The United Arab Emirate has, in a politically-motivated move, prevented Qatari Vice President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Saud al-Muhannadi from taking part in the AFC Asian Cup tournament, which is to start on Saturday.
Al-Mohannadi, who also serves as the vice president of the Qatari Football Association, returned to Doha after being barred from entering the UAE.
The decision has sparked harsh criticisms in Qatar with many media outlets describing it as a childish move ahead of the Asian Cup tournament.
“With its childish policy just two days left to the Asian Cup, the UAE has politicized sports by barring Saud al-Muhannadi from entering the country for the international tournament,” al-Sharq paper of Qatar reported.
Political tensions between Qatar and a number of its Arab neighbours began last year after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt officially accused it of “sponsoring terrorism” and cut off diplomatic ties with the country.
The Asian Cup is a quadrennial event which brings together the top teams of Asian for nearly a month. Qatar’s national football team taking part in the event is set to fly to the UAE on Saturday. Qatar national team will be pitted against Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and North Korea in Group 5.
The 2019 AFC Asian Cup is going to be held in the United Arab Emirates from January 5 to 1 February 1. 24 teams including Iran will compete with each other during the tournament in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, al-Ain and Sharjah cities.
The UAE was announced as the host for the tournament on 9 March 2015, with Iran being the only remaining bidder for the right to host the 2019 finals. It is the second time that the United Arab Emirates hosts the tournament after the 1996 finals.
The decision by the UAE to bar the Qatari official from the tournament came shortly after FIFA President Gianni Infantino said some of Qatar’s neighbouring countries may be called on to host a few matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup if studies show a 48-team tournament in four years’ time is feasible.
“The World Cup will take place in Qatar with 32 teams. Obviously, if we can increase it to 48 teams and make the world happy we should try it.”