A Very Unsporting Dispute Looms over the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar

A rash of nasty, petty jabs and incidents was thrown up in the last fortnight by the 10-month feud Saudi Arabia and the UAE are conducting with their fellow Gulf emirate Qatar. As one instance, the Qatari riyal disappeared from the money exchange at Abu Dhabi airport. In another, the Abu Dhabi Louvre’s map of southern Gulf in the Children’s section blanked Qatar. The emirate has complained twice to the United Nations about UAE intrusions of its air space, while the UAE protested that Qatari fighters had approached two Emirati civilian airlines as they were about to land in Bahrain.

Then, on Jan 17, a Qatari sheikh posted an SOS on video reporting that the UAE was holding him prisoner in Abu Dhabi. The allegedly imprisoned prince has been released and is recovering in a military hospital in Kuwait.

Two days earlier, President Donald Trump tried to end the squabble in a long telephone call to Qatari ruler Emir Tamim al-Thani. He got exactly nowhere. Qatar’s rulers are in deep depression over a major humiliation hanging over their heads. They are scheduled to host the world Football Cup in 2022 and there is no way they can meet this commitment. One was to build 100,000 hotel rooms for the soccer fans who flock to this event from all over the world. They are still struggling to get 45,000 rooms up. Of the 12 stadiums promised, eight at most will be ready. This week, the desperate Qataris turned secretly to Tehran to find accommodation for the roughly two million soccer fans expected. Iran’s offshore islands of Kish and Qeshm have enough hotels, but they also impose a Sharia ban on alcohol. In any case, the games if Iran was involved would be boycotted by the US and many others. And even if a single soccer fan anywhere would be willing to go without beer, how would they reach their destination? The latest incidents highlight another problem. Civilian air traffic flying east along the southern Gulf coast is controlled first by Bahrain then the UAE control tower. Both are deep in the feud with Qatar. The emir has no choice but to lose face and call off the games or wait for the Football International Federation to cancel.

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