By Andrew Warshaw
June 8 – The diplomatic rift between Qatar and a number of other Arab countries has made further incursions into football, forcing venue changes in the Asian Champions League.
Earlier this week, Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek announced they will boycott the Qatari-owned television network beIN Sports and now the dispute has hit the game itself, with teams and countries who often use Qatar as a convenient neutral base having to look elsewhere.
Iran’s Persepolis and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli were drawn together on Tuesday for the two-legged Asian Champions League quarter-finals in August and September
Games between Saudi and Iranian teams are already played on neutral ground due to poor diplomatic relations between the two countries. Some matches have been played in Doha but that won’t happen for a while after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen severed relations with Qatar.
“Iran has chosen Oman as their neutral venue. Saudi has chosen Qatar for their home match but now with the new development, Saudi Arabia has to propose a new (neutral) venue,” said Asian Football Confederation secretary general Dato Windsor John.
December’s Gulf Cup of Nations due to be hosted by Qatar is also hanging in the balance since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Yemen are all due to take part alongside the hosts, plus Iraq, Oman and Kuwait.
Although the diplomatic crisis has not yet affected the 2022 World Cup, still five years away, the longer the row continues the worse it will be for Qatar which is striving to use sport, and football in particular, as a tool for social change. Qatari organisers have consistently made the point that they want the tournament to leave a legacy for the entire Middle East region.
Asian football chiefs say they are ready to trouble-shoot any complications that might arise as a result of the escalating impasse. “We are monitoring the situation very closely, especially when it involves match officials traveling and because Qatar is the host to many of our teams who play in neutral venues,” John told Reuters.
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