Qatar’s decision to offer Kuwait the Gulf Cup hosting rights is a goodwill gesture. It’s also an execution of sports diplomacy. While Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have been unbending in their resolve to isolate Qatar, Kuwait has steadfastly stood by the tiny, yet defiant Gulf State.
Had the prestigious tournament taken place in Qatar, where it was originally scheduled, nothing would have changed in terms of world opinion. Rather, Qatar would have received positive reception for maintaining its standards when it came to hosting international tournaments. And on the other spectrum, the standoff would have remained and Kuwait would have continued in its quest to find peace in a tinderbox that the region has turned into.
Sports diplomacy has the power to transcend political differences and bring people together, even at the Government level. It can revive hope where there was previously only despair. Qatar, by handing over the 23rd edition of the Gulf Cup to Kuwait, has shown that it is willing to share. Qatar has had the privilege to host multiple global sports events, but it also wants others in the neighbourhood to have equal recognition as sports hub.
Kuwait especially needed this tournament. The Kuwaitis have for long been deprived of opportunities to enjoy watching international football in the country. It has thrice been suspended by FIFA for political interference since 2007. Now, with the tournament set to kick-off on December 22 in the country, there is great anticipation and excitement. There is history attached to it. The first Gulf Cup tournament took place in 1970, and was won by the Kuwaiti team.
Qatar’s decision to forgo the tournament is aimed at leaving an impression on the Arab bloc, but they are likely to remain sceptical, which would be on expected lines. The blockading nations wouldn’t have joined in the tournament had it taken place in Qatar. So all’s well that ends well. The tournament will now see all the participating nations – Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen – come out in full strength and fight for the trophy. FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has expressed gratitude, thanking Qatar for its laudable step and declaring it as a win for football lovers.
With the Gulf crisis as the backdrop, the tournament will be quite fiery, especially when the Saudis and the Emiratis lock horns with Qatar. Although the athletes don’t, and shouldn’t, really care about the political conflict that their respective countries are embroiled in, the Gulf Cup could see tempers flying. Good sense must prevail.