Asian Cup marred by anti-Qatar incidents

22nd Feb 2019

Harun Nasrullah

A British-Sudanese man whom activists say was detained for wearing a Qatari football jersey in the United Arab Emirates during the Asian Cup has been charged in the UAE with “making false statements” to police.

The incident is one of a series of PR gaffes from the Emirati hosts who have been accused of “embarrassing” and petty behaviour towards their political rival and eventual cup winners, Qatar.

According to media reports, the hapless Ali Issa Ahmad was detained for wearing the maroon shirt unbeknown to him “that doing so in the UAE is an offence punishable with a large fine and an extended period of imprisonment” reported the Guardian.

The UAE Embassy in London released a statement insisting the 26-year-old was charged with wasting police time after he went to the police station claiming he had been “beaten up” by local football fans “for cheering the Qatar team”, instead officials accused the man from Wolverhampton of sustaining “self-inflicted” injuries.

The tone of the tournament was set early on when UAE refused to lift its entry ban on Qatari nationals, meaning ‘the Maroons’ were forced to play almost entirely without support from the stands. The young Qatari team had nonetheless won all their five games on the road to the semi-final, they did so without conceding a single goal.

While many in the Arab and Muslim world celebrated the first Arab victory of the tournament since Iraq lifted the cup 12 years ago, many media outlets in the UAE struggled with recognising their rival’s historic (3-1) victory over Japan in the final on February 1.

The UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed was expected to award the trophy, instead, not a single senior official was present to hand medals to the victorious Qatar team in the closing ceremony. According to reports plans to feature some of the region’s biggest stars were also scrapped at the last minute.

Several Twitter users also criticised the host country and Saudi news media for solely focusing on the losing side in the final, Japan, with some not even mentioning the word ‘Qatar’.

Gulf News, one of the major newspapers in the Emirates, ran the headline ‘Japan come up short in Asian Cup final’. The Khaleej Times had a story headlined ‘Unlucky Japan lose AFC Asian Cup final’, saying that ‘Japan fought until the last second, and like a champion side, dug deep to grab a positive result but couldn’t succeed’ and concluded, ‘It was a sad end to the biggest Asian Cup tournament for Japan as Qatar won the title’.

And when Qatar met the UAE in the semi-finals the Abu Dhabi Sports Council bought all the remaining tickets and gave them away to Emirati fans, ensuring the stadium was neutral free. The match started with the Qatar national anthem being loudly booed by home fans.

Support or not Qatar embarrassingly thrashed the UAE 4-0 to reach the final in a game that witnessed UAE fans throwing shoes, sandals and bottles at Qatar players. After the Asian Cup’s leading goal scorer, Almoez Ali, curled in a shot to make it 2-0, his celebration was met with several shoes thrown by the crowd. For the rest of the match, bottles were aimed at corner takers but it was after Qatar went 3-0 up through Hasan Al-Haydos that the crowd really let itself down.

The flying shoes caused a significant delay to the match and the home players had to plead their supporters to stop. Two days after their team’s semi-final thrashing, the UAE FA lodged a appeal to the AFC over the eligibility of 22-year-old Sudanese-born Ali and Iraqi-born Bassam Al-Rawi, claiming that they did not qualify to play for Qatar on residency grounds based on Article 7 of the FIFA statute which states that a player’s eligibility to play for a representative team if he has ‘lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant association’.

UAE officials alleged that Ali, the tournaments highest ever scorer (9 goals), had not lived continuously in Qatar for at least five years over the age of 18, although the player claimed that his mother was born in Qatar. On February 1, the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee dismissed the protest and concluded both players were eligible to play.

George Washington University Professor of Political Science, Marc Lynch, summed up the UAE behaviour towards the Qatar football team throughout the tournament as “so embarrassing and symbolically heavy-handed”.

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