The UAE's refusal to allow five Qatari journalists to enter the country could hinder Fifa's plan for an extended 48-team 2022 World Cup.
Gianni Infantino's plan to widen the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams and extend the tournament to countries around Qatar may have been complicated by a diplomatic incident ahead of the Asian Cup that begins in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday.
The decision by UAE authorities to deny entry to five Qatari journalists, who were travelling to the Emirates to cover the Asian Cup, has placed further strain on the already tense relations between the two Gulf nations, putting FIFA's aspirations of an extended World Cup 2022 further from reality.
The five journalists were held at the border on account of a blockade on Qatar by several of its neighbours, including the UAE. Since the blockade came into force in 2017, Qatari citizens have faced enormous difficulties in obtaining Visas and entering neighbouring countries that have severed ties with Qatar. In fact, the five journalists in question had to fly via Kuwait as Qatar Airways is prohibited from operating direct flights in the UAE due to the blockade.
After 27 hours, the five journalists were sent back to Doha after failing to obtain permission to enter the Emirates. Only one person who travelled with the delegation, Saoud Al-Mohannadi, a representative of the Qatar Football federation, managed to gain access.
Tensions could be heightened this Saturday if there are any issues when the Qatari football team and background staff try to enter the Emirates ahead of their opening game against Lebanon on Wednesday, which would be a further setback for Infantino’s plan to extend the 2022 World Cup to the entire Gulf.