Qatar to host football Gulf Cup ….without blockading nations

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will boycott regional football tournament in Doha amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute writes Saba Aziz.

Qatar is gearing up to host the 24th edition of the football Gulf Cup next month, amid an ongoing regional political dispute – now into its third year – that has resulted in three teams pulling out.

A draw ceremony for the biennial tournament was held in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Wednesday. The event will take place from November 27 to December 9.

Along with Qatar, four visiting teams – Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen – are set to take part, but Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, who cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha in June 2017, are boycotting the tournament.

“The Arabian Gulf Cup Football Federation tried to send an official letter to these countries’ football associations and they had the chance till today to announce their participation, but no one has answered, so we end up with five teams,” Ali Al Salat, head of media for the Qatar Football Association, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

The previous Gulf Cup two years ago was originally scheduled to be held in Qatar, but it was moved to Kuwait months after Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Doha accusing it of “supporting terrorism”. Qatar has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegation.

The Gulf diplomatic crisis overshadowed the 2017 event, with Saudi Arabia’s team refusing to talk to the press due to the presence of Qatar-based news channels, including Al Jazeera.

“The competition has faced a lot of obstacles, but we have to continue participating in this tournament and continue the legacy of this competition,” Al Salat said. “We have to make it successful.”

The tournament will be played on a round-robin format (a competition in which each participant meets all other contestants in turn) at the Khalifa International Stadium, a 40,000 capacity air-conditioned venue in Doha.

This is the fourth time Qatar is hosting the regional event. In 2017, Oman won its second title by beating the UAE in the final on penalties.

Kuwait has lifted the trophy 10 times. – Al Jazeera

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