World football's governing body, Fifa, is closely monitoring apparent political interference involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the last few months and could meet with both countries soon following similar meetings that they demanded from Peru and Spain recently. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the result of the interference could be shattering since, if proven true, it could endanger their participation in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fifa is worried about the recent political use of football by Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 World Cup, since both countries began their blockade against the Qataris in June 2017.
During the recent Gulf Cup of Nations in December, in which all eight teams agreed to participate after Qatar offered Kuwait the chance to replace it as host nation in recognition of the Kuwaitis' efforts to mediate in the dispute, Saudi government-backed and state-run media channels offered large financial bonuses to the Bahrain national team players if they "defeated the terrorists". The mass media delivery of belligerent messages against the players and the team from Qatar were received with distress by the AFC (Asian football's governing body) and by Fifa, who have a zero-tolerance policy for language that can lead to violence.
Other recent episodes like the refusal of Saudi and UAE teams to play in Qatar or to receive Qatari clubs in their countries in the Asian Champions League, whose 2018 season got underway recently, had to be quickly corrected by the AFC, which warned both countries of the severe sanctions they faced if they did not adhere to the rules and regulations of the competition. Both nations finally retracted and complied but Al Gharafa, one of the teams from Qatar – where Dutch ace Wesley Sneijder plays – got a first taste of the current environment when it travelled last week for its first game in Abu Dhabi against Al Jazira, the club of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, also the owner of Manchester City.
Flying to the UAE via a stopover in Oman (as a result of the blockade against flights coming from Doha), the team suffered an eight-hour delay in the Omani airport due, according to Abu Dhabi air traffic control, to heavy fog. The explanation did not convince the AFC, which discovered that multiple flights from other destinations were landing on time without complications.
Fifa does not want more incidents and episodes of political use of football and, along with the AFC, is contemplating intervening.