Qatar World Cup 2022: Tournament's sanctity a bargaining chip for Gulf foes (JMD quoted on CNN)

Qatar World Cup 2022: Tournament's sanctity a bargaining chip for Gulf foes
By Motez Bishara, CNN

·       Qatar World Cup under renewed scrutiny
·       Saudi Arabia cancels match scheduled in Qatar
·       US is potential backup plan
(CNN)FIFA isn't talking. Neither is Qatar. Nor Saudi Arabia, Bahrain
or the UAE.
They've all gone silent about the elephant in the room: How the latest Gulf
crisis pitting Qatar against some of its regional neighbors has the potential
to derail the 2022 World Cup.
The current stalemate, escalated by charges of terror funding, is the latest
in a long line of obstacles that Qatar has had to negotiate after winning the
highly coveted right to stage one of the globe's biggest sporting events – 
"This cuts to the heart of what Qatar has tried to do for the past 10 years:
To use sports as a means of increasing its brand awareness," says Kristian
Ulrichsen, professor of international studies at the Baker Institute for Public
"Clearly now its brand awareness is being tarnished by all the accusations."
The Gulf state won its bid under controversial circumstances seven years ago,
and quickly drew attention to questionable employment practices used to
build or redevelop a cluster of new stadiums.
Rights groups have charged that migrant workers have been abused and
exploited, while Qatar has rejected any notion that it is unfit to host the
That glare has been unrelenting – 
The Gulf crisis has the ability to severely compromise the 2022 tournament by
 way of limiting air space around Qatar, and barring goods to pass through its
land border with Saudi Arabia.
Ulrichsen says that Qatar's sole land border, a narrow stretch of 37 miles that
separates it from Saudi Arabia, could create a delay in building facilities with
only five and a half years left before the tournament's November 2022 kickoff.
"A lot of the materials necessary for the construction would not be able to come
in," he says of the potential of a protracted economic blockade.
As things stand, taking off and landing into Qatar during the tournament would
be hampered by a lack of available airspace around the country -- its planes
are barred from flying over Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- while its
national carrier Qatar Airways would be restricted from the use of international
airport hubs in those countries.
French club Paris Saint-Germain is owned by Qatar Sports Investments.
Meanwhile, Qatar is already getting a taste of what being left out in the cold in
sporting terms could feel like.
Saudi Arabia -- one of nine countries that have cut off diplomatic relations with
Qatar -- has canceled an Asian Champions League qualifying match scheduled
in Qatar between Saudi club Al Ahli and Iranian club Persepolis
The Saudis have requested that the match be moved to Abu Dhabi, a Saudi
Arabian official confirmed.
Qatar's sporting ambitions -- it owns French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain,
plans to host the 2019 World Championships in athletics, and reportedly 
spent nearly $200 million on a sponsorship deal with Barcelona -- have been a
 means for the Gulf state to enter the global stage.
But that "soft power" play has just taken a hard knock, according t
o James Dorsey, author of "The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer."
"Saudi Arabia and particularly the United Arab Emirates may want
to rekindle the controversy over the Qatari hosting of the World Cup,
particularly in regard to labor conditions and the integrity of the Qatari bid,"
Dorsey told CNN's World Sport show.
"That is a controversy that has largely died down, but that the Emiratis and
the Saudis may well want to exploit."
Dorsey says the potential of this giant diplomatic rift -- which appears to
involve the US in the form of 
presents "a loss of prestige" to Qatar, especially if the sanctity of its World
Cup bid is affected.

The Saudi General Authority of Sports was contacted by CNN for comment
on how the standoff with Qatar will impact the country athletically, but did
not respond. State run organizations from the UAE, Egypt, Yemen and the
Maldives also didn't respond to CNN's request for comment on the matter.
When asked whether it would attend the 2022 World Cup should it qualify,
the Bahraini Embassy in London said "it serves no purpose to respond to
hypothetical questions," and referred to a statement from its Ministry of
Foreign Affairs which 
In a blanket statement, Qatar says the actions of the countries and
allegations that it supports terrorism and destabilizes the region are
"unjustified" and "baseless," while the country has continually denied
any ties to terror organizations.
Meanwhile Qatar's World Cup organizing committee declined to comment,
while FIFA told CNN earlier in the week that that it was "in regular contact"
with the Qatari organizing committee. FIFA did not address questions on
whether the diplomatic breaks would affect the tournament.
Huge potential blow
Ulrichsen says losing the World Cup would be a "huge blow to Qatar"
because of all the resources that have already gone into planning and
That threat is a benefit to the countries attempting to wage power against
Qatar -- namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- says Ulrichsen, author of
"The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics and Policy-Making."
"They know that this is an area where they can really escalate pressure
on the (Qatari) leadership. They've identified these pressure points where
the Qataris do place an incredible amount of value on certain things; one is
the World Cup."
Political instability
A major priority for the Qataris will be fending off views that it is politically
unstable or is associated in any way with acts of terrorism says Ulrichsen.
"It's concerning for the Qataris because the whole bid in 2010 was pitched
on the notion that Qatar was the most stable and secure location to have the
World Cup in the Middle East," he says. "And that message of stability is
now being shredded."
"It was always a bit of a gamble in 2010 to predict security and stability 12
years into the future, especially in such a (definitive) way when you have had
conflicts on such short notice," he says.
Xavi: I'm open to managing Qatar in 2022 02:28
Ready-made alternative
Last month Qatar officially open the first completed football venue –
the Khalifa stadium. Would FIFA take the nuclear option and move the
 2022 tournament?
It has done it before -- the 1986 tournament was staged by Mexico after
Colombia pulled out as hosts due to economic reasons in 1982.
"If this continues for any length of time you could well see a move within
FIFA or the international community, especially, to reopen the case if
Qatar is no longer seen as necessarily a stable location," said Ulrichsen.
"There is always going to be vulnerability, isn't there? Who's to say it
wouldn't happen again?"
FIFA does have one ready-made alternative up its sleeve which affords
it a last-minute decision, according to Ulrichsen.
"The danger for Qatar is, who did they beat in the final round of voting?
It was the US. Well the US could host it next week.
"They already have the infrastructure and all the stadiums; they have
everything. And the Qataris probably know that."


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