FIFA pushes back 2022 World Cup draw after rescheduling qualifying playoff

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The tournament draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is set to be pushed back by two months after FIFA rescheduled a qualifying playoff on Thursday.

FIFA said its council agreed to delay an intercontinental four-team playoff -- from March 2022 to June that year -- due to fixture congestion caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The 32-team tournament draw was planned for April 2022, likely in Doha. The earliest option is now to hold it in June ahead of the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament.

The intercontinental round involves one team from each of four confederations: Asia, North America's CONCACAF, South America's CONMEBOL and Oceania. Two teams advance to the World Cup.

Europe's UEFA has its own 12-team playoffs planned in March 2022 to decide three qualifying places. Africa has no playoff round.

World Cup qualifying in South America and Asia has fallen behind schedule after games were postponed in March and June. South American qualifiers should now start in September, and Asia should resume in October.

CONCACAF later issued a statement vowing to comply with the changes: "The challenges presented by postponements to the football calendar, and the incomplete FIFA rankings cycle in our confederation, means our current World Cup Qualifying process has been compromised and will be changed. We will now work with the new framework provided and liaise with FIFA to finalize a new World Cup Qualification format for the Concacaf region."

FIFA on Thursday also approved a new test competition for Qatar's organisers, featuring 22 Arab nations.

The pan-Arab tournament will run from Dec. 1-18, 2021 in Qatar. It will involve home-based players from clubs in each country's domestic championship, rather than those based abroad such as star players with clubs in Europe.

FIFA also announced that it had agreed a $1.5 billion relief plan to help deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global game.

FIFA's plan means it will dip into its reserves to provide national federations with a number of grants and interest-free loans to cope with budget hits.

FIFA had already provided the immediate release of all funds from its "Forward" projects and given the green light for such grants to be used for coronavirus relief plans -- with a minimum of 50% of released funds to be allocated to women's football.

The third stage of the plans, unanimously backed by the FIFA Council on Thursday, allows for a "universal solidarity grant" of $1 million dollars to all national associations with an additional $500,000 specifically for women's football.

Each regional confederation will receive a grant of $2 million.

FA's will be able to apply for loans, amounting to up to 35% of their audited, annual revenues up to a maximum of $5 million with confederations able to request up to $4 million.

"Both grants and loans can be directed by member associations to the wider football community in their respective territories, including clubs, players, leagues, or others that have been affected by COVID," said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino added that there would be strict controls on the use of funds, audit requirements, as well as clear loan repayment conditions.

Olli Rehn, the deputy chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee, who is Governor of the Bank of Finland and a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank, will head a committee set up to administer the funds.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.