Kuwait will make its much-awaited return to international football as host of the prestigious Gulf Cup starting December 22, it was confirmed Friday.
The 23rd edition of the tournament was to be held in Qatar but was offered to Kuwait as a gesture of friendship and solidarity for staunchly standing by the country during the course of the illegal blockade imposed on it by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain with support from Egypt.
The tournament will go ahead with no change in dates and with the representation of all the eight teams as originally planned.
“On the basis of consultations between the leaderships of both countries it has been agreed to transfer the Gulf Cup tournament to Kuwait,” Qatar Football Association president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani said on Friday.
“The Gulf Cup is an event to be celebrated by people of all countries of the region and has a prominent place in the hearts of the people. We are sure Kuwait will be perfect hosts,” he added.
The decision was also whole-heartedly endorsed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who visited Qatar on Thursday, a day after announcing that the world football governing body’s ban on Kuwait had been lifted.
“The initiative to move the 2017 Gulf Cup from Qatar to Kuwait to celebrate this event is a strong and symbolic sign,” Infantino said.
“In this respect I would like to congratulate and thank the Qatari football authorities for their honourable gesture,” he added.
Qatar had conducted the draw for the tournament on September 25 with all eight teams included despite the fact that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain did not send their representatives to Doha.
Although they had not expressly said they would not send their teams to Qatar for the tournament, all indications pointed to such a scenario, which would have meant that the event would have had to be played with just five teams – Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Yemen.
Qatar’s pro-active yet non-attritional diplomacy during the course of the long blockade won the country many admirers, a fact that was not lost on Infantino.
“The 2017 Gulf Cup will be a great celebration of football in the whole region and it sends out a very powerful message to have all of the eight teams participating in Kuwait,” the FIFA chief said.
Infantino added that the development augurs well for football in the region and that he would be flying down to Kuwait to watch some of the opening matches.
“To mark this special occasion, it will be a great honour for me to be attending the opening games of the Gulf Cup in Kuwait on December 22 and 23. I want to already thank the teams of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen for participating in the tournament.”
He said football could play a big role in fostering friendship and uniting people.
“The solidarity and friendship shown by all illustrates once again the power of football to unite people across borders. This tournament embraces the spirit of sportsmanship and is a great example of the values FIFA and football strive to spread around the world.”
He also congratulated Kuwait for drafting a new sports law that helped in having the FIFA ban lifted.
“It is a great pleasure to welcome the Kuwaiti football community back in the international football arena. During my visit to Kuwait earlier this week, I have witnessed with my own eyes the true happiness of all the players and fans in Kuwait to finally be back,” he said.
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