Politics has overshadowed football on the eve of a Gulf football tournament after Saudi Arabia’s team refused to talk to the press due to the presence of Qatar-based news channels, including Al Jazeera.
The Gulf Cup is a bi-annual tournament for eight nations in the region. This year’s event was originally scheduled to be held in Qatar but was moved to Kuwait amid the Gulf’s worst diplomatic crisis in decades.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain – as well as Egypt – cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing “terrorism” and maintaining close ties with their regional rival, Iran. Doha denies the allegations.
On Thursday, the Saudi team arrived at a press conference in Kuwait City 40 minutes later than scheduled. After a short photo session, the players left the room without taking questions from the waiting reporters.
Al Jazeera’s Sana Hamouche, who was present at the press briefing, said everything seemed normal until Saudi officials took to the stage.
“The Saudi team came in, had photos taken and stormed out of the conference room,” said Hamouche. “When journalists asked the Kuwaiti media official for the reason, he couldn’t give anyone an answer.
“I spoke to him later, and he said the Saudi officials requested microphones of the Qatar-based channels to be removed, including that of Al Jazeera.”
Kuwait’s football association later issued a statement saying that “a suitable solution has been reached for the upcoming press conference that will appease all parties”.
While the organisation did not specify the “solution” in the statement, Al Jazeera understands that a single microphone will be used in all upcoming press conferences – instead of individual ones for all news channels.
Saudi Arabia is scheduled to open the tournament against the hosts on Friday. The UAE team also withdrew from its press conference later on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait are in Group A, while Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen form Group B.
Qatar is scheduled to take on Bahrain on December 29.