|The Arab Games are held every four years and include sports such as football, athletics and basketball [GALLO/GETTY]|
Syria will take part in December’s Arab Games despite the country’s suspension from the Arab League, according to an event official.
“They will participate and we are welcoming all athletes from the Arab nations,” Abdulla al-Mulla, acting director for ceremonies at the 22-country Doha Games said.
“We never mix up politics with sport, so they are most welcome to come to Doha. And the confirmation, we have that in writing from Syria.”
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, announced on Saturday that the Arab League would “suspend Syrian delegations’ activities in [the group’s] meetings” and implement “economic and political sanctions against the Syrian government”.
The Arab League also called on its member states to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and threatened to recognise the Syrian National Council (SNC), a broad-based opposition group, if Syria did not implement an Arab peace deal that it previously agreed to.
Asked if Syria might withdraw from the December 9-23 Games if the political stand-off between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Arab counterparts worsened, Mulla said: “It’s their decision, but the doors are always open for all the Arab athletes.”
For months now, Syria has experienced daily clashes between security forces and protesters, and human-rights groups say the Assad government has intensified its crackdown, especially in the flashpoint city of Homs.
At least 25 people were killed in violence in Syria on Friday and Saturday, most of them civilians in Homs, which an opposition group declared a “humanitarian disaster area” earlier this week.
At the official level, Syria denounced the Arab League’s decision as “illegal and a violation of the organisation’s charter”.
Yussef Ahmad, Syria’s envoy to the Arab League, denounced the move as illegal, saying his country has already implemented an Arab peace deal that it previously agreed to, and accusing the US of ordering the suspension.
Some 6,000 athletes are expected at the Arab Games which will include football, swimming, athletics, gymnastics, equestrian events and basketball.