A top Emirati official has claimed that the blockade of Qatar by its neighbours will cease if it is stripped of or surrenders the 2022 World Cup. A link between the staging of the tournament by the Gulf state and the boycott of it by four Arab nations has been drawn for the first time by Dubai’s head of security, lieutenant general Dhahi Khalfan. “If the World Cup goes out of Qatar, the crisis in Qatar will end because the crisis was made to break it,” Khalfan wrote on Twitter. This came soon after a row broke out over whether the country’s hosting of the World Cup was under threat after a report warning of “an increasing political risk” to the tournament was leaked. The tournament has not come up in the demands previously made by the boycotting countries, though losing the World Cup would represent a bitter defeat for the tiny peninsular nation that’s pushed itself onto the world stage with its bid and its Al-Jazeera satellite news network.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all cut diplomatic ties and began a boycott of Qatar on June 5, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists and restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran that makes its citizens incredibly wealthy.
Khalfan targeted the FIFA tournament in his tweets. “If the World Cup leaves Qatar, Qatar’s crisis will be over … because the crisis is created to get away from it,” he wrote. He added: “The cost is bigger than what the Hamadein have planned,” likely referring to Qatar’s former ruling emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and former Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani. Some believe both still wield influence within Qatar’s current government now ruled by the former emir’s son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
As the crisis has dragged on despite mediation by Kuwait, the United States and European nations, Qatar’s opponents have begun targeting its hosting of the FIFA cup. They’ve pointed to allegations of corruption surrounding Qatar’s winning bid, as well as the conditions that labourers working in Qatar face in building infrastructure for the games. While FIFA ethics investigators found that the Qataris used a full range of lavishly funded state and sports agencies to win the 2010 vote to host the tournament, authorities concluded there was no “evidence of any improper activity by the bid team.”
When Qatar’s sole land border with Saudi Arabia was closed and sea traffic cut off by the boycott, World Cup organizers were forced to instigate a “Plan B,” including bringing in supplies from Turkey. Asked about Khalfan’s comments, FIFA said: “We do not comment on speculation.”