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Monday , December 9 2019

‘Why not?’ FIFA boss says 48 teams ‘feasible’ for Qatar WCup

Infantino expects release of info from cyberattack on FIFA

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31, (Agencies): FIFA President Gianni Infantino said expanding the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams was “feasible” on Wednesday, as hosts Qatar pledged to come to a decision in the early part of next year.

Infantino said “Why not?” bring forward the expansion from 32 teams to 48, which is currently due at the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“We have decided… to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup final tournaments from 32 to 48,” Infantino told the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur.

“It will happen in 2026. Will it happen in 2022? You know me. It is possible. It is possible. Why not?” he added.

Infantino said an expanded tournament would see Asia’s allocation rise from 4.5 places to 8.5, raising cheers from the delegates assembled at a luxury hotel in the Malaysian capital.

“You will have (a bigger) chance. It is possible. It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope we have it happen. We always have to try,” he said.

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.

Qatar has also been involved in a stand-off with neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who have cut off diplomatic relations and imposed a blockade on the resource-rich country, accusing it of endorsing terror activities.

Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the 2022 organising body, told AFP that Qatar was studying the 48 teams proposal and would make a decision before qualifying gets under way.

“We are still looking at the feasibility studies and we will be in a better position to provide a feedback in the future,” he said.

“But it will be decided before the qualifications… sometime in the first quarter of next year.”

He added that preparations remained on track despite the blockade, and that the budget of $200 billion for the entire infrastructure, including metro and expressway, has not been affected.

“We are very happy and excited with the progress. It is on track. By 2020-2021 all our (eight) stadiums will be ready,” al-Thawadi said.

“This is the first World Cup in the Middle East and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together and contribute to the process of healing,” he added.

Ahead of FIFA’s presidential election next year, Infantino said 180 out of the 211 federations had given him their support.

“You know there is an election coming. I have announced I will be a (presidential) candidate. I have received over 180 letters of support,” he said.

“And when it comes to Asia, only a couple are missing.”

Infantino is braced for a release of private information gained by hackers after world soccer’s governing body said its computer network was subject to another cyberattack.

The disclosure comes in the same month the US Department of Justice and the FBI said Russia’s military intelligence body was responsible for a hack on FIFA in 2016, which led to evidence from anti-doping investigations and lab results being published.

FIFA did not provide details about the data gained in the latest attack this year on e-mail systems, but it has been contacted by media outlets about internal information contained in private exchanges.

“The questions we received, we answered,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said when asked about what could be released. “My job entails having discussions, having conversations, exchanging documents, drafts, ideas, whatever, on many, many, many, many, topics. Otherwise you don’t go anywhere.

“I mean, if I just have to stay in my room and not speak to anyone and cannot do anything, how can I do my job properly? So if then this is being portrayed as something bad, I think there’s not much I can do more than my job in an honest way, in a professional way and trying to defend the interests of football.”

Before being elected FIFA president in 2016, Infantino was general secretary at UEFA, overseeing the administration of European soccer at a time when new Financial Fair Play rules were being enforced on European clubs.

UEFA has also been subject to phishing attempts to gain access to its email accounts, but said it could find no evidence of a hack. Still, UEFA has received dozens of questions about cases going back several years and the contents of private exchanges.

“We are not stealing,” Infantino said, discussing the contents of any leaks. “What counts is do things in an appropriate way.”

In a separate statement, FIFA said it “condemns any attempts to compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data in any organization using unlawful practices.”

“Of course, we are concerned by the fact that some information has been obtained illegally,” it said.

Soccer has been hit by the release of confidential information in recent years, including a group called “Football Leaks.” Through the European Investigative Collaborations, it has released details on the financial arrangements of top footballers, which have led to tax evasion convictions. The leaks group also obtained a 2010 non-disclosure agreement that saw five-time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo accused of a rape allegation he denies. The EIC did not respond to emails in the last week about the potential release of information from FIFA and UEFA.

Cybersecurity is under constant review at FIFA, which organizes the World Cup.

“FIFA takes all necessary measures to adequately respond to security incidents as well as to continuously improve the security of its IT environment,” the Zurich-based organization said.

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