November 13 – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reversed their decision to boycott the Gulf Cup in Qatar and will participate in the tournament which kicks off on November 24.
On Tuesday, the Saudi Football Federation (SFF) issued a statement saying that the governing body had decided to participate in the Gulf Cup, a tournament Saudi Arabia had previously said it would boycott over the ongoing blockade against hosts Qatar. Bahrain and the UAE Football Association ran similar statements, confirming their participation in the tournament after receiving new invitations.
The remarkable U-turn implies a minor rapprochement between the feuding nations on the football field. Earlier this year, Qatar travelled to the United Arab Emirates during the Asian Cup and played Saudi Arabia in the group stages before going on to win the tournament for the first time. In October, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia defeated Qatar’s Al Sadd 6-5 on aggregate in the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League. Al Hilal currently take a 1-0 into the second leg of that final in Japan on November 24.
The Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar has heavily strained relations in the Gulf. Qatar had been slated to host the previous Gulf Cup, but the tournament was switched to Kuwait. Oman went on to surprisingly win that tournament defeating the United Arab Emirates on penalties in the final.
This time round Qatar will stage the competition as scheduled with the hosts currently programmed to play Yemen in the opening match of tournament on November 26. The tournament culminates on December 9. However, the participation of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE will force tournament organisers to hold a new draw. Oman and Iraq make up the seven-team competition.
Speaking about the geo-politics of the region, Qatar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani in reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council comprising Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, said: “There are American efforts, which Qatar appreciates, to preserve the unity of the GCC and to return it back to what it used to be.
“Qatar is always open to dialogue and has expressed its readiness to engage in an unconditional dialogue based on mutual respect, non-intervention in the international affairs of other states, and respecting for the sovereignty of other states.”
The Gulf Cup was first staged in 1970 and is organised by the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation, the AGCFF. The Qataris have organised the tournament on four occasions. They won the Gulf Cup in 1992 and 2004 and as reigning Asian Champions will be among the favorites to lift the trophy again though will face sterner competition from rebuilding Saudi and the UAE teams than they did at the Asian Cup in January.
As the Gulf Cup closes, the Club World Cup opens in Qatar two days later with the first match scheduled for December 11 and the final being played December 22.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1576284296labto1576284296ofdlr1576284296owedi1576284296sni@o1576284296fni1576284296