KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: A significant shadow across the prospects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been removed with the collapse of the Saudi Arabia-led political and economic boycott of its neighbouring Gulf state.
Trouble arose in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. This was assessed by political observers as the “the worst rift in years in the Arab world.”
Other Gulf states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.
Inevitably critics of the surprise World Cup hosting award by world football federation FIFA in 2010 seized on the row as an opportunity to revive old antagonisms because Qatar’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia.
However a border closure and airspace blockade has had comparatively little effect.
Indeed, the Saudis have attracted just about the negative international headlines, partly out of the creation of the BeoutQ pirate sports broadcasting channel. This targeted the command of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region TV rights by Qatar’s beIN Media.
The World Cup, Champions League and Premier League were among the victims of the piracy which was ultimately condemned by the World Trade Organisation.
The WTO ruling appeared to be a factor in the collapse of a £300m Saudi bid to buy control of Premier League Newcastle United.
Now, in a significant move the Saudis and their allies have agreed to restore ties with Qatar.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, told local media: “All the outstanding [issues], whether returning of diplomatic relations, flights, will go back to normal. It’s a very important breakthrough that we believe will contribute very much to the security of all our nations in the region.”
International sport – and FIFA in particular – will watch to see what happens to BeoutQ, which is beamed via the Saudi-based Arabsat operator.