FIFA's president indicated Monday that the 2022 World Cup cannot be expanded to 48 teams without agreement from hosts Qatar, while backing further study of the "interesting" proposal.
Speaking just 10 days before the 2018 tournament kicks off in Russia, Gianni Infantino did not categorically say that Qatar has the right to veto an enlarged 2022 tournament if FIFA voters decide in favour of an expansion.
But he said that imposing a 48-team competition on Qatar -- which is in the thick of preparations for a 32-nation tournament -- would be "absolutely" unfair.
"Obviously, Qatar will need to agree and it will be the first to agree because we need to work together," Infantino told reporters at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.
Infantino's support for a 48-team World Cup is not in doubt.
Expanding the tournament by 16 teams for 2026 was among his first signature achievements after taking charge of FIFA two years ago.
He credited South American confederation CONMEBOL with suggesting the enlargement be pushed up in four years.
"I find the CONMEBOL proposal interesting to study," he said.
FIFA voters convening in Russia next week will decide strictly on whether 48 teams in 2022 merits closer analysis.
Infantino insisted it was premature to speculate on the likelihood of the idea moving forward.
"We have a contract with the Qataris. They have been awarded a World Cup with 32 teams and that is how it is," the FIFA boss said. "Contracts are there to be respected."
But, he also raised a prospect that some experts say poses the greatest threat to Doha's World Cup aspirations: shared hosting.
"Of course more teams means more stadiums, more venues, more hotels, more transportation," Infantino said.
"Whether this is possible to be done only in Qatar of course is a question mark, so of course this should be looked into."
The 2022 World Cup has been a source of controversy since the day the gas-rich Gulf state was awarded the tournament eight years ago.
Widespread corruption allegations during the bidding process remain under criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors.
Reported human rights abuses of migrant workers building stadia have also dogged the preparations.
Adding to all that is the punishing economic embargo imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbours over Doha's alleged support for terrorism.
Qatar has overcome those substantial obstacles and kept World Cup preparations on track.
But for Simon Chadwick, a sports and geopolitics expert at Britain's Salford University, sharing the World Cup would mark "something of a defeat for Doha".
Shared hosting for the 2026 edition may become a reality next week, with FIFA's congress set to choose between a joint Canada-US-Mexico bid and a rival proposal from Morocco.
The North American bid has long been seen as the overwhelming favourite -- and Infantino's preferred choice -- but it has faced increasingly stiff competition from Morocco in recent months.
On Friday, FIFA inspectors rated the African bid's stadia, accommodation and transport as "high risk," while giving the North American proposal solid marks.
The FIFA Task Force technically had the right to eliminate Morocco from competition but instead decided to let voters make the ultimate decision.
This has raised some concern that despite the weaker technical and financial credentials, Morocco could win out in what would be perceived as a direct rebuke of US President Donald Trump, who in April appeared to threaten nations that did not side with North America.
Infantino underscored his hope that FIFA voters would not let politics influence their decision.
"It should really be based on football," he said.
Zurich, Switzerland | AFP