Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE send teams to Qatar’s Gulf Cup despite blockade

The Khalifa International Stadium, which will host every game of the 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all confirmed that they will compete in this month’s Arabian Gulf Cup football tournament in Qatar, despite their ongoing economic and political blockade of the country.

The three cut ties with Qatar in 2017 alongside several other regional allies, accusing the state of sponsoring terrorism, and last month appeared to be set to boycott the Gulf Cup after not responding to invitations from the Qatar Football Association.

However, the football associations of all three countries have now issued statements announcing their intentions to play, with the UAE’s stating that it had reached its decision “after receiving a renewed invitation from the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation”.

The move may signal a thawing in relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council members. Two years ago, the previous Gulf Cup was supposed to take place in Qatar but was moved instead to Kuwait to allow the tournament to go ahead with the full complement of teams.

The announcement means the 24th edition of the Gulf Cup will go ahead with all eight member teams of the federation, with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE joining defending champions Oman and hosts Qatar alongside Iraq, Kuwait and Yemen. The AGCFF had restructured the competition in light of the three absent teams to take a round-robin format, but will now return to the Gulf Cup’s traditional structure of a group stage followed by semi-finals and a final. A draw will take place in the coming days.

It is yet to be seen whether fans from the three blockading countries will travel to Qatar to support their teams. Qatari fans were unable to attend their country’s victory in this year’s Asian Cup, held in the UAE, thanks to the embargo. Qatari tourists must acquire a special permit to entire the UAE.

The 2019 Gulf Cup will take place from November 24 to December 9 at the Khalifa International Stadium, a 40,000 capacity air-conditioned venue in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The news follows the announcement that the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has signed a three-year deal to play its Super Cup – now in an expanded four-team format – in Saudi Arabia for the next three years. That decision caused consternation in Qatar, which has appealed to rights-holders to avoid hosting events in Saudi due to the ongoing beoutQ controversy.