In a grand gesture combining great sportsmanship with diplomatic maturity that has been the hallmark of Qatar’s dealings with its neighbours throughout the ongoing blockade, the country has offered Kuwait the opportunity to host the prestigious regional Gulf Cup football tournament.
The offer was made by Qatar Football Association president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani yesterday and comes in the wake of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s announcement that the ban imposed on Kuwait over alleged government interference has been lifted after the country’s parliament passed a new sports law on Sunday in accordance with the world football governing body’s requirements.
The Gulf Cup was scheduled to begin in Doha later this month but was clouded in a bit of uncertainty because Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain refused to send their teams to Qatar and Kuwait was serving out the FIFA ban rendering its football team ineligible to take part in any international events.
The tournament’s rules require the presence of five teams for it to go ahead, but Kuwait’s ban meant that only four countries – hosts Qatar, Oman, Yemen and Iraq – were left in contention, making the event a non-starter.
Kuwait had to miss the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as well as the 2019 Asian Cup because of the FIFA ban thereby depriving the football fans of the country the chance to see their team in action in high-profile tournaments.
But FIFA chief Infantino flew to Kuwait yesterday to meet with officials before making the eagerly-awaited announcement in the afternoon, bringing the country back into the international football fold.
“The suspension of the Kuwait football association is lifted,” Infantino said on Twitter, much to the joy of Kuwaiti fans.
QFA chief Sheikh Hamad congratulated Kuwait saying it was a happy occasion for Kuwait as well as for the Gulf Cup football fans.
“We congratulate Kuwait on the occasion of the lifting of their ban and we wish the Kuwaiti football team the very best in the future,” he said.
Sheikh Hamad added that he had previously stated that the Gulf Cup would be incomplete without Kuwait who have dominated the tournament with 10 titles, and now that they are back he wouldn’t mind if the event is hosted by them.
He added that the Arabian Gulf Cup Football Federation, of which he is the president, will hold a meeting next week to discuss the matter further and work out the modalities in case Kuwait decides to take up the offer.
If Kuwait indeed decides to host the event, it could also result in the blockading nations sending their teams to the tournament which can then have its full quota of eight teams, thus making it a very competitive affair
It may be added that the 23rd edition of the tournament was supposed to be hosted by Kuwait originally but moved to Qatar after FIFA decided to ban Kuwait.
The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah presenting FIFA president Gianni Infantino with a Kuwaiti national team kit, bearing his name in Kuwait City yesterday.