DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Qatar on Wednesday strongly criticized Emirati officials for questioning Doha’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, saying that the tournament “is not up for discussion or negotiation” amid a diplomatic crisis engulfing the region.
Four Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, have been boycotting Qatar for months, in part over allegations that it supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar, which hosts a major U.S. military base, has long denied supporting extremists.
Qatar’s Government Communications Office said the attempt by Emirati officials to link the games to the dispute shows that the boycott “is founded on petty jealousy, not real concerns.”
“This demand is a clear attempt to undermine our independence. The World Cup, like our sovereignty, is not up for discussion or negotiation,” it added.
Organizers of the Middle East’s first World Cup urged regional rivals to rally behind the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us all” and stop the blockade.
“We’ve always taken the simple position that sport is elevated from conflict and that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be a platform to bring people together, separate from any political ideology,” the supreme committee said in a statement.
“We also see the tournament as a powerful tool for Qatar and the region to counter extremism and reject terrorism.”
Lobbying firms and interest groups funded by the boycotting Arab nations increasingly have focused on Qatar’s hosting of the soccer tournament. They’ve pointed to allegations of corruption surrounding Qatar’s winning bid, as well as the conditions that laborers working in Qatar face in building infrastructure for the games. Such conditions are prevalent across Gulf Arab nations.
On Sunday, a Dubai security official wrote on Twitter that the only way for “Qatar’s crisis” to end is if Doha gives up the tournament. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan later said his “personal analysis” of the financial pressure Doha faces in hosting the games had been misunderstood.
On Tuesday, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash followed up by writing on Twitter that Qatar’s hosting of the games should “include a repudiation of policies supporting extremism & terrorism.”
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE began their boycott of Qatar on June 5. Mediation efforts by Kuwait, the U.S. and others so far have failed to resolve the diplomatic crisis, the worst to hit the Gulf since Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
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. Qatari authorities say their efforts at building stadiums and infrastructure for the tournament remain on track.
“Even today, when we are faced with the current illegal blockade, we stand resolute that everybody will be welcome when the first ball is kicked on 21 November 2022,” Qatar’s World Cup supreme committee said.