Doha's Khalifa International Stadium after it was refurbished ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – When world football body FIFA hinted it could expand the number of teams competing in the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48, upcoming host Qatar warned it lacked the facilities to accommodate them. Now regional countries, including Iraq, are looking to host group stages.
The sports committee of the Iraqi parliament has officially requested the opportunity to host matches that Qatar cannot accommodate. Kuwait and Oman are also bidding for games.
“As the youth and sports committee in the Iraqi House of Representatives, we have called for the hosting of a group of matches of the Qatar 2022 World Cup,” said Arazw Mahmood, a Kurdish member of the committee.
She said the idea stemmed from an announcement from Qatar saying they were incapable of hosting all the matches of the World Cup.
Forty-eight teams have already been confirmed for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be co-hosted in North America by the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Since the expansion was agreed in 2017, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has repeatedly stressed that the change could be brought forward to 2022, while suggesting other Middle Eastern countries could host the extra matches.
Oman and Kuwait – two regional states that did not join the Saudi-UAE-led GCC blockade of Qatar – are likely contenders to host matches if the competition in Qatar is expanded.
“The state of Qatar believes they cannot host matches of all the groups in their country. We are aware they have reached out to Kuwait asking them to join in hosting some of the matches. We want Iraq too to host some of the matches in 2022,” Mahmood said.
“There are a number of stadiums in Iraq that could meet the international standards for international matches, including Basra, Karbala, Erbil, and Sulaimani. These four meet all the requirements,” she added.
Mahmood called on the ministry of youth and sports of Iraq to “capitalize” on the opportunity to “bring some of the matches to Iraq so we can once again develop the sector of sports in Iraq and the region as a whole.”
After Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was banned from hosting FIFA matches.
FIFA lifted the ban in 2012, but reinstated it after a power outage during a match between Iraq and Jordan in Erbil.
In March last year, FIFA gave the green light to resuming international matches in Erbil, Basra, and Karbala – but not the capital Baghdad.