Senior Emirati sporting official said country is willing to step in and help host matches during the 2022 tournament.

The United Arab Emirates would be willing to step in and help host matches during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, according to a senior Emirati sporting official.

Aref al-Awani, tournament director for the upcoming Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Asian Cup in the UAE, stressed that while there had been no formal approach from either FIFA or the Qatar Football Association, the country “would be willing to provide any help needed”.

“If FIFA were to propose it, we would certainly look at the economic impact and media opportunities,” Awani said.

“It’s good to have football in the region… sports for us is to bring everybody together,” he added. 

FIFA is studying a proposal to expand the 2022 tournament in Qatar from 32 to 48 teams – an increase which would put extreme pressure on the Gulf state.

Qatar announced earlier this year that 90 percent of the tournament’s infrastructure would be in place by 2019, but four more stadiums would be required if the 48-team format is adopted. Awani did not explain how the Emirati participation would work given the country currently has no diplomatic ties with Doha.

The UAE alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on the Gulf state, severing diplomatic and trade ties on June 5, 2017.

The quartet accuses Qatar of “supporting terrorism” and being too close to regional rival, Iran. Qatar has repeatedly rejected the accusations as baseless.

Amid the ongoing blockade, Doha-based beIN sport has gone dark for thousands of Emirati viewers after the broadcaster complained its content was being pirated.

BeIN has exclusive rights to the World Cup, which started on June 14 in Russia. Its channels were blocked in the UAE immediately after the crisis started, but were back on the air last July.

Human right records concern
Earlier this year, rights group Amnesty International warned FIFA against expanding the 2022 World Cup to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, raising concerns about human rights in the Gulf states.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are in the throes of cracking down on government critics and prominent rights defenders,” Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said in October.

“An expansion of the Qatar World Cup into Saudi Arabia and the UAE ought to come with a proper acknowledgement from FIFA of the need for both countries to substantially improve their human rights record,” he added.

On Monday, the UAE appeals court upheld a 10-year prison sentence to prominent pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor for criticising the government on social media, Amnesty International reported.

Hassan al-Thawaid, the secretary-general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – the body tasked with getting Qatar ready to host the World Cup – stressed that the decision to expand from 32 to 48 teams would be taken after a feasibility study is completed in March.

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