November 8 – Gulf Cup organisers have set Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain a November 13 deadline to say whether they are prepared to take part in December’s tournament in Qatar with whom they have cut all diplomatic and commercial ties.
In September the three nations boycotted the draw in Doha – made under the auspices of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF) – as part of the political stand-off that has spilled over into football.
The absence of Saudi Arabia and the other two would seriously weaken the eight-nation Gulf Cup’s credibility. The tournament is set to begin on December 22 but looks increasingly likely to becoming the first high-profile sporting victim of the crisis that has engulfed the region.
AGCFF general secretary Jassim al-Rumaihi told AFP: “We have sent a letter to all of these countries and we are going to set a deadline of November 13 to participate in this tournament.”
The Saudis and their Gulf allies accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, charges Doha vehemently denies. The dispute shows little sign of ending soon amid speculation it could even affect Qatar’s staging of the 2022 World Cup. The final of the Gulf Cup is due to be played at the Khalifa International Stadium, which will host the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and some World Cup games.
With sponsors getting increasingly anxious, Rumaihi said organisers would meet again to decide how to proceed in the event that the three Gulf allies refuse to play. The tournament could still take place without them but only if Kuwait takes part, he said.
Yet Kuwait remains suspended by FIFA despite the recent election of a new-look federation.
Ironically the tournament, played every two years, was originally to be hosted by Kuwait in 2016 but was switched to Qatar because of the FIFA ban. “As of now Oman, Yemen and Iraq have confirmed their participation. We are waiting for other nations to confirm their involvement,” said Rumaihi. “To have this tournament we have to have five teams; we are waiting for Kuwait to solve the problem.”
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