Gulf Cup organizers have given Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain a November 13 deadline to say if they will boycott next month’s tournament, hosted by Qatar. Gulf Cup Football Federation general secretary Jassim al-Rumaihi said on Tuesday that the three countries have been given notice of the deadline.
“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,” he said. He added the deadline was decided at a meeting held in Doha on Monday. The eight-team Gulf Cup of Nations set to begin on December 22 looks increasingly likely to become the first high-profile sporting victim of the political crisis which has engulfed the region.
Qatar has been diplomatically isolated since June 5 in an increasingly bitter dispute, when a group of countries including Saudi, UAE and Bahrain cut all ties with the World Cup 2022 host. The countries accuse Qatar of supporting extremism and fostering ties with Iran, charges Doha denies, instead claiming the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty.
Regardless, the dispute has now lasted more than 150 days and shows few signs of ending soon. If the Gulf Cup is cancelled it could lead to yet fresh scrutiny over Qatar’s controversial hosting of football’s biggest tournament in 2022. The final is due to be played in the Khalifa International Stadium, which will host the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and host matches in 2022.
Rumaihi said organizers would meet again to decide what to do in the event that the three Gulf allies refuse to play. The tournament could still go ahead without them but only if Kuwait takes part, he added. To add to the uncertainty surrounding a tournament set to begin in just over 40 days, Kuwait’s football association remains suspended by FIFA and it is unclear if its team can take part in the tournament.
“If they say no, we will have to wait for Kuwait,” said Rumaihi. “To have this tournament we have to have five teams, we are waiting for Kuwait to solve the problem.” The tournament, played every two years, was originally meant to be hosted by Kuwait in 2016 but was moved to Qatar because of the FIFA ban.