Gulf Cup falls victim to Qatar crisis as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain withdraw


Gulf Cup organisers on Thursday said Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain had “withdrawn” from the Qatar-hosted tournament, amid a deepening political crisis in the region.

Tournament bosses said they had received no response from the three federations to questions about their participation in the competition, scheduled to start on December 22.

A deadline for Saudi, UAE and Bahrain to accept a written invitation from the Gulf Cup Football Federation (GCFF) passed earlier this week.

“There was no response to our letter and they are withdrawn from the tournament,” said Jassim al-Rumaihi, GCFF general secretary.

Doubts have hung over the Gulf Cup because of a bitter dispute involving Qatar and its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, which threatens to destabilise the region.

The crisis erupted on June 5 when Qatar was politically and economically boycotted by a quartet of neighbouring countries over its alleged support for terrorist groups and relations with Iran.

The 2022 World Cup host denies the charges.

Thursday’s decision, taken at a meeting in Doha, means the tournament has become the first high-profile sporting victim of the diplomatic dispute.

The only chance that it will go ahead now rests with Kuwait, which was given a November 30 deadline on Thursday to say if they will play in the competition.

If that deadline cannot be met, then the tournament will be cancelled, said the GCFF.

Although Kuwait is not part of the political dispute — it has acted as a regional mediator since the crisis began back in June — its football association has its own problems and remains suspended by FIFA, which means it is unclear if its team is eligible to play in the tournament.

“We have given 15 days for Kuwait to solve their problems,” said Rumaihi. “We can make a tournament with five teams.”

If the Gulf Cup goes ahead on December 22 it will be played between Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Yemen. Qatar are the current holders.

Usually played every two years, the Gulf Cup was originally meant to be hosted by Kuwait in 2016 but was moved to Qatar because of the FIFA ban.

Any cancellation of the Gulf Cup could cause embarrassment to Qatar, as it continues its $500 million-a-week preparations for 2022.

The final is due to be played in the Khalifa International Stadium, which will host matches in 2022.