January 6 – Seemingly not a day goes by without Gianni Infantino courting a Gulf country. On Wednesday, the FIFA president visited Saudi Arabia, the day after the 41st GCC summit ended the three-year blockade of Qatar.
The FIFA supremo met with Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sports, and Yasser Al-Mishal, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Association (SAFF). He also met with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a statement, the Saudi ministry of sports wrote: “This visit comes within the framework of developing joint relations between the two sides towards achieving a prosperous future in football, discussing ways of cooperation between the two sides in a way that serves this popular global sport, and as confirmation of the Kingdom’s pioneering role on the global football map and as an extension to support the international federation’s march towards achieving the common visions and goals that serve this game.”
Infantino’s Gulf tour during times of reconciliation in the region has been striking. He wrapped up 2020 by attending the Qatari Cup final alongside Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar. The match marked the inauguration of Qatar’s fourth World Cup venue, the Al Rayyan stadium. The next day, the FIFA boss attended the AFC Champions League final in Doha before jetting off to Dubai for the Globe Soccer Awards.
On Monday, Infantino met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, president of the UAE Football Association and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chairman of City Football Group (pictured).
His flying visit to Saudi Arabia will fuel further speculation about the motives for his ‘Gulf offensive’. His trip comes against a background of softening relations in the the region. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia and its allies ended a three-year blockade of Qatar. In a summit in the Saudi heritage site of al-Ula, leaders of the six GCC member states signed an agreement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said affirmed “our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability”.
Kuwait brokered the lifting of the embargo with some prodding from the United States. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was seen embracing the Emir of Qatar.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1610875221labto1610875221ofdlr1610875221owedi1610875221sni@o1610875221fni1610875221