World Cup 2022 under threat as diplomatic crisis hits Qatar
Fifa's controversial choice of hosts accused of funding terrorism by Middle Eastern neighbours
Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup could be in doubt after several of its Middle Eastern neighbours cut diplomatic ties and accused it of funding terrorism.
Football's world governing body, Fifa, would only say it is in "regular contact" with the tournament organisers. However, The Guardian says the "prospect of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup has been plunged into the most serious doubt".
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other nations severed links with the country on Monday, essentially blockading the peninsula by cutting off land, air and sea routes.
The diplomatic crisis leaves Qatar facing several problems:
With land and sea borders now closed, Qatar's major construction projects could stall.
In addition to building new stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, other projects include a new port and a metro system in the pipeline, says the BBC.
"Key materials, including concrete and steel come in by ship but also by land from neighbouring Saudi. The closure of that border could, as with food - push up prices and lead to delays."
It is a serious problem, says the Guardian. "The multibillion-dollar preparations to host the 2022 tournament, which involve building nine stadiums and huge infrastructure, is put into perspective by local reports that Qataris are so worried about the blockade that they are stocking up on food.
"The border with Saudi Arabia is the only road route into the country; Qatar relies on sea ports for its materials and the blockade of airspace is a huge logistical handicap to the country and its flagship airline, Qatar Airways."
It is still five years until the tournament in Qatar, but a similar crisis in 2022 would leave fans unable to attend.
"Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways and Dubai's Emirates are suspending all flights to and from Doha, starting from Tuesday morning. Both carriers operate four daily return flights to Doha," says the BBC. "Budget carriers FlyDubai and Air Arabia are also cancelling routes to Doha, with other airlines, including Bahrain's Gulf Air and Egyptair expected to follow suit."
Citibank analysts have also warned that "if sanctions are not resolved in short order, World Cup construction could be impacted, and plans for fans to base themselves in neighboring countries might also be affected", reports Arab News.
Part of Qatar's pitch to win the tournament was to present itself as "one of the most stable countries in the Middle East", says Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf analyst with the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston.
"With that potentially called into question - and the fact there are other countries which could host the event at little notice - organisers may be getting anxious," reports News.com.au in Australia.
The spectre of a political boycott is looming. Qatar is under scrutiny for its record on human rights and the current world champions, Germany, have expressed concern over the allegations at the centre of the diplomatic crisis.
"One thing is clear," says DFB, the German football association. "The football community worldwide should agree that... major tournaments should not be played in countries that actively support terror."
Qatar has strong sporting links and is a sponsor of Fifa. It also owns French football club Paris Saint-Germain - and those relationships could be damaged.
Business deals are starting to "crumble", says the BBC, adding: "Major Saudi football team Al-Ahli has cancelled a sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways."
Barcelona was sponsored by Qatar Airlines, but their deal is due to finish at the end of the month.
Losing the tournament
The worst-case scenario would see Qatar stripped of the right to host the tournament.
The Gulf Cup of Nations, scheduled to take place in Doha in December, is already in doubt, according to Arab News.
"If the allegations are proved correct, then Qatar could end up having the World Cup taken away by Fifa, with the United States likely to step in," reports The Sun.
However, USA Today says that with the country bidding for the 2026 tournament, it may not be keen to step in, which that leaves Fifa in a mess of its own making.
"This is a tournament that should have been stripped away years ago. Now it is at a point where that might be too late," says the paper. "Given that taking such a decision would be a monumental one, Fifa will almost certainly keep its fingers crossed and let things play out.
"Fifa is stuck with its troubled and tarnished host, stuck with its greedy and sullied decision, stuck in a pickle of entirely its own making."