The 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup, the pinnacle of national teams soccer, will be watched by a television audience of more than 5 billion people when it takes place in Qatar at the end of the year, president of the sport's FIFA world governing body Gianni Infantino said yesterday (May 23).

Speaking as part of a panel at the World Economic Forum, Infantino said: “The last World Cup was watched by 4 billion people, the last women's World Cup by 1.2 billion people. This World Cup, in Qatar, will be watched by 5 billion people – way above half of the world's population.”

FIFA figures show that the 2018 World Cup in Russia was actually watched by just shy of 3.6 billion people, which is still a record for the tournament.

Viewership of 5 billion or more for Qatar 2022 would represent a growth of around a third.

Among the broadcast rightsholders for the tournament around the world are Globo in Brazil (most World Cup wins), the European Broadcasting Union in Europe, TF1 and BeIN Sports in France (current World Cup champions), Vrio Corp. in Latin America, BeIN in the Middle East and North Africa, and Fox and Telemundo in the US.

It will be the first time the tournament has been held outside of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, running from November 21 to December 18.

Speaking more broadly about the economy of soccer, Infantino added: “The economy of football on a global scale has a gross output of around $200 billion, a gross value added of around $150 billion. It's like a mid-sized state.

“If you think a bit further, you realize that 70% of that economy is done in Europe. Now, the part of the European economy in the global economy is definitely not 70% – maybe rather 17% than 70% – so imagine the economic potential there is around the world.”

Qatar has attracted criticism for various reasons since being announced in 2010 as host of the 2022 World Cup, including the shifting of playing dates to avoid the worst of the country's summer heat, a lack of soccer heritage and infrastructure in the country, and its record on human rights.

However, also speaking at the World Economic Forum, Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani argued that the country is making reforms.

He said: “For decades now, the Middle East has suffered from discrimination, and I have found that such discrimination is largely based on people not knowing us, and in some cases, refusing to get to know us. Even today, there are still people who cannot accept the idea, that an Arab-Muslim country would host a tournament like the World Cup.

“These individuals, including many in positions of influence, have launched attacks, at a pace never seen before.

“Qatar is just like your own country – not perfect, constantly trying to improve, and full of hope, for a brighter future.

“We are so proud of the development, reform, and progress we have made, and we are grateful for the spotlight that the World Cup provided, which inspired us, to make these changes at lightning speed.”