DOHA: Gulf Cup organizers will officially announce this week that the tournament will be played in Kuwait and not Qatar after overcoming political and administrative obstacles, a senior official said yesterday. “We will officially announce it on Monday (December 11),” said Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF) general secretary Jassim Al-Rumaihi. Qatari state news agency QNA also reported the transfer will go up for final approval by the Gulf football associations tomorrow, citing Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Thani, who heads both the Qatari federation and the regional body.
The tournament has been plagued by problems. It was originally scheduled to take place in Kuwait last year, but the country’s football association was suspended by FIFA in Oct 2015 over alleged government meddling in sports. After Kuwait’s suspension, the tournament was switched to World Cup 2022 host Qatar.
Any hopes that would ensure the tournament would go ahead were dashed by the region’s worst political crisis in years. A bitter dispute erupted on June 5 when Qatar was diplomatically isolated by a quartet of neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain over alleged support for terrorist groups and Doha’s warming relations with Riyadh’s great regional rival Iran. Qatar denies the allegations, but the dispute has now continued for more than six months.
In November, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain were “withdrawn” from the tournament after failing to respond to an invite to take part from the Doha-based AGCFF. Since the current dispute began, the boycotting countries have cut all communications with Qatar. However a breakthrough came earlier this month when FIFA lifted Kuwait’s suspension after the National Assembly adopted a law meant to end government interference in the sport. That cleared the way to move the tournament back to its original host.
Following the lifting of Kuwait’s suspension, the Qatar Football Association said it was willing for the tournament to go ahead in Kuwait. The move has been backed by FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, who said he would attend the tournament’s opening games. “It will take place at exactly the same dates, the 22nd of December to the fifth of January,” Rumaihi said, the first confirmation from a Gulf Cup official that the competition would go ahead.
He added that organizers were still waiting for confirmation from the federations of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but it is widely expected they will now take part in the eight-team competition. The fact they would only play after the tournament was switched from Qatar could raise further fears over a potential boycott of 2022. Qatar has said it expects up to 1.5 million fans to attend the World Cup, the majority coming from the region, mainly from Saudi Arabia. Last month, the country’s most senior World Cup organizer, Hassan Al-Thawadi publicly urged the boycotting countries to allow their nationals to attend in 2022.
The Gulf Cup is usually played every two years between Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Qatar are the current holders. A draw for the tournament took place in September, which saw Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar and Yemen placed in Group A. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE make up Group B. – Agencies