Bengaluru, January 7: The political unrest in the Gulf region spilled over to the football pitch with a senior Asian Football Confederation (AFC) official from Qatar and a five-member media delegation from the country being reportedly denied entry to the UAE for the ongoing AFC Asian Cup 2019.
It may be recalled that since June 2017, Gulf countries UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrian have imposed economic and political sansctions on Qatar for its alleged support to terrorism. Incidentally, all the countries are competing at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 which is being held at eight venues in the UAE from January 5 to 31.
As part of the sanctions imposed, direct flights from Qatar to the blockading countries have been halted. Qatari planes are also banned from the airspace of rival countries.
Though Qatar has vehemently denied those allegations, the relationship between the Gulf neighbours continues to remain strained.
The latest incident involving Saoud Al Mohannadi, who is one of the vice presidents of AFC proves just that. According to reports, Al Mohannadi was stopped from boarding an Oman Air flight to Abu Dhabi from Muscat. He was told by the airline that his name was not on a list held at Abu Dhabi airport.
AFC officials denied the report though saying nobody is barred from entering the UAE. Later Al Mohannadi, who also happens to be the chairman of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 organising committee was allowed to enter UAE and he also attended the organising committee meeting.
It is presumed that the possibility of deterrent sanctions against the UAE by the International and Asian federations eventually forced the UAE authorities to have a rethink.
But five Doha-based journalists who were travelling to UAE to cover the tournament were also refused entry by UAE authorities. After being denied entry and being kept waiting at Dubai airport for nearly 13 hours, the journalists returned to Doha.
"We returned to Doha - me and my colleagues - members of the Qatari media delegation - after waiting at the airport for more than 13 hours, and the journey from Doha to Kuwait to Dubai and then Dubai - Muscat-Muscat Doha took over 27 hours, and we have not been able to enter Emirates to cover 2019 Asia Cup, unfortunately," tweeted Mohammed Al Jazar, who was one among the group. He also tweeted a picture of them together.
At the AFC Asian Cup 2019, Qatar, are drawn in Group E along with Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and DPR Korea. They begin their campaign on January 9 against Lebanon. Four days later they play DPR Korea and wind up their group engagements on January 17 with the most eagerly-awaited match against Saudi at the Zayed Sports City Stadium (Abu Dhabi).
Given the current impasse, a lot is at stake in the Qatar vs Saudi match as the incident involving Al Mohannadi raises apprehesnion that politics may play spoilsport in the tournament.