By Paul Nicholson
January 4 – The Asian Cup teams are gathering in the UAE for the start of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals but the pathways into the country are proving far from smooth for some officials and media with yesterday the UAE refusing entry to Asian Football Confederation vice president Saoud al-Mohannadi from Qatar, chairman of the organising committee for the championship.
Mohannadi was subsequently granted entry to the UAE today after he complained to AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa and the AFC issued a statement saying it was investigating the situation.
As well as Mohannadi five tournament accredited print media journalists, based in Qatar, were refused entry after 12 hours of waiting in Dubai, and returned to Doha via Muscat. The Qatari team leaves for the UAE on Saturday and plays its first game against Lebanon on Wednesday 8 at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Mohannadi’s denial of permission to enter the country via Muscat in Oman was a significant surprise with the UAE having given undertakings to organisers that visas and entry permits for all AFC organising committee and executive members had been “assured” by the hosts. A point of particular importance given the Saudi-led and UAE-supported economic blockade of Qatar.
At best it was an administrative mistake by the UAE, at worst it sends a geo-political message to the wider football world that this tournament is more than just football.
It also makes a mockery of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s repeated, if somewhat naive, assertions that the Qatar 2022 World Cup could be expanded to 48 teams with Qatar’s neighbours sharing some of the hosting responsibilities. The global largesse and statesmanship of that proposal now looks somewhat ridiculous in light of the border reality. Nor will it help Infantino’s attempts to get through FIFA Council the controversial $25 billion Saudi-backed proposal for a reorganisation of the global football events calendar.
A further twist to the politics lies in the election race for the AFC presidency that will be concluded at the AFC’s voting congress in April. Mohannadi is running against the UAE’s Mohammed Khalfan al-Romaithi as well as current incumbent Shaikh Salman.
While Mohannadi is now in country for the championships he looks likely to be a lone Qatar supporter at his country’s matches. A plan had been submitted to the UAE organisers to allow Qatari fans to enter the country on charter flights, be bussed to the matches and return immediately after on the same charter aircraft. That plan has still to be granted but with only four days to go before Qatar’s first game now looks unlikely.
Media blacked out
The five Arab journalists refused entry to the UAE were all working for print newspapers in Qatar. Only one member of the 6-member delegation was allowed to enter the UAE, an Indian photographer.
The journalists – from Egypt, Sudan and Jordan – were carrying valid UAE visas and media card approvals from the AFC. No clear reason was given for their entry refusal by the airport authorities.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reporting by Abdelaziz Abuhamar