2022 World Cup in doubt if Qatar strife escalates

The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha is the first completed stadium built for the 2022 World Cup. A prolonged row could affect Qatar's plans.
The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha is the first completed stadium built for the 2022 World Cup. A prolonged row could affect Qatar's plans.PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA • The diplomatic crisis sweeping the Gulf could invigorate a campaign by critics of Qatar to strip Doha of the 2022 World Cup, experts said yesterday.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen were among those to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on the grounds that Doha supported extremist groups "that aim to destabilise the region".

One of the areas that could feel the impact is Qatar's hosting of the World Cup, football's biggest tournament, in five years' time.

"This is a massive escalation in pressure on Qatar," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf analyst with the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston. "I think it will really have an impact if it lasts any time."

Since being controversially chosen by Fifa in 2010 as the host, Qatar has maintained that it is a politically secure nation despite its location in a volatile region.

Doha has also emphasised that the tournament serves the entire Gulf, and not just the tiny emirate.

But current events may challenge those notions, Ulrichsen said. "One of its pitches (to secure the 2022 World Cup) was that Qatar is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, Fifa said it was "in regular contact" with Qatar 2022 organisers and had "no further comments for the time being".

Winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup was a major coup for Qatar, which has used its natural gas riches to promote its profile.

The country has said it is spending almost US$500 million (S$689 million) every week on major infrastructure projects related to the tournament.

It is scheduled to host multiple events across many different sports, aimed at improving infrastructure and expertise.

This year, it is organising 72 events, 39 of which will be international competitions. It has already hosted the 10th Artistic Gymnastics World Cup and an International Association of Athletics Federations ( IAAF ) Diamond League athletics meet, and a leg of the F ina Swimming World Cup is scheduled for September.

Swimming governing body Fina did not comment yesterday as to whether it would still go ahead. Top-level modern pentathlon, sailing, squash and showjumping events are also pencilled in.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline '2022 World Cup in doubt if Qatar strife escalates'. Print Edition | Subscribe