewhere in the Gulf, but this has been thrown into question by recent events.
Since 2017, a Saudi Arabia-led initiative has seen a sweeping embargo imposed on Qatar, with its one-time allies accusing it of seeking closer ties with Iran and of supporting radical Islamist groups.
Qatar denies the charges, accusing its neighbours of seeking regime change.
Al Thawadi said he hoped Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt would lift a ban on their citizens visiting Qatar in time for the World Cup.
On November 21 it will be four years exactly until the start of the tournament.
“I hope the blockading nations can see the value of this major tournament and can allow for their people to benefit from this tournament,” he said.
Asked about whether Qatar was prepared to increase the number of teams at the Qatar World Cup to 48, as mooted by FIFA, Al Thawadi said he was still planning for the usual figure of 32.
“Our preparations right now are for 32 teams, the current format. All the preparations are ongoing based on that,” he said.
“There’s a feasibility study undertaken right now for a 48-team competition and then a decision will be taken both by FIFA and ourselves as a host nation,” he added.
Accommodating another 16 teams would vastly complicate Qatar’s task in preparing for the World Cup, which was awarded to the tiny desert state in 2010.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino last week all but wrote off the chances of a 48-team tournament in 2022, saying it would be “a difficult challenge”.