By Sports Reporter/Doha
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the tournament, the draw for the Gulf Cup of Nations was held in Doha yesterday. The eight-team tournament, scheduled to be held in Qatar from December 22 to January 5 faces uncertain times amidst the siege of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Saudi, UAE and Bahrain make up the eight participating teams and are unlikely to take part in the event. The UAE also had refused to send its under-16 team to Doha last week for the AFC qualifiers.
However, the draw was held yesterday, with Jassim al-Rumaihi, general secretary of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federations (AGCFF), declaring Qatar was ready to host the event.
Al-Rumaihi was confident that tournament will go ahead and called on the boycotting countries not to mix sport and politics. “We will see what happens. Qatar is ready to organise and host this tournament. It will be clearer in the coming hours and the coming days. In the current situation, I hope we don’t mix sport and politics,” he said.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain did not send their representatives or acknowledge the result of the draw, and have yet to comment on whether they would be competing in the tournament. Al-Rumaihi said that if Saudi, UAE and Bahrain pull 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 on whether to stage the tournament. “Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have not confirmed their participation in the tournament, and the competition needs at least five teams under the current format,” al-Rumaihi said.
In the draw, Qatar was placed in Group A with Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen, while Group B consists of Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Kuwait will join Group B if their FIFA suspension is lifted. FIFA banned Kuwait’s national football federation last year. Al-Rumaihi hoped that FIFA will give the nod for Kuwait’s participation.
The Gulf Cup has been held roughly every two years since 1970. It is usually an eight-team affair with two groups of four, whereby the top two in each group go through to the semi-final and then eventually to the final.
Kuwait hold the record for most wins with 10, while Qatar are the holders having won the last edition held in Saudi Arabia in 2014. The tournament was meant to be played in Kuwait in 2016 but was moved to Qatar due to FIFA ban and was scheduled to be played a year late.
Al-Rumaihi revealed that Bahrain had proposed a postponement of the tournament due to Kuwait’s suspension, but the AGCFF’s executive committee rejected the proposal. It was decided, in the meeting in Bahrain last year, that Qatar will host the tournament.
The tournament is the first to be held under the umbrella of AGCFF, which was created to professionalise the event more. The AGCFF general secretary hoped all the federation’s activities will be supported ahead of the first edition and that there will be future plans to improve the tournament.
Hamid Alshaibani, chairman of the competitions committee, who also addressed the press conference said if some countries boycott the event, they could face fines and may also be ordered to compensate television broadcasters.
Oman Football Association general secretary Said Othman al-Bulushi said that delaying the Gulf Nations Cup would be damaging for regional football. “It will be a negative for the sport in the Gulf countries but we hope that the three countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, will be participating,” he said.
The Qatar Football Association president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad al-Thani and Qatar Olympic Committee secretary-general Dr Thani al-Kuwari were among the top dignitaries who were present at the draw ceremony along with the AGCFF officials.
The new logo of the AGCFF was unveiled and a short film, which documented the history of the tournament since its first edition, was shown before the draw ceremony.
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