DOHA, Sept 25, (AFP): The draw for the Gulf Cup of Nations went ahead Monday despite serious doubts that the Qatar-hosted competition will take place largely due to ongoing regional political tensions.
In bizarre circumstances an elaborate ceremony saw Qatar drawn with Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen in Group A, while Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and possibly Kuwait will make up Group B.
However, as many as half of the teams may not play in the eight-nation tournament, scheduled to take place in Doha between Dec 22 and January 5.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain could boycott the event because of its increasingly bitter political standoff with Qatar, now in its fourth month.
Notably, no representatives of the three associations were in Doha for the draw.
And even though the cup is not a FIFA event, Kuwait’s football association remains suspended by the world’s governing body and it is not clear if its team can take part in the tournament.
Asked if the tournament would take place, Jassim al-Rumaihi, general secretary of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federations (AGCFF) said: “We will see what happens.
“Qatar is ready to organise and host this tournament,” he told reporters after the draw.
“It will be clearer in the coming hours and the coming days.”
He added: “In the current situation, I hope we don’t mix sport and politics.”
Rumaihi said that if Saudi, UAE and Bahrain pulled out, the remaining teams would play a round robin tournament.
However, if there are only four teams available to play, a fresh decision would be taken by the AGCFF whether to stage the tournament.
If some countries boycott the event, they could face fines and may also be ordered to compensate broadcasters, said Hamid Alshaibani, chairman of the competitions committee.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have isolated Qatar, cutting all ties with Doha since June 5, accusing the emirate of supporting extremism and fostering ties with Iran.
World Cup 2022 host Qatar denies the charges, claiming the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty.
Regardless, the dispute has now lasted more than 100 days and shows few signs of ending soon.
This latest edition of the Gulf Cup of Nations, which is held every two years, has already run into problems.
It was meant to be played in Kuwait in 2016 but due to the country’s FIFA ban the tournament was moved to Qatar and scheduled to be played a year late.
Qatar are the current holders of the trophy, having beaten Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the 2014 final.