By Andrew Warshaw
February 22 – FIFA is reportedly closely monitoring the conduct of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in using football as a political tool against 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.
Both countries continue to impose a trade and diplomatic blockade after accusing Qatar of backing Islamic extremism though critics charge the Saudis with blatant double-standards given their military intervention in Yemen that has caused mayhem and destruction.
Late last year the Saudis only agreed to take part in the Gulf Cup when it was moved from Qatar back to its original location in Kuwait once the latter’s suspension from international football was lifted by FIFA. Unconfirmed reports claim the Saudi government may have offered financial bonuses to Bahrain to defeat Qatar in their crucial final group game which ended up 1-1 but eliminated the Qataris.
Recently, the Asian Football Confederation restated its decision that Champions League match-ups between Qatari, Saudi and UAE clubs must be played on a home and away basis despite pressure to select neutral venues.
In one of the first such games, reports from the region suggest Doha-based Al Gharafa were deliberately given a hard time when they travelled to the United Arab Emirates to face Al-Jazira in the group stages.
Normally the flight between Doha and Abu Dhabi would take 45 minutes but because of the transport blockade imposed by the Saudi-led grouping, the Qataris had to travel via Oman. That should have taken around four hours but reportedly ended up lasting a nightmare 18 hours including an overnight airport stay waiting for a connection. When they eventually reached Abu Dhabi the players are said to have faced unusually long delays at passport control.
Abu Dhabi officials argued the delay was caused by fog but reports from the region suggest multiple flights from other destinations were landing on time without complications.
Al Gharafa defender Fahad Al Shammari was quoted as saying on social media after his team’s eventual 3-2 defeat: “The flight from Doha reached Muscat, Oman, at 12.40am and the flight to Abu Dhabi was to take off at 2am. The captain suddenly told us that he had received a call from Abu Dhabi airport that the flight would be delayed due to bad weather. Al Gharafa players had to deboard the plane and spend around eight hours inside Muscat Airport and the plane finally took off at 9.45am to Abu Dhabi.”
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