Published: 2017-06-06 09:23
Last Updated: 2017-06-06 09:45
FOOTBALL’S governing body FIFA said it is in “regular contact” with the organising committee of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, though it did not comment directly on the diplomatic situation involving the Gulf State.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and others severed ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.
FIFA said in an emailed statement it was “in regular contact with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 FIFA World Cup”.
“We have no further comments for the time being,” it added.
Qatar’s local World Cup organising committee and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which organises international matches in the region, both declined to comment.
The influential German Football Association (DFB), whose team is the world champion, said it would discuss the matter with the German government.
“We will discuss the new, complex political situation in the region and specifically in Qatar with the federal government,” DFB president Reinhard Grindel said in a statement.
“In such matters we will of course be in very close contact with (European football’s governing body) UEFA.
“There are still five years to go before the World Cup starts. During this time priority should be given to political solutions rather than threats of boycott.
“But one thing is clear. The football community worldwide should agree that ... major tournaments should not be played in countries that actively support terror.”
Qatar’s national team is still involved in the qualifying competition for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and is bottom of its group with four points from seven games, with matches against South Korea, Syria, and China still to play.
Since being controversially chosen by FIFA in 2010 as the host, Qatar has maintained it is a politically secure nation despite its location in a volatile region.
Doha (Qatar’s capital) has also emphasised the tournament serves the entire Gulf, and not just the tiny gas-rich emirate.
Nasser Al-Khater, a senior figure with Qatar’s World Cup organising body, recently claimed that up to 1.3 million fans would visit Doha in 2022, the majority from the Gulf and “mainly from Saudi Arabia”.
But current events may challenge those notions. “One of its pitches (to secure the World Cup) was that Qatar is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf analyst with the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston, told AFP.
With that potentially called into question — and the fact there are other countries which could host the event at little notice — organisers may be getting anxious.
“Qatar will know that there are alternatives, so they will be looking over their shoulder,” Ulrichsen said.
Suggestions have been made previously that the United States, one of the countries that lost the race for the 2022 competition to Qatar, could take over hosting duties if necessary.
The crisis that erupted on Monday came only a few weeks after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia to cement ties with the nation and called for Muslim countries to unite against extremism.
Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Britain’s Salford University, said the diplomatic crisis “raises an important issue of risk assessment and contingency planning” for the World Cup.
“The closer we get to 2022, the more Qatar becomes exposed. In terms of reputation and embarrassment, this is a big issue for Qatar,” he said.
Already the first sporting victim of the crisis has been claimed. Saudi football club Al-Ahli said just hours after the cut in diplomatic ties it would end its financial association with Qatar Airways, taking to Twitter to announce “the termination of the sponsorship contract between the club and Qatar Airways”.
A three-year sponsorship deal, worth an estimated $AUD21 million a season with the Doha-based carrier was originally signed in October 2014 and renewed in May this year.
Another potential early victim could be this year’s Gulf Cup of Nations, scheduled to take place in December in Doha.
Qatar had stepped in as host when Kuwait was stopped from hosting following its ban from FIFA.
Among the nations set to take part include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who all cut diplomatic ties on Monday.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE also announced they were suspending flights to Qatar and banned their citizens from travelling to Doha.