Qatar’s ability to host the 2022 World Cup has been placed under renewed scrutiny by regional tensions between Iran and the USA
Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United take on 2022 World Cup host.
- Iran and USA tension stirred up World War Three which trended across Facebook and Twitter as social media users reacted to the incident.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani raises the World Cup trophy after Qatar’s successful 2022 bid
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar and what tensions between Iran and USA mean for football
The potential for a outbreak in further hostilities in the middle east could threaten to cast doubt over the 2022 World Cup tournament that is set to be hosted by Qatar
The assassination of Qassem Suleimani in Iraq by a drone strike signed off by President Donald Trump at the start of January sparked fears that another conflict could be on the horizon in the middle east.
World War Three trended across Facebook and Twitter as social media users reacted to the incident.
In this context, with potentially millions of lives put at risk if violence were to escalate, questions about the future of a football tournament seem absurd.
However, such is the extent to which the game is already tied up with regional power and geopolitics, the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is by no means a sporting issue to be isolated from the wider world.
Manchester United have already cancelled plans for a warm weather training trip to the middle east during the Premier League winter break in February.
Arsenal are also monitoring the situation with regards to their own visit to the region while Liverpool visited Qatar in December to take part in the Club World Cup.
The reigning European champions called for an investigation into the deaths of migrant workers in the country, which has been one of the main controversies around the 2022 World Cup.
Club football will also have to adapt to a new calendar for the 2021/22 season as the tournament is moved from the summer to the winter due to the local climate.
Qatar have already had an influence on European football in other ways too, such as the takeover of Paris Saint-Germain by Qatar Sports Investments.
Pep Guardiola was signed up to promote the country’s bid to host the World Cup, while ex-Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino travelled to Qatar to host a coaching masterclass in 2019.
Former Barcelona captain Xavi is also working in the Qatar Stars League and is now manager of Al Sadd after having originally joined the club as a player-coach in 2015.
To find out what conflict between Iran and the USA could mean for the competition,
Two experts on Qatar and the middle east weighed in on what conflict between Iran and the USA could mean for the competition.
Would it still be possible for Qatar to host the World Cup 2022 if war were to break out between Iran and the USA?
Dr Kristian Ulrichsen of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy: “If tension between the USA and Iran ever escalates into conflict it likely will be asymmetric and unconventional in nature and expose Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to blow-back from Iranian retaliation rather than Qatar.
“Any inter-state conflict is not likely to last long, but is a low probability, in my view. Neither the Iranians nor the USA wants a war, so what we may expect to see is a continuation of the pattern of incidents that disrupt regional stability but remain below the threshold of conventional conflict.
“Any rise in tension could lead to greater political risk being attached to the World Cup and/or participation in construction and other related projects, which might raise insurance premiums, but observers are likely reassured by the fact that for all the incidents and the persistent tension of the past year, there has not been any escalation into outright conflict.”
If not outright war, what could the escalating tensions between Iran and the USA mean for Qatar’s plans to host the 2022 World Cup beyond cancellation?
Dr Courtney Freer of the Middle East Centre at The London School of Economics and Political Science: “It’s so difficult to know what’s going to happen, with so many things in the air in terms of international relations, as well as domestic calculations like Iranian and US elections in 2020. As things stand now, though, I don’t see any reason that Qatar could not or would not host the World Cup 2022.
“Escalating Iran-USA tensions could potentially mean that the Iranian team is not allowed to play in Qatar, given that Qatar houses a large US military base, or that fewer spectators attend the event, but beyond that, it’s hard to say what other effects these tensions could have on the World Cup.”
What would you expect from the international and regional reaction if pressure were to mount on the tournament to be moved from Qatar?
Dr Ulrichsen: “There has already been pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for the World Cup to be moved from Qatar, both directly and indirectly through surrogates in London and Washington, DC, and this campaign may continue.
“However, there will be many football fans across the region, including in Saudi Arabia, who will be hoping that the first Middle East World Cup goes ahead as planned.
Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries have sought to isolate Qatar by restricting access to their airspace.
What would conflict in Iran, on the other side of the Straits of Hormuz, mean for accessing Qatar in addition to these current difficulties?
Dr Ulrichsen: “Access to airspace over Iran has been crucial to Qatar since the Saudis, Emiratis, and Bahrainis closed much of their own airspace to Qatar in June 2017.
“The USA has expressed mounting frustration with the blockading states and is likely to further increase pressure on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to at least partially lift the airspace ban so that Qatar has alternatives to Iranian airspace, especially if the Trump administration wants to ramp up its maximum pressure against Iran.”
Dr Freer: “I think that, after Emirati and Saudi participation in the Arabian Gulf Cup between last November and December in Qatar, I am hopeful that, even if the blockade is not lifted (which it very well could be by 2022), teams and fans would be allowed to travel.
“Holding the first World Cup in the Middle East is such a momentous occasion for the entire region that I believe that efforts will be made to allow people in the region to attend and to enjoy the event, unless of course the geopolitics shift meaningfully from the status quo.”
If the tournament were to go ahead what could Qatar do to guarantee the safety of fans and athletes if the Iran situation were to escalate?
Dr Ulrichsen: “The respect with which the players and fans from the three Gulf blockading states were treated at the recent Gulf Cup of Nations in Doha in December suggests strongly that supporters do not have to worry about risks to their safety arising out of political or geopolitical tensions.”
Qatar have hosted the Club World Cup and their facilities are used as a warm weather training base by Premier League clubs. What could the Iran situation mean for the country as a hub for football beyond their World Cup plans?
Dr Ulrichsen: “As the Manchester United’s cancellation has shown, there might be greater vulnerability to shorter-term plans by clubs to base themselves in Qatar and other Gulf neighbors, such as Dubai, as these are easier to call off and find alternatives for than an event of the scale of the World Cup.”
Would losing the tournament help or hinder efforts to improve conditions in Qatar given the added scrutiny that has been placed on the issue by football in recent years?
Dr Ulrichsen: “The Qatari government and the World Cup organizing committee are fully aware of the importance of migrant welfare issues and have put in motion plans to address deficiencies in ways that were not visible in the early years after the award of the hosting rights in 2010.
“Qatari officials stress that reform is a journey in progress rather than a fixed endpoint and I’d expect that such initiatives will continue up to and beyond the World Cup.