Qatar could be stripped of its right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with the global soccer federation set to announce its decision next September, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Turki al-Sheikh claimed Saturday, suggesting the US and UK as alternate hosts.
Sources close to al-Sheikh were quoted earlier by a German news outlet as saying it has already been decided that Qatar would indeed lose the hosting rights for the games, which have been mired in controversy.
Al-Sheikh, whose country has been involved in a major diplomatic spat with Qatar, publicly endorsed England and the United States as alternative hosts of the major sports event if indeed the controversial bid by the Middle Eastern country is reversed.
However, there was no official signal from FIFA that Qatar was actually in danger of losing hosting rights for the worldwide soccer tourney.
In 2010, the 22-member FIFA executive committee voted for Russia as hosts of the 2018 World Cup installation, and for Qatar as home of the 2022 contest — two highly contentious picks that have been widely criticized ever since, with allegations of corruption and vote-buying surrounding the vote.
Along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties and began a boycott of Qatar in June 2017, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.
Qatar has long denied funding extremists and restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran that makes its citizens incredibly wealthy.
The Gulf crisis forced organizers to move the eight-nation Gulf Cup from host Qatar to Kuwait. Doha agreed on condition that it would host the next Gulf tournament, in 2019.
The fact that Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain would only play after the tournament was switched from Qatar has raised fears over a potential boycott of 2022.
Qatar has said they expect up to 1.5 million fans to attend the World Cup, the majority coming from the region, mainly from Saudi Arabia.
Last month, the country’s most senior World Cup organizer, Hassan al-Thawadi publicly urged the boycotting countries to allow their nationals to attend 2022.
Some have claimed the crisis with Qatar was caused by its selection to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, saying the impasse could end if Doha gave up that right.
On Friday, German online magazine Focus reported FIFA has recently “changed” the procedure for choosing World Cup hosts following the controversy, and that in the future all 211 member states would participate in the deciding vote rather than the relatively small panel used thus far, quoting information provided by the Saudi sports ministry.
The report quoted ministry sources as saying FIFA has made the decision to strip World Cup hosting rights from Qatar due to “clear evidence of a vote buy,” and will formally announce the decision in the late summer of 2018.
Al-Sheikh appeared to confirm part of the report a day later, saying that “September 2018 will be an intense month” in FIFA corridors.
“If found guilty of any ethical violations, the Qatari government must accept the consequences of their actions,” he said on Twitter.
September 2018 will be an intense month in the corridors of football's powerbrokers pic.twitter.com/HqZkMrZ3Sp
— TURKI ALALSHIKH (@Turki_alalshikh) February 24, 2018
“England is the birthplace of modern football,” explained al-Sheikh, using the sport’s British name. “Its history and pedigree would make it a great host.”
“The USA has tremendous experience in hosting global sporting events,” he added. “I would extremely enjoy watching the World Cup if hosted in England or the USA.”
Agencies contributed to this report.