Qatar: World Cup in jeopardy

Last week’s ending of diplomatic relations between Qatar and almost all of the other Gulf States, not least Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – and which provoked a series of ‘cyber-threats’ to be carried out on Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera – but it is now clear that there is now far more at stake in terms of TV transmissions out of Qatar.

Top of the list is the FIFA World Cup planned to be held in Qatar in 2022. The football tournament was already massively controversial because of the region’s summer heat, which has seen the organisers having to set the first ‘winter’ games for the football championships in its 86-year history, to November and December 2022.

That’s one problem which fans might appreciate as a respite from Qatar’s punishing summer heat, and where 45-50 degrees (centigrade) are not unusual.

But that assumes the dispute with the rest of the Gulf states is well over by 2002. Currently, airspace into and out of Qatar is mostly closed. Saudi Arabia has blocked all air-traffic into Qatar, as has the United Arab Emirates. Incidentally, FIFA is part-sponsored by Qatar Airways. Then only road access into Qatar is via Saudi Arabia.

The head of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, in a statement carried by French news agency AFP, said: “I am confident the region will return to a normal situation.” He told the news agency that FIFA was “closely watching the evolving situation and we are in regular contact with the highest authorities in Qatar.

The diplomatic spat has to end soon. Currently widespread reports say that Qatar’s food supermarkets are devoid of food, with their shelves stripped bare.

The controversy between Qatar and the other Gulf states is all the more regrettable because the original FIFA award was made as a step in uniting and unifying the football-mad Gulf nations, and in the words of the wife of Qatar’s then ruler Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, when she said the event would promote a “culture of peace” across the region through football.

The problems also affect regional pay-TV broadcaster beIN Sport (a sister business to Al Jazeera) which holds the transmission rights to many FIFA events, not least the Under-20 World Cup being held in South Korea currently and which has now been blocked in the Gulf states. The ‘Under-20’ final – between Venezuela and England – was played June 11th and won by England.

Major Saudi Arabian football club Ah-Ahli has also severed its ties with Qatar and its airline.

Saudi Arabia has forbidden Al Jazeera to be shown in hotels in the country. There are widespread reports that Saudi wants Al Jazeera shut down as the price for restoring diplomatic relations. While beIN Sport would not be subject to the same demands, if the FIFA 2022 World Cup is to stay in Qatar then this dispute needs a speedy resolution – and that might mean the end of Al Jazeera.

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