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A World Cup dream in peril

More questioning Qatar's ability to host 2022 World Cup as crisis with Gulf allies escalates

DOHA: Qatar has insisted it will not "surrender" and rejected any interference in its foreign policy, defying its Gulf neighbours in a continuing dispute over its alleged support for extremists.

But the country's ability to host the 2022 World Cup could be in trouble if the escalating enmity with Saudi Arabia and its allies continues.

Qatar, one of the smallest Arab states with a population of 2.4 million, is spending US$500 million (S$692 million) a week to bring the biggest and most popular sports competition to the Arab world for the first time.

Its neighbours, who are many of the intended spectators, are blocking the supplies - from cement to door handles - the country needs to pull off the feat, Bloomberg reported.

Construction continues for now, despite a blockade that is stranding trucks in Saudi Arabia and cargo in ports in the United Arab Emirates.

Both countries, along with Bahrain and Egypt, had cut air, sea and land links with Qatar.

In an interview with AFP yesterday, Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that calls for a change in the country's policy are unacceptable.

"No one has the right to intervene in our foreign policy," Mr Sheikh Mohammed said.

He claimed that Qatar can survive "forever" despite the measures taken against it.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain led a string of countries that this week cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

Qatar strongly denied the allegations and expressed a willingness to engage in talks to resolve the crisis.

According to United Kingdom-based analyst Naser al-Tamimi, an export ban placed on materials means that delays in the completion of some of the World Cup's projects are likely.

Qatar plans to construct nine new medium and large-sized football stadiums.

Mr al-Tamimi said: "If Qatar's land borders and air space are closed for any length of time, it could negatively affect the timeline and delivery of World Cup projects."

CRISIS

The crisis escalated further yesterday, after Saudi Arabia and its allies placed a number of Qataris and Doha-based organisations on a "terror list".

As many as 18 individuals were named, including members of Qatar's royal family and a former minister.

The Guardian reported a source involved with the committee tasked with building the tournament's facilities as saying that the diplomatic crisis is posing the greatest challenge to the nation since it won the vote in 2010.

Football's governing body Fifa told Reuters this week that it is "in regular contact with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 Fifa World Cup."

Qatar's local World Cup organising committee has so far declined to comment.

The influential German Football Association (DFB), whose team are the reigning world champions, said it will discuss the matter with the German government.

"There are still five years to go before the World Cup starts.

"During this time, priority should be given to political solutions rather than threats of boycott," said DFB president Reinhard Grindel, who is also a Fifa Council member.

Would Fifa take the nuclear option and move the 2022 tournament?

It has done it before - the 1986 tournament was staged by Mexico after Colombia pulled out as hosts in 1982 due to economic reasons.

Mr Kristian Ulrichsen, professor of international studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, told CNN: "The danger for Qatar is, who did they beat in the final round of voting?

"It was the US. Well, the US could host it next week.

"They already have the infrastructure and all the stadiums - they have everything."

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