Qatar says transport plans on track for 32-team World Cup

Qatar's transport and communication minister Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti said that the gas-rich emirate would meet its deadline even if a painful blockade by its Gulf neighbours continues indefinitely.

There has been no commitment on whether the 2022 World Cup would be a 48-team competition. (REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE)   -  GETTY IMAGES

The transportation infrastructure needed for a 32-team World Cup in 2022 will be ready two years before kick-off, a senior Qatari official said on Friday, while making no commitments regarding a 48-team tournament.

Qatar's transport and communication minister Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti told AFP that the gas-rich emirate would meet its deadline even if a painful blockade by its Gulf neighbours continues indefinitely.

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“We would be faster without the blockade,” but even if it stays in place “everything will be ready two years before the event,” Al-Sulaiti said in Geneva.

FIFA has already confirmed plans to expand the World Cup to 48-teams for 2026, but the head of world football's governing body Gianni Infantino has raised the prospect of moving the enlargement forward.

Asked if, from a transport perspective, Qatar could handle a larger tournament, Al-Sulaiti said his government “needs more consultation, with all the stakeholders.”

FIFA is carrying out a study into increasing the number of teams in 2022 and will announce a final decision in March.

Qatar has said that it will have to agree before a final decision is reached.

The plan is certain to face logistical and political complications and many believe it will require staging some matches elsewhere in the region, a notion made more complicated by the blockade.

Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other regional powers have imposed a boycott on Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism and being too close to Iran. Doha denies the allegations.

Qatar has said it is spending $500 million a week on World Cup projects.

The transport plans include dozens of new roads, an airport expansion, rail lines around the country as well as light rail and a metro system in Doha.

FIFA has moved the 2022 tournament to November and December to avoid extreme heat in Qatar during the summer.

But that has raised new concerns after extreme rainfall in October made roads impassable and flooded tunnels.

Al-Sulaiti said that every facet of the transport network “will be tested” long before fans arrive in 2022.

The Qatari minister was in Geneva to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Road Union, which works with governments and the private sector to promote effective road transport.