Saudi-Qatari rivalry spills onto the football pitch

Unable to persuade Qatari leaders to drop their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, Saudi Arabia appears determined to deprive its tiny neighbor of its regional football supremacy.

A recent decision to build 11 stadia under the auspices of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), one of the country’s most efficient, forward-looking institutions, constitutes an effort to rival Qatar that is developing at least eight of the Middle East and North Africa’s most advanced facilities in advance of its hosting of the 2022 World Cup. It also signals the end to a debate in the kingdom on whether to emphasize individual rather than team sports in its five-year national sports plan in a bid to prevent pitches from becoming venues of protest as elsewhere in the region.

The Saudi decision to battle Qatar on the pitch followed the withdrawal five months ago of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain from Doha. It came as Gulf rulers acknowledged that deep-seated differences notwithstanding, they needed to cooperate in confronting the most significant threat facing them: the rise of the Islamic State, a militant jihadist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq with a population larger than that of several of the wealthy, oil-rich sheikdoms.

A crisis meeting in Jeddah this weekend of Gulf leaders focused on countering the Islamic State threat avoided mention of the rift with Qatar, one of the most serious crisis in the almost three-decade old history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which brings together Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. A flurry of meetings in recent weeks including a visit by Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Saudi...

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