Doha: A Qatari official and senior Asian Cup tournament organiser arrived in the United Arab Emirates Friday after sources close to the matter confirmed he had been denied entry 24 hours earlier, amid a simmering diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
Saoud al-Mohannadi, vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Qatar Football Association, arrived in Abu Dhabi on Friday morning, the AFC said. Mohannadi is also chair of the Asian Cup's organising committee.
An AFC statement on Thursday said it was "aware of reports that [Mohannadi]... was unable to travel to the United Arab Emirates from Muscat in Oman".
"We are investigating the situation as we were assured of visas and entry permits for all AFC Organising Committee and Executive Members," the AFC said.
However, Aref Hamad al-Awani, the Emirati Local Organising Committee tournament director denied that anyone had been stopped from entering the country.
"The news is not true," he said, adding, "Saoud (al-Mohannadi) arrived today to Abu Dhabi and preparing himself for his meetings. We did not see any evidence that al-Mohannadi was denied entry. And the proof (is) that he is here today. This issue has political purposes, and we try to keep sports away from politics."
The almost month-long tournament, Asia's biggest football competition, will be hosted by the UAE. The incident could raise fears that the tournament may end up being mired in political issues.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — which have imposed a political and economic boycott on fellow Gulf state Qatar since June 2017 — all have teams in the competition.
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.
World Cup 2022 host Qatar has been accused by its neighbours of supporting terrorism and seeking better relations with Saudi's arch regional foe, Iran. Doha denies the accusations and says its former allies are seeking regime change in the gas-rich state.
It also comes at a time when FIFA president Gianni Infantino is pressing for the Qatar World Cup to be increased from 32 to 48 teams, a move which would likely mean Doha having to share tournament games with neighbouring countries.
Qatar will also play in the Asian Cup — and their team has been drawn in the same group as Saudi.
The pair meet in a potentially explosive match on 17 January in Abu Dhabi. It is the first time Qatar will have played in the boycotting nations since the start of the crisis. The team flies to the Emirates on 5 January via Kuwait.
Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 23:28:31 IST