Tuesday 20 November 2018

Gulf Cup of Nations to be cancelled as concerns emerge over Qatar's ability to host 2022 FIFA World Cup

In this handout image supplied by Qatar 2022 on May 17, 2017, Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy launches Khalifa International Stadium, the first completed 2022 FIFA World Cup venue, five years before the tournament begins. (Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images)
In this handout image supplied by Qatar 2022 on May 17, 2017, Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy launches Khalifa International Stadium, the first completed 2022 FIFA World Cup venue, five years before the tournament begins. (Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images)

Matt Slater

Qatar's diplomatic crisis has raised concerns about its ability to host international sport, with this winter's Gulf Cup of Nations tipped to be the first event to be cancelled.

Four of the eight nations involved in the Gulf Cup of Nations are among the countries to have cut ties with Qatar, claiming the small but wealthy Gulf state has destabilised the region by funding militants.

The 2017 tournament was scheduled to take place in Kuwait, but Qatar stepped in because Kuwait is suspended by FIFA for alleged government interference in sporting affairs. The competition, however, is not recognised by FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation.

Instead, it is sanctioned by the Union of Arab Football Associations (UAFA), which is based in Saudi Arabia, perhaps Qatar's fiercest critic, and organised by a new Qatar-based body called the Arab Gulf Cup Federation (AGCF).

Attempts by Press Association Sport to reach the AGCF, Qatar FA and UAFA for comment have so far gone unanswered, as has a request to the event's global advisor MP & Silva, the sports agency co-founded by new Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani.

Looking further ahead, though, most attention is focused on the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar won the right to host in 2010 and has spent the last seven years preparing for with a huge construction programme.

Earlier this year, the country's finance minister told reporters Qatar was spending almost £400million a week on infrastructure - ranging from an airport to hospitals to stadiums - and was prepared to do that for the next four years.

But even before this week's unprecedented dispute with its neighbours, which has closed Qatar's only land border with Saudi Arabia and severely limited its flight options, a fall in energy prices was starting to stem the nation's spending.

In April, the World Cup's organising committee announced it was cutting its budget for the tournament to £6-8billion, approximately half of what was promised in 2010, with the number of stadiums cut from 12 to eight.

Gulf expert Kristian Ulrichsen told Press Association Sport that "pretty serious delays in the building work" were inevitable if "the blockade" lasts for a few more weeks or months.

"The scale of the projects being planned for the World Cup means there is an awful lot of material to come from supply chains around the world," said Ulrichsen.

"Should bottlenecks begin to appear, costs could begin to go up and add to fiscal pressures that are already there - the budget has been cut quite considerably and the number of new stadia reduced again."

Stadium expert Paul Fletcher, however, recently spoke at the World Stadium Congress in Doha and he believes Qatar is in good shape to complete the work.

"They seem to have everything in place: architects, project management teams, construction companies etc," said Fletcher, who was involved in the building of new grounds at Bolton, Coventry and Huddersfield, as well as a spell as Wembley's commercial director.

"The only Achilles heel is what they will do with the stadiums once the World Cup has ended, (but) there is so much money out there they probably won't be too bothered."

But two other stadium construction experts, speaking off the record, have said it is always difficult to find out what is happening on the ground in Qatar as the foreign contractors who are leading the building projects have signed non-disclosure agreements.

They both said, though, Qatar could weather a short-term dispute, as it was still able to access Chinese-made steel via sea and can now produce key items, such as seats and turf, itself, but costs and problems will mount if the peninsula's isolation continues.

Ulrichsen went even further on this point, raising the issue of what FIFA might do about a World Cup host that has been accused of facilitating terrorism, particularly as United States President Donald Trump appears to have made his mind up that Qatar is in the wrong.

FIFA, of course, has only recently announced that Qatar Airways has replaced UAE-based Emirates as one of its main sponsors.

"A key element of Qatar's pitch in 2010 was built around the reassurance that Qatar was the safest and most secure location to host a Middle East World Cup," said Ulrichsen.

"That always had to be taken with a pinch of salt, given the difficulty of forecasting 12 years into the future in such a volatile part of the world, but that image is now in shreds.

"Moreover, given that the Saudis and Emiratis have gone so far this time, it's hard to see how they could ramp up the pressure still further, short of an act of war, so they may begin to target Qatari prestige projects such as the World Cup."

Another factor to consider in this regard is this week's threat from Saudi Arabia to companies doing business in Qatar that they will be excluded from Saudi's potentially much more lucrative transformation plans.

This all comes against a backdrop of years of controversy about the original decision to give the World Cup to what amounts to a single-city state in the desert, with no football pedigree, and the well-documented mistreatment of the country's army of migrant workers.

Qatar has strongly denied claims it funds terrorism, has repeatedly defended its labour laws and maintains that preparations for the World Cup are progressing smoothly.

Press Association

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