Qatar's unifying World Cup vision erodes as nations cut ties
Qatar's bid for the 2022 World Cup was based on a powerful vision that soccer could unite the Middle East.
"Just think together of what we can achieve together," Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of the Qatar's then-ruler, told FIFA voters in 2010. She ambitiously forecast a "culture of peace across our region through football."
With five years until kickoff, that optimism is rapidly disintegrating after Arab neighbors severed ties on Monday with the tiny nation that turned to sports to buttress its global status.
Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, is hoping the regional rifts are healed long before there's any need to contemplate any change of host, a move that would deal a heavy blow to Qatar's reputation and economy as it is investing more than $150 billion on infrastructure to handle the World Cup. For now, FIFA is predictably sidestepping detailed questions about the impact of the decision by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cast Qatar adrift diplomatically.
Qatar's Gulf neighbours have accused Qatar of supporting terror groups, interfering in the sovereign affairs of Arab countries and backing groups that undermine political stability.
FIFA has reiterated that it maintains regular contact with Qatar.
"One thing is certain, the world's football community should agree that large tournaments cannot be played in countries that actively support terror," said Reinhard Grindel, president of the German football federation and a member of FIFA's ruling council.
Qatar denies funding extremists, but that hasn't stopped its neighbours from implementing punitive measures that impact people and businesses across the region, including soccer fans.