Siege nations Saudi Arabia and the UAE are adamant their teams won’t play the AFC Champions League against Qatari clubs on a home-and-away basis despite Qatar’s insistence it has no problems welcoming them in Doha.
On November 28, the Asian Football Confederation had spurned the demand of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to have their teams’ matches against Qatari clubs in the prestigious tournament played on neutral venues.
Their politically-motivated stance created a crisis for the AFC which sent a high-level delegation to the Gulf to sort out the matter. Led by AFC’s Senior Vice President Praful Patel, the delegation visited Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia this week but failed to make any headway.
The reason for this is that Saudi Arabia and UAE both stuck to their position that their clubs will take part in the tournament only if their matches involving Qatari teams are played on neutral venues.
Mohamed Khalfan al-Rumaithi, Chairman of the UAE’s General Authority for Sports, said in an interview with Abu Dhabi Sports channel that “our clubs will play in the Asian Champions League this year but at neutral venues.”
“We will not play (in Qatar) despite the importance of the UAE to the success of the AFC Champions League. No one will force us to play in places we don’t want to play,” AFP’s Arabic service reported. President of the Saudi Football Federation, Adel Ezzat, also echoed the same view. “We have met the (AFC) delegation. Our clubs will not play in Qatar,” he said, according to the agency.
Ezzat said he was waiting for the AFC to resolve the issue during its executive committee meeting in February, adding that if the AFC doesn’t accept their demand “the Asian Champions League will fail miserably because it won’t have six teams from Saudi Arabia and UAE participating in it.”
However, Mansour Ansari, the secretary-general of the Qatar Football Association, said that Qatar doesn’t believe in mixing politics with sports.
“We explained to the AFC delegation that we have taken all measures to welcome all teams to Qatar. During the meeting we reiterated our stand that Qatar does not mix politics with sport.
“As far as security is concerned we told them that Qatar leads the way in sports security and also hosts the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS).”
Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail have been drawn in Group B of the Asian Champions League and will have the UAE’s Al Wahda as one of their rivals.
In Group C, Qatar’s Al Sadd are pitted against the UAE’s Al Wasl, while Group D figures Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. Qatar’s Al Gharafa can also make the group stage of the AFC Champions League if they win their play-off against Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor on January 30.
Matches in the group stage will begin on February 12.
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